Thinking with... Victoria's Secret

Updated: Sep 27, 2020


A group of Victoria's Secret models. Photo Credit: business insider

The idea to make wearable angels wings from trash, exploring the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis, came from the notorious American women's underwear company, Victoria's Secret (VS).


Since 1997, VS have hired top-models to be their 'angels', crowning them with the chance to not only walk 'the world's most watched fashion show' with fellow models, but to walk the catwalk wearing VS' renowned wings (Xidias, 2018).


After claims of sexual harassment, stock wastage, cultural appropriation and diversity issues, VS decided to stop running their fashion shows after 2018. The chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, noted this was in order to avoid diversifying their models and maintain the 'fantasy' of the shows (or maybe just maintain Razek's male fantasies of the show) (Phelps, 2018).


Since then, the UK branch of the company has gone into administration, with many business experts citing the company's inability to promote a body positive message as a major factor in sale decline (BBC, 2020).


What does it mean for me to borrow the image of wings from such a problematic company? Out of all the historical and cultural angel iconography, why was it that VS sparked my creativity to make wings out of trash?


Let's try to work this out...

Wearing the trash wings. Photo Credit: Charlotte Discombe.

As a young girl growing up in the "noughties", I watched clips of the yearly VS fashion shows. Being lanky and shy, I watched in awe as these super skinny and super busty women strutted their stuff down the catwalk. I watched knowing I would never attain that level of beauty, confidence or physique, and would therefore never wear a pair of stunning VS wings.


Throughout Call Us Angels, I have worried that by making my own wings I am reclaiming my childhood dream to be a VS model. The idea that I could create a project that invited ALL women to wear trash wings on their local streets with pride certainly entertained this fantasy, as those of us who could not be a VS angel could still wear wings on our own catwalk. Maybe this is why VS sparked the image of trash angel wings, I'm still unsure.


Despite this, it was important that Call Us Angels did not get stuck under the image of VS. This is why I have been so reluctant to talk about borrowing the image of the wings from VS. Instead, I wanted to emphasise that making and wearing angel wings from trash became a way for me, and fellow angels, to practically work through and understand the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis. I wanted the project to really question whether the women who fight for climate justice could be seen as guardian angels of the world.

'What we require of the photographer is the ability to give his picture a caption that wrenches it from modish commerce and gives it a revolutionary use value.' - Walter Benjamin, 1934

German philosopher Walter Benjamin, has been extremely useful when thinking about what it means to borrow the image of angel wings from a profit-driven company like VS. Throughout 'The Author As Producer', his address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism, Benjamin discusses the possible revolutionary power in changing a 'production apparatus' (Benjamin, 1934). Benjamin uses the example of a photographer who takes a photo of poverty. Let's say the photo itself is the original production apparatus. Unless the photographer provides the picture with 'a caption that wrenches it from modish commerce and gives it a revolutionary use value' (Benjamin, 1934), the photo will just be consumed as a photo of poverty. If, instead, the photographer places said picture in a newspaper accompanied by words describing the poverty stricken neighbourhood, thus changing the original production apparatus, the photo will have more of an impact and perhaps cause a reaction in those consuming the photo. This is because the photo is not just a photo of poverty anymore, but a photo within a context that allows it to highlight social injustices.


Relating this change of production apparatus to Call Us Angels, I see the VS wings within a profit-drive company as being the original production apparatus. By taking the image of the wings out of the VS context and placing them into an ecofeminist project, I am completely changing the production apparatus of the VS wings. I am literally taking the sparkly and glamorous VS wings, and turning them to trash. In doing so, I hope the image of my trash wings is not controlled by VS. Instead I hope issues like VS' wastage can be made apparent to my audience, rather than the fact I have borrowed this image from VS, emphasising the fact there needs to be pressure put on big corporate companies, like VS, to change their wasteful and harmful habits.

'what matters, therefore, is the exemplary character of production, which is able, first, to induce other producers to produce, and, second, to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better, the more consumers it is able to turn into producers - that is, readers or spectators into collaborators' - Walter Benjamin, 1934

Throughout Call Us Angels I have created a product that can be produced (the trash wings) but also consumed by many (Instagram videos), and that confuses me. Even though Call Us Angels is not a corporate company creating massive amounts of angel wings in order to generate profit, having created a project that often turns to blame corporate companies for the growing ecological crisis, it seems almost hypocritical of me. I think this is hypocritical because, like VS, I have created my own production line of wings. Instead of using the image of wings to get customers to buy sexy underwear and thus allow the company to continue to make and profit from their products, I am sending out instructions to fellow angels to get them to produce their own trash wings. I worry I personally benefit too much from encouraging angels to produce their own trash wings; the more angels that get involved, the better the project looks for my MA and for future collaborators, removing focus from the real issues at hand. I hope the slowness and care that has gone into making these hand-made wings, and the project itself, can triumph over my worries and focus me back on the matter at hand - the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis.


Benjamin states that 'the exemplary character of production [...] is [...] to induce other producers to produce' (Benjamin, 1934). Does this mean that VS is an exemplary character of production as it has inspired me to produce my own wings? Does this mean that Call Us Angels is still tainted by the VS image? Perhaps. However, I still grasp onto the hope that Call Us Angels has successfully removed these VS wings from their original context, and has turned them into something else - trash wings to symbolise the complicated relationship between gender and the ecological crisis. Whether or not fellow angels will just consume images of Call Us Angels on Instagram, rather than collaborating and producing their own trash wings is a question that can only be answered with time...


For now, I will continue to think and battle with the project's complicated relationship with Victoria's Secret, consumption and production.

Work Referenced:


Benjamin, Walter. 'The Author as Producer'. Selected Writings vol 2 part 2 1931-1934, London: Belknap Press, 2005, PP.768-781.


Harpers Bazar. 'Victoria's Secret is being accused of cultural appropriation yet again'. Harpers Bazar, 2017, https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/fashion/fashion-news/a13880726/victorias-secret-cultural-appropriation-native-american/, (Accessed: 2020).


Harper, Leah. 'Victoria's Secret under fire after store dumps hundreds of bras in bin'. The Guardian, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/19/victorias-secret-under-fire-after-store-dumps-hundreds-of-bras-in-bin, (Accessed: 2020).


Lampen, Claire. 'Victoria's Secret Executives Allegedly Created a "Culture of Misogyny"'. The Cut, 2020, https://www.thecut.com/2020/02/victorias-secret-executives-accused-of-harassment.html, (Accessed: 2020).


Petter, Olivia. 'Victoria's Secret boss apologises for "insensitive" comment about why he doesn't hire transgender models'. The Independent, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/victorias-secret-ed-razek-transgender-models-lingerie-trans-controversy-apology-a8627526.html, (Accessed: 2020).


'...' 'Victoria's Secret boss "steps down" following criticism over lack of diversity'. The Independent, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/victorias-secret-jan-singer-ceo-resigns-diversity-fashion-show-controversy-a8634886.html, (Accessed: 2020).


Phelps, Nicole. '"We're nobody's Third Love, we're their first love"'. Vogue, 2018, https://www.vogue.com/article/victorias-secret-ed-razek-monica-mitro-interview, (Accessed: 2020).

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