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The untold history of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show

03/11/2018

More than two decades ago Ed Razek, the chief marketing officer at Victoria’s Secret’s parent company Limited Brands, got a phone call from his boss: the CEO Leslie “Les” Wexner.

The conversation was casual enough, but it led to a seismic shift in both fashion and TV.

“I remember it clearly — I was driving down the road when Les called,” Razek says. “He said, ‘We’re a fashion company; we should have a fashion show.’ [Limited Brands] had a number of divisions at the time, and I thought, maybe we could do it for Victoria’s Secret.”

That was in 1994, and the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was born the following year. It has become one of the most anticipated fashion events of the year, with top musical acts angling to perform, a who’s who of models strutting down the runway and millions of people tuning in to watch.

“We didn’t know a lot about putting on a show, and the show we put on didn’t attract a lot of models the first year because everybody had the same question: ‘Well, what is it? Why are you doing it? What is it going to look like?'”

Those early catwalks are barely recognisable when compared with the large-scale runways we’ve come to expect today. Here is a complete timeline of how it went from a quiet event at the Plaza Hotel to a huge spectacle:

1995 – Plaza Hotel, New York City

The first Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is held at the Plaza Hotel. “I think we had two cameras—one for long shots and one for close-ups,” Razek says. “We weren’t happy with the first show, but we woke up the next morning and it was worldwide news,” Razek remembers. “And a major network had called it ‘the lingerie event of the century’. When we saw that, it was like, there might be something here. Let’s try another one!”

Beverly Peele walks in the first Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

1996 – Plaza Hotel, New York City

The model Claudia Schiffer wears the first Fantasy Bra, dubbed the “Million Dollar Miracle Bra,” to a pre-event photo-shoot in Monaco. “We had to put her in an armoured car, and when it pulled up to the Hotel de Paris, two armed guards came out before she did and the world went crazy,” Razek says.

1997 – Plaza Hotel, New York City

Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen and Rebecca Romijn walk the runway in romantic negligees. The event took place on 4 February, just before Valentine’s Day. Tyra Banks is the first woman of colour to wear the Fantasy Bra — dubbed the $3 million (about £2 million) “Diamond Dream Bra”.

Tyra Banks is the first black woman to wear the Fantasy Bra

 

1998 – Plaza Hotel, New York City

The wings make their debut on the runway. They’re a nod to the name of a line of lingerie the brand carried called the “Angel” collection — a concept created by Wexner himself.

The renowned angel wings first appear on the runway

 

1999 – Cipriani Wall Street, New York City

The company partners with Mark Cuban’s Broadcast.com and IBM to start streaming the show online. A commercial during the first break of that year’s Super Bowl announces the event and, according to Razek, more than a million people immediately logged online after seeing the advertisement to look for the show — which was not airing for another week. When it finally happened, two million people tuned in. “It left a lot to be desired: It was about the size of two postage stamps in the middle of your computer screen,” Razek says. “Steve Jobs called it one of the 10 seminal events in the history of the internet. I was too ignorant to understand what a big deal it was at the time.” Heidi Klum and Gisele Bündchen make their debuts.

Gisele Bunchen walks her first Victoria’s Secret runway

 

2000 – Cannes, France

The show streams online live from the Cannes Film Festival, where it helps raise money for the Cinema Against Aids charity. Because of the time difference, the event is broadcast during the day in the US. “The treasury secretary estimated it could cost American business a billion dollars from lost productivity,” Razek says.

2001 – Bryant Park, New York City

The show is shown on television for the first time. “We set up a number of meetings in LA to essentially pitch a television special, which we had never done before,” Razek recalls. “And we did the first meeting at 9 am with ABC and at 9:03 she said, ‘I’ll take it!’ And I said, ‘Oh, thank you, that’s very kind of you.’ And she said, ‘No, I’m serious, I’ll take it.'”

Adriana Lima walks in her second show for the brand. Of this one being televised, Lima tells Elle.com: “I was very nervous. We knew what a big deal it was for the brand and for our careers. I had been working for a few years at that point and I was becoming more recognisable in the fashion world, but this helped me become more recognisable with people outside of it and with mainstream media.”

Adriana Lima walks in her second Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2001, the first year the event is televised

 

2002 – Lexington Avenue Armory, New York City

After ABC rebrands itself to become more family-friendly, the show moves to CBS, where it has remained ever since. Destiny’s Child performs, and Bündchen gets harassed on stage by Peta protestors. “I’m the biggest animal-lover in the world,” Bündchen told CNN. “I was just doing my job. I’m a model. I don’t even wear fur. They just want attention.”

Peta protestors storm the runway when Bündchen walks in 2002

 

2003 – Lexington Avenue Armory, New York City

The show is held at the Lexington Avenue Armory in New York City; Sting, Mary J Blige and Eve perform.

2004

The broadcast of the show did not air, and Victoria’s Secret never offered an official explanation — although people speculated that Janet Jackson’s notorious wardrobe malfunction at that year’s Super Bowl was the reason.

That was precisely why the broadcast was called off, according to Razek. “Everybody got very cautious — including us,” he says. “Not that we were doing anything salacious.”

Instead the brand hosted “Angels Across America”, in which they drove Bündchen, Banks, Klum, Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio in a bus to New York City, Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles to meet fans. “‘Angels Across America’ was very fun,” Lima says. “I got to meet and connect with people from all over the country. So many people came out to meet us, give us gifts, tell us they admired us and wanted to grow up to be just like us. It was a very humbling experience.”

 

 

From ELLE.com

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