Twenty years ago, supermodel Karen Mulder sashayed down a makeshift catwalk at the Plaza Hotel in New York wearing just a pretty white babydoll nightie, all honeyed limbs and glorious blonde hair.
This was a very early Victoria’s Secret lingerie show, which sent shock waves through the industry for its risqué ensembles and generous helpings of glamorous, golden flesh.
The American lingerie brand, then in its infancy, had struck upon a potent formula: send beautiful women down a catwalk in their undies and you’ll attract attention.
The strategy worked: the underwear brand now has yearly revenue of a staggering £6 billion, more than 1,000 stores, seven of them in the UK, and is planning further expansion across the globe.
It even has spin-off brands, including the controversial Pink line, which the shop claims targets 18-20-year-olds, but is beloved of eight to 14-year-old ‘tween’ girls everywhere thanks to its cutesie, soft-cup bras.
(In 2013 the Victoria’s Secret chief financial officer Stuart Burgdoerfer admitted that ‘When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.’)
Looking back now on the first shows, the girls from 1995 and 1996 seem positively overdressed — their outfits, if not exactly monastic, then definitely understated in comparison to today. The original models wear short nighties and little babydolls, jackets over their bras and even — shock — the odd full-length nightdress.
Fast forward to 2016, and here’s supermodel Martha Hunt in a bit of dental floss for pants; Gigi Hadid (pictured) in a black strappy number, also apparently made out of oral hygiene tape
In fact, the contrast between then and now brings to mind that old Cole Porter classic: In olden days, a glimpse of stocking/ Was looked on as something shocking/ But now, God knows/ Anything goes.
Plus ca change. Fast forward to 2016, and here’s supermodel Martha Hunt in a bit of dental floss for pants; Gigi Hadid in a black strappy number, also apparently made out of oral hygiene tape.
Irina Shayk’s buttocks appeared to have broken free entirely of their moorings, while her angular colleague, Lais Oliveira, showcased the kind of happy-hooker chic that Pink, the Victoria’s Secret teen line, has become known for.
Contrast this display with that first show, featuring Karen Mulder in what by today’s standards is practically a burka: a babydoll nightie and mules.
Or with Claudia Schiffer a year later, demure in a shimmering floor-length gown with barely a hint of cleavage, nary a bikini wax on show. Or that long-ago 1998 line up of Daniela Pestova, Stephanie Seymour, Mulder and Ines Rivero, almost endearingly kitsch in Austin Powers-style gold boots, skirts and matching jackets.
Nowadays these are the kinds of outfits the models wear just to travel to the shows; the stuff they actually wear on the catwalk is so revealing you can practically glimpse their internal organs.
There’s something else striking about the pictures from 20 years ago, too. The girls have curves. Not excessive ones, of course —this is still a catwalk, they’re all slim as pins. But they don’t look like they’ve been surviving on nothing but chamomile colonics and tissue paper for the previous three weeks, like the current lot.
A shot of Tyra Banks in 2005 shows her looking positively well-fed. In 2006 Karolina Kurkova lives up to her curvaceous-sounding name in a bizarre air hostess-inspired ensemble. Naomi Campbell in 2005: vibrant. Heidi Klum, juicy as a ripe strawberry in 2008/9, while Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in 2010’s blue gingham is borderline buxom.
This year’s show could not have been more different. Just look at the line up of waif-like Elsa Hosk, Alessandra Ambrosio, Taylor Hill and Martha Hunt in Paris: there’s no joy, no colour, no fun, no sexiness. Just a group of gaunt women trussed up with string like so many Sunday roasts, a homogeneous assemblage of coltish limbs, big blow dries and flashbulb grins.
So when did it get like this? When did the Victoria’s Secret show go from being a bit of saucy fun, a seaside postcard of a catwalk to something that, not to put too fine a point on it, resembles a work outing at the local knocking shop?
How did it go from selling babydoll nighties to housewives to being an enormous money-making machine selling tiny, overpriced underwear to teen girls?
You can see the slide into more and more nudity, more and more flesh as the years go by. Why? Easy — in the Nineties, as the first Victoria’s Secret model walked down the catwalk, another phenomenon was just taking hold: the internet. As porn became readily available, and the ‘pornification’ of society of the Nineties — with its strip clubs and fake bosoms — took hold, Victoria’s Secret followed suit. Suddenly, no one was shocked by a babydoll nightie, and the company started upping the ante.
This year the line up was waif-like Elsa Hosk, Alessandra Ambrosio, Taylor Hill and Martha Hunt in Paris: there’s no joy, no colour, no fun, no sexiness
Then, around 2012, a couple of years after Twitter and Instagram launched, the culture of the selfie really began to take off. Models and celebrities started posting pictures of themselves semi-naked on social media, blurring the lines between their personal and public lives.
People quickly discovered that the more they shared, the more ‘likes’ they got.
The culture of internet porn began to infect the mainstream as well, and a downward spiral began — with the result that a pretty girl in a bikini is no longer enough to set the world alight.
And, of course, where celebrities go, others will follow. Take a look through photo-sharing site Instagram, and notice a strange thing: all the women are starting to look similar. There’s the Victoria’s Secret tan, the toned stomach, the pouts and show-offishness. But worse, here are young women who don’t think twice about posing in their bras in the most provocative ways imaginable.
Victoria’s Secret has always been fashion’s answer to the Playboy mansion, a playground filled with impossibly glamorous, nubile women, but now it reflects a far darker picture. That of a world where girls and young women are objectified as never before, where the aesthetics of porn have begun to re-shape our bodies and our minds — and where the feverish fantasies of a million bedroom-bound geeks are finally, horrendously, made flesh.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3992656/Victoria-s-seedy-Secret-s-gone-saucy-tawdry-tragedy-s-convincing-young-women-way-desirable-says-SARAH-VINE.html#ixzz4Ri0hmZ2K
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook