The way things used to be, buying lingerie for your lady meant a ghastly trip to the department store where derisive stares made you feel like a deviant in the grips of a perverse panty fetish. This humiliation was the impetus for a guy-friendly place where getting your lady something sexy was met with encouragement, not a raised eyebrow. This is the place we call Victoria’s Secret.
Although intimately associated with its sexy lingerie, today the retailer actually sells a wide range of women’s wear and beauty supplies. It has 1,003 stores in operation, and each year it puts 400 million copies of its famed catalog through the mail. In 2006, sales reached the $5-billion mark, and its parent company, Limited Brands, hopes to double that figure by 2010 (we’re rooting for them; when Victoria’s Secret wins, we all win).
Modeling for any of the company’s collections is considered prestigious, but its Angels are a cut above the rest. Past and present Angels include such well-known names as Tyra Banks, Adriana Lima, Rebecca Romijn, Gisele Bundchen, Helena Christensen, and Stephanie Seymour, and it is without question the most coveted modeling job in the industry.
Here are five things you didn’t know about the only company in the world with the celestial seal of approval: Victoria’s Secret.
1- Its founder jumped off the Golden Gate BridgeTired of the humiliation involved in trying to buy lingerie, Roy Raymund created Victoria’s Secret in 1977 by putting the first store at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California. After opening a few other stores and launching the mail-order catalog, Raymond sold the company to Limited Brands in 1982 for a sizable paycheck.
By 1993, Limited made Victoria’s Secret a nationally recognized brand, while Raymond’s most recent business venture had ended in bankruptcy. He was last seen alive walking toward the Golden Gate Bridge, and shortly thereafter his body washed up on the shores of Marin County. Investigators concluded he’d committed suicide by leaping off the bridge.
2- It is named after a notorious prudeSo who is Victoria? Since the first stores were designed to resemble Victorian boudoirs, the company’s namesake is England’s long-reigning 19th-century monarch, Queen Victoria. She and husband Prince Albert played “hide the scepter” enough times to produce nine children before his unexpected death in 1861 threw her into a state of profound mourning that lasted until her own death 40 years later.
Despite this climate, fashions of the day included the corset, a sexually charged garment that embellished a woman’s curves above and below the waist. So what, then, was the Queen’s secret? Was she a royal horndog? Did she love a carriage quickie? Was the prim former princess a party-girl, always shouting for Prince Albert to get out of the can and into her Very Sexy chiffon bloomers? We’ll never know. I suppose that’s why it’s a secret.
3- It regularly denies celebrity requests to modelEd Razek, the company’s chief marketing officer, was quoted recently in a Forbes article stating that each month he has to turn down a number of requests from high-profile female celebrities desperate to be an honorary Angel.
The Angels are not a desperate bunch, however. In fact, they are products of an intense and extensive program designed to make each of them media-savvy celebrities. But that isn’t the only reason this commercial icon with a fresh star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame does not take requests. Another reason is Modeling 101: While the seraphic beauties in Angel garb typically stand around 5’ 9” or so, most Hollywood celebs fall more than a couple inches short, even if standing in a pair of Miss Sixty Side Button boots.
4- Its Angels are chosen based on their appeal to women, not menWomen make up the majority of the company’s executives -- they represent two-thirds of those tuning in to their fashion shows, and they account for a whopping 98% of the company’s customer base. This is their audience, plain and simple. It’s no coincidence that two of the most high-profile Angels in its short history are women other women don’t, as a rule, dislike: Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum. Both are charming and down-to-earth models who aren’t bitchy about their beauty (perhaps this is why Naomi Campbell has never, in any sense of the term, been an Angel).
We men aren’t entirely disregarded, but according to Ed Razek, Victoria’s Secret doesn’t “do salacious shots that women would not like.” It should be easy to tell if this paradigm ever changes: Future fashion shows will be on pay-per-view and many of us will recognize a few of the models from online porn.
5- It provokes numerous FCC complaints every yearNow in its seventh year, the televised Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show enjoys a devoted fan base, but its most dutiful viewers can probably be found among a loose confederacy of conservative tight-asses. Operating under such vague catch-all names as the American Family Association, these groups annually flood the FCC with complaints about how the show is indecent or obscene.
In determining what is obscene, the FCC juggles three statutes: Title 18 of the U.S . Code (Section 1464, concerning what goes over the air-waves), obscenity as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court (written to cover hardcore pornography) and basic First Amendment rights. As a result, it places more restrictive standards on TV shows that run between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.
This year’s fashion show was broadcast at 10 p.m. on both coasts, but at 9 p.m. in the central and mountain time zones. The Parents Television Council (PTC) reacted strongly, saying that families in these times zones “had to scramble to find their remote to keep their children from accidentally stumbling across this televised peep show.” (The PTC’s credibility regarding this frantic scenario is suspect; once, they freaked out about some “briefly depicted buttocks” on the cartoon King of the Hill.)
The show’s 2007 ratings were up from last year, but have otherwise been slipping ever since it first premiered. Seizing on this, in 2002 Concerned Women for America -- their granny panties evidently in a bunch -- wrote that since the broadcast had placed third in the ratings, “maybe even CBS will get the message; we're sick of mindless TV."
If this was the message, someone definitely did not get it: One of the shows with better ratings that night was The Bachelor.
We know why most folks search it, but why might some members of Concerned Women for America search it? Maybe they’re ready to turn in their ankle-length skirts and trouser socks for the champagne lace and garter belt, or a satin chain-back babydoll with matching silk panty. If this is true, it’ll be our little secret.
We men see Victoria’s Secret and think of having sex. Women see it and think of feeling sexy. There may be some common ground here. After all, it is too difficult to click through the online store and not reach one overwhelming conclusion: So much of the apparel sold at Victoria’s Secret looks as good on a woman’s curves as it does in a ball on the bedroom floor.
So, provided men and women find one another attractive -- and it isn’t the apocalypse -- the public will always be somewhat interested.
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