Victoria's Secret Is The Playboy Of Lingerie Brands

Why does the Victoria's Secret fashion show get so much publicity ? I don't see anyone giving a hoot about Ann Summers' new range.

Mollie, London

Last week was a great week for fashion hypocrisy. There was the Kardashian Kollection for Dorothy Perkins (although I do think it's a shame they haven't yet made a range for Kenzo as then it could be called KKK), a pairing that plumbed new depths. According to a spokesman for the store, the Kardashians are bringing their "exciting style to British high streets", as well as, coincidentally, easy publicity for the oft-overlooked store while subjecting the British public to sub-Jane Norman clothes.

Then there was the interview with Kate Moss in Vanity Fair in which Moss talked at length about how being told to pose topless as a teenager made her so miserable it nearly drove her to a nervous breakdown. So how did Vanity Fair decide to illustrate this heartfelt and rather astonishing interview? Why, how else? By getting Moss to take her top off and pose for three closeup photos, in one of which she is on all fours and, apparently, imitating a dog peeing.

But in the fashion-hypocrisy competition, the extensive coverage of the annual Victoria's Secret show is, by a healthy measure, the winner.

Let's be clear about this from the start: Victoria's Secret is a lingerie company. Not a particularly posh one, not even a particularly nice one, just a run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-road knickers manufacturer that has cleverly managed to convince a lot of people that it is something special and is now the largest US manufacturer of lingerie. It is the Playboy Club of underwear manufacturers, selling an insultingly retrograde vision of femininity (from Playboy: bunnies, from Victoria's Secret: angels), which some women, for reasons wholly unclear to this column, buy into.

I walked past the newly opened Victoria's Secret store on New Bond Street the other weekend and there were passing female tourists having their photos taken by their boyfriends and husbands in front of the angelically themed window displays. Photos! You don't get that in front of La Senza, which is all, really, Victoria's Secret is – but with an American accent.

How has this company done this, you ask? I will tell you: it has done it by openly encouraging menfolk everywhere to masturbate over its wares.

"Victoria's Secret is known for its catalogue and annual fashion show," reads the company's commendably po-faced Wikipedia entry. Indeed. In the US, the Victoria's Secret catalogue has become so infamous that it is now used as a shorthand for easy-access quasi porn in US sitcoms (Friends was especially fond of referencing it).

The fashion show has taken this to a whole new level. Because Victoria's Secret is so lucrative, it can afford to drag in improbably successful models to wear their tacky lines and to hire excellent stylists who make the whole thing look a bit less "La Senza on the runway". They then haul in cheesy sleazehounds including Justin Bieber, Diddy and Justin Timberlake who, one imagines, don't need too much persuasion to spend an evening with models in their underwear.

There are only two reasons to have a fashion show for underwear, and I speak as someone who likes fashion shows and nice lingerie: to create the illusion that this brand is something more than a meh underwear label, and to get men off.

Websites, magazines and, in particular, tabloid newspapers that generally ignore fashion shows altogether cover the Victoria's Secret show with thigh-rubbing enthusiasm, delighted at having an excuse to publish pictures of young women in underwear and angel wings, and no one covers it more enthusiastically than that bastion of moral anxiety, MailOnline.

Now, to accuse MailOnline – the home of "Smartphones are sexualising children" and "Hard to believe she's only 16! Kendall Jenner looks older than her years as she shows off her model shape in a stunning bikini shoot" – of hypocrisy is to slap oneself in the face with the giant hand of obviousness. But it is hard even for us old hands of MailOnline bullshittery not to admire its shamelessness in running – at a rough count – around 30 stories on the Victoria's Secret show. The Mail generally hates fashion shows as it believes that they cause anorexia. Yet its outrage dims when the models – the same models who appear in the usual shows, mind – are walking on the runway in underwear as opposed to haute couture.

A lot of men like looking at women in underwear. And that's OK! But at least be honest about it and admit that's all the Victoria's Secret fashion show is. This isn't "the most popular fashion show in the world": it's just a live-action Loaded magazine.

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email

Powered by article was written by Hadley Freeman, for The Guardian on Monday 12th November 2012 13.31 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010