As I enter the new Victoria’s Secret store on Fifth Avenue in New York City for a personal lingerie fitting angel-style, my email buzzes: The highly anticipated 2018 Fantasy Bra has been revealed. Elsa Hosk will walk it down the runway on Thursday evening (Friday morning AEST). It’s valued at US$1 million. It took 930 hours to create. There are 71 carats in the centrepiece. And 2100 Swarovski diamonds were used. From November 29, customers can even purchase a version of the bra silhouette for US$250. Silhouette. This part is important.
For years, the lingerie giant’s bread and butter ran parallel with its push toward the underwire and, most specifically, padding. Even a petite 32A could achieve a misleading cleavage should she treat herself to a bustier stamped with VS. Just last year, in light of a significant drop in stock prices (albeit the company still had a 61.8% grip on the American lingerie market), the brand hit snooze on the Wonderbra in lieu of the bralette. While it wasn’t ideal for our sisters at the DD-and-beyond end of the spectrum, it did send a strong message: Being sexy wasn’t a matter of cleavage anymore. It appears this VS season, if the fantasy bra (and its absence of the underwire) is a prelude to what we can expect on Thursday’s runway, then that message still stands loud and clear. And so it should.
Victoria’s Secret has long framed its show as a touter for female empowerment. Women own their sexuality and in most recent years, they own their athleticism. Of course, at the very bottom of it all, there’s a clear business imperative here and one that most definitely plays on the last stages of undress – give or take a set of suspended wings. Yes, in the big business of smalls, less is always more. But in the current cultural climate – one where powerful men have been brought to their knees for bad behaviour in line with the objectification of women, do we have a moral imperative? And in the eye of the post-Weinstein storm, what does that look like?
It’s an interesting question and one that will surely be raised by many commentators this week. Perhaps model Emily Ratajkowski hit the nail on the head: “In the wake of the Harvey fallout and women coming forward with incredible amounts of sexual harassment cases, I have been so disappointed to hear women talk about ‘modesty’ and ‘our responsibility,’ as if we need to, yet again, adjust to make it ‘easier’ for the rest of the world,” she said in an interview in 2017. “I’m tired of having to consider how I might be perceived by men if I wear the short skirt, or post a sexy Instagram. I want to do what I want to do.”
There will always be a fine line between exploitation and empowerment. And it will always be subjective, many will tap dance to the line and never over it. But in 2018, perhaps Victoria’s Secret is what we need. As each woman stomps down that runway at Pier 94 in New York on Thursday night – push-up or not – it will be to the beat of her own heart-thumping drum. For a moment of reprieve (and a nod to Americans to vote in those midterms), there will be no tottering around secrets about her sexual history, her sexual orientation, her abortion decisions or her sexual assaults – her stride on this runway represents power. It has nothing to do with men. And as 1.4 billion people in 192 countries tune in, we say, ‘Look at us now’.