'Watching the Victoria's Secret show was like an imagining of what would happen if Hugh Hefner ruled the world'
Victoria's Secret hosted its first UK show this week. For those unfamiliar with the US brand, it's an underwear empire which reportedly made $6.6bn in 2013. Oh my, you might understandably assume, those must be some desirable knickers. But you'd be wrong, because the Victoria's Secret weapon is not its product, but its models.
Sure, VS sell lingerie (which is rather sparklier and less subtly coloured than your average M&S pants), but the brand is really the Angel - the grand title bestowed on a genetically gifted few who have managed to successfully wear costume underwear on a catwalk for over a year.
The VS annual extravaganza is its own version of Christmas; an all-singing, all-dancing parade of barely-dressed models, not dissimilar to a beauty pageant.
Frankly, no one cares about what they're wearing, or which model is wearing which million pound diamond-encrusted bra, it's purely for staring; a teenage boy's fantasy made to appear almost attainable.
The women are wheeled out like Barbie cheerleaders, smiling, unthreatening and passive fembots; a version of female sexuality akin to the Playboy bunny - undemanding, aesthetically pleasing and utterly retrograde. Taste aside, it's something of an inspired move from VS, which cleverly shifts the emphasis away from the rather tacky underwear, and onto the show itself. Buy the diamante thong, the message goes, and you too can be part of the fun.
Some of the world's most lucrative and successful models have walked its runway, Cara Delevingne, Adriana Lima and Gisele among them, lending respectability and the fashion world's seal of approval to what is, essentially, titillation. The show has been spun to have near mythological status and the attention it receives in the media is impressive. Even the run-up is part of the narrative.
The casting is notoriously difficult, with the final decision made by a team who request that the aspiring models parade for them them under harsh lighting, in what sounds like one of the nine circles of hell. And that's before we even get to the pre-show diet prep.
"It's about being show-ready," said Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou, the show's creative director. "It really is like being an Olympian - they have to be in peak condition."
Presumably Neophitou-Apostolou refers to a little known group of Olympians who train using the Brazil Butt Lift class (like Alessandra Ambrosio) and exist on warm water and remove solids from their diet.
Legend has it that actually no liquids should be drunk for the eight hours before the show "so you dry out, sometimes you can lose up to eight pounds from just that," says Adriana Lima.
The Victoria's Secret Angels have been described as role models for their wholesome, squeaky-clean image. Some of these women have degrees, Joan Smalls studied psychology in Puerto Rico and Julia Nobis is studying science part time remotely at Melbourne RMIT University.
But on the VS catwalk they are reduced to an eyelash-fluttering, giggly, glitter-covered stereotype that's as outdated and limited as a Page Three model. Their sexiness is without defiance or attitude; it's controlled and submissive, a dangerously airbrushed fantasy.
Watching the show was like an imagining of what would happen if Hugh Hefner ruled the world, playful fembots for all. They're not really selling underwear - they're selling an idealised image of women, neatly packaged in angel wings and glitter.