Empowerment Above Exclusivity: the Changing Dialogue Surrounding Lingerie

Fashion Print Editor Iona Tompkins examines the recent shift in the landscape of the lingerie industry.

In 2012, Rihanna was the coveted performer at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, embodying the world’s most famous lingerie brand’s exclusive and unattainable beauty ideals. Fewer than ten years later, the pop star has turned from performer to designer, introducing her own collection of wildly successful lingerie, Savage x Fenty.

Whilst Victoria’s Secret prides and distinguishes itself on the elusive selection process and high levels of competition associated with modelling in one of its shows, Fenty has been praised for its diverse casting in terms of both ethnicity and body type. Victoria’s Secret has also recently come under fire for its former chief marketing officer Ed Razek stating in an interview in Vogue magazine that the company would never hire a transgender model as it is selling a fantasy, with Razek’s transphobic comments immediately recieving widespread criticism. Whilst it is notable that since Razek’s retirement the brand has been associated with transgender model Valentina Sampaio, this comes across as a mere reaction to public outrage rather than genuinely embodying principles that the brand stands for.

This lack of consistency in Victoria’s Secret’s policies of inclusivity make them appear disingenuous and inauthentic. This lack of authenticity becomes particularly apparent when the brand is contrasted with other players in the industry whose body positive messages have been far more consistent, most notably Aerie by American Eagle, Savage x Fenty and Agent Provocateur. 

With all time low numbers watching the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show, this year for the first time the show which used to attract audiences of over 6.7 million will not be aired. Yet Savage x Fenty appears to be providing an alternative through the livestream of a new Fenty underwear show on Amazon, with the possibility of instantaneous buying as well as a variety of body types. The first ever Savage x Fenty show aired on YouTube in 2018 and has had over 1.4 million views, numbers which are highly likely to grow with the increased excitement surrounding this year’s show.

Perhaps due to the sheer scale of the operation at Victoria’s Secret, the brand has been far slower to adapt and modernise than its competitors. The company never rolled out a meaningful ‘click to buy’ scheme in conjunction with its fashion shows, whilst its stores have retained a boudoir decor which has become somewhat outdated in this day and age. Not only limiting itself to lingerie, the entire Fenty brand is going from strength to strength is every category, with Rihanna recently signing a prestigious deal with LVMH holding company to create her own fashion house.

One simply has to look at the names of these two dominant players in the world of lingerie to encapsulate how one is yearning for the past whilst the other gears itself for the future. Victoria’s Secret was named after a victorian boudoir, and it’s entire raison d’être is based on the premise of making men feel comfortable during the lingerie buying experience. Meanwhile Savage x Fenty puts Rihanna in collaboration rather than control with the ‘savage’ women she chooses to model for her. The brand chooses to portray women as Avant Garde and unsuited to any archetype. It is unsurprising that this breath of fresh air is proving to be fearsome competition for Victoria’s Secret.