On Wednesday night, Victoria’s Secret rocked Paris with a lingerie extravaganza, and what with the $3 million bras and Lady Gaga performances, you might have missed that there was also a record number of mainland Chinese models strutting their stuff on the runway.
The show featured a total of four models from the mainland: Xi Mengyao, He Sui, Ju Xiaowen and Liu Wen — more than the international underwear company has ever used. An obvious sign that after years of setbacks, it is finally trying to bust out in the Middle Kingdom in a big way.
And that wasn’t the only business savvy move made by the world’s favorite maker of lacy cup holders on Wednesday. On the runway, Victoria’s Secret showed off some new lingerie with Chinese elements incorporated into the design. This, of course, is the straightforward sort of strategy that numerous foreign companies typically use to try and endear themselves to Chinese consumers.
Unfortunately, incorporating design elements from other cultures has landed Victoria’s Secret into trouble in the past. Following a 2012 show, the company was accused of “cultural appropriation” when it featured a model wearing Native American-inspired clothing. And it was no different this year with Cosmo critic Helin Jung writing:
Don’t let yourself be hoodwinked by Victoria’s Secret’s brazen attempt to re-label what is clearly cultural appropriation by turning it into a celebration of ‘culture.’ The brand and its creative leads shamelessly cherry-picked imagery, breaking apart aesthetic references from wherever they wanted and stitching them back together again. They’re telling us it’s worldliness. It’s not, it’s a hack job.
The China-inspired segment — forthrightly titled “The Road Ahead — featured Elsa Hosk in a dragon costume and Adriana Lima in embroidered thigh-high boots, raising culturally-sensitive critics’ eyebrows.
But such concerns are mostly foreign to Chinese publications like Sohu Learning which applauded the use of Chinese elements in the fashion show by calling it “very ambitious” and “the latest ethnic trend”. The article went so far as to call the inclusion of an Imperial robe “appropriate” since the runway show took place in a former French palace.
Meanwhile, Chinese state media has trumpeted the inclusion of the four mainland models as evidence for China’s rising place in the fashion industry and the world in general.
Victoria’s Secret had been previously limited to operating only “concept stores” in China that sold perfume and accessories, but not its eponymous lingerie. An unidentified Victoria’s Secret employee told China Daily that the hold-up was due to “bureaucratic issues” that prevented the company’s goods from clearing Chinese customs.
Now, the lingerie dealer plans to open its first retail store in Shanghai later this year in grand style by taking over the 1,475 square-meter retail space formerly used by Louis Vuitton.
By Charles Liu
[Images via Sohu Learning / China Daily]
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