SILVER glitter covers the runway, on which the models walk alongside the performers (which, this season, included Taylor Swift) doing their thing, and dance with them on the way past; the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is not just a fashion show. Besides the lingerie that is ostensibly the reason for the show, the clothes are costumes – wings and dresses more dramatic than most seen on Broadway. And as for the sets – seamlessly flipped from an abandoned ship to a mysterious Parisian boulevard – Broadway could only dream of the budgets required.
The nearest fashion-world comparison would be the Chanel show, where world-famous performers and dramatic sets are not unheard of, but the difference here is distinct. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld is unarguably in charge. Here, the models are.
Picture credit: PA Photos
Wandering backstage like a wildlife photographer, we observe the models in their own habitat – and it’s exactly as surreal as you might imagine. Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio – the longest-serving and therefore queen Angels, both Brazilian – are holding court near the door. Sinewy bare legs folded under them, they smile and chat with the world’s press on two sofas in what should be a quieter area of the room (that is if 50 cameras weren’t jostling for access to them). They know very well what this show is about. It’s not about the underwear – although it’s comparable to a couture show in terms of marketing expense; a figurehead for the brand that has little in common with what arrives in stores. It’s about having the most beautiful women in the world work out and strip down, but – since many are brands in their own right, with products and collaborations that bear their names – what’s in it for them?
Picture credit: PA Photos
Karlie Kloss – always ridiculously tall and beautiful – is transformed by the application of fake tan and shimmer powder into something almost transcendentally magnificent. She stalks the room – the only one wearing jeans underneath her signature pink silk Victoria’s Secret robe – feeding fellow models and crew members Karlie’s Kookies (her dairy-free, gluten-free cookie range, the proceeds from which provide meals for children in New York City and around the world through FEED Projects). She pretends to cut Cara Delevingne’s hair – certainly the only model in the room who would find this funny – who sits with her feet up on the make-up table as she chats on her phone. Famous for pulling very un-model-like funny faces, her tattoos and her burgeoning acting career, Cara is excited to “have a prop” (which turns out to be a football) this time, as well as to be upgraded to the mainline section, after modelling the younger Pink range last season.
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Candice Swanepoel, the pneumatic South African blonde chosen to wear the $10 million Fantasy Bra this year – a sign that she is the Brazilian twosome’s heiress apparent – laughs amiably as she poses in front of dozens of cameras. She’s nervous, she says, hoping she does the role justice. “I’m definitely going to be doing some breathing exercises before I get up there,” she smiles.
Swanepoel, along with fellow African Behati Prinsloo – who receives standing ovations from fiancé Adam Levine of Maroon 5 every time she steps on to the catwalk – and Dutch wonder Doutzen Kroes (face of an Angel, body like a racehorse) is part of the next tier of Angels. Because, even with bodies that defy all laws of science, Angels do eventually retire.
Since 1995, when the Victoria’s Secret show began as a small lingerie presentation in New York’s Plaza Hotel, the most famous and sought-after models of the day have graced its catwalk. Stephanie Seymour, Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Gisele Bündchen: all of them appeared in the show, and when retirement came someone else was waiting to take their place.
With the exception of Kate Moss, whose 25-year fashion career is an aberration in industry terms, almost every single model who has appeared on the Forbes supermodel rich list is an Angel or former Angel. In terms of earnings, the contract itself combined with the beauty contracts that generally follow it are financial gold – and an appearance is enough to transform a career.
“I’m nervous, of course, but mostly I’m just excited,” Jourdan Dunn – who had to attend the same open castings that every model except the Angels must compete at – tells us as she prepares to take to the catwalk for the second time. “Last year was really nerve-wracking, I had to do the robot in front of Justin Bieber, but this year I just get to do the things that a normal VS model would do. I just can’t wait.”
Mother to an almost-four-year-old boy, Riley, London-born Dunn exudes a quiet confidence that it’s easy to see will translate into a long Victoria’s Secret career – the Fantasy Bra is certainly in her future – but some others still can’t believe they’re here.
“It’s my third casting, so I guess third time’s the charm!” Josephine Skriver – a seasoned catwalk star for labels including Versace and Chanel – tells us. “I’m so super-excited, but so nervous, too. I’ve always wanted to do this show.”
London’s newest Victoria’s Secret star is Malaika Firth, following Jourdan Dunn, Lily Donaldson and Cara Delevingne on to the catwalk – which, appropriately, this time opened with a British Invasion theme. In a year that saw her become Prada’s first black campaign star since Naomi Campbell 19 years ago, and secure her first Vogue cover for November’s More Dash Than Cash supplement, Firth’s latest achievement – walking in a little old underwear show – is the one that tells us just how bankable she’s set to become.
Look out fashion, the Angels are coming.