Chinese model He Sui presents a creation during the 2017 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in Shanghai, east China, Nov. 20, 2017. (Xinhua/Ren Long)
by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- Victoria's Secret understands "sexy".
And with the retail market for women's lingerie in China estimated at 25 billion U.S. dollars -- nearly twice that of the United States -- China is the new "sexy".
SHANGHAI MEGA SHOW
This month, the retailer is debuting its Victoria's Secret Fashion Show featuring its "angels", young models clad in whiffs of lace and exotic, bejeweled wings, in Shanghai. The show will be globally televised on Nov. 28 on CBS in 190 countries and regions worldwide.
After the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in Paris, the company received complaints from Chinese bloggers about the use of Chinese-themed dragons and other Chinese cultural symbols. So a lot is riding on the success of the inaugural effort in Shanghai.
Ed Razek, executive producer of the fashion show and Victoria's Secret chief creative officer, told Xinhua that there will be performances by former One Direction boy band member Harry Styles, Grammy-winning artist Miguel, Tony Award winner Leslie Odom Jr., and Chinese popstar Jane Zhang and solo pianist Yundi Li.
In addition, 55 models from 18 countries and regions will be strutting the catwalk, including top Chinese models Ju Xiaowen, Liu Wen, He Sui, Ming Xi, Wang Yi, Xie Xin and Estelle Chen.
Founded in San Francisco in 1977, Victoria's Secret burst onto the American market by styling itself as an alternative to more humdrum, purely functional women's inner wear. The core strategy was to inject sex appeal into mass-market undies.
The strategy paid off and it became the largest American retailer of women's lingerie, pulling in 8 billion dollars in revenue in 2016 despite an 11 percent dip in sales.
Still, all is not rosy in the Victoria's Secret boudoir.
Women's groups have long decried its objectification of women's bodies. In "Victoria's Dirty Secret", a research article published by Canada's Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, its authors asserted, "Victoria's Secret sends a message to these adolescent girls and women that their models are the standard of beauty. Women in these ads are highly objectified, idealized, and sexualized. If women feel they have to live up to this sociocultural norm standard, it is only telling men that it is okay to objectify and sexualize women."
As varying body types have become more accepted, competitors have gained ground, and the athleisure movement is luring more women to place stylish comfort over high-maintenance sex appeal.
Add to that the growing trend to shop online and even leading brands are feeling the burn. To trim corporate fat, Victoria's Secret recently canceled its print catalogue, dumped its swimwear line, and announced plans to lay off 200 employees.
So the booming Chinese market could be manna from heaven.p Rapid economic growth and higher disposable income, combined with widespread exposure to leading global luxury brands has given Chinese consumers a taste for international brands and luxury merchandise.
BIG BUT NO EASY MARKET
After expanding internationally in the 1990s and 2000s in 38 countries and regions, Victoria's Secret entered China in 2015, opening its first storefront in Shanghai. Plans for a second store in Chengdu are in the works.
Spurred on by trends in social media and fashion-forward celebrities, Chinese women are increasingly embracing luxury lingerie, and are willing to pay a premium for it.
In Victoria's Secret's pink glass-fronted, four-story flagship store on Huaihai Road near Shanghai's fashionable Xintiandi shopping district, prices range from 300 yuan (45 dollars) to 4,000 yuan (605 dollars) or more.
The store also features "The Angel Suite", one of only three in the world, with the other two being in New York and London, catering to VIP customers seeking to view the latest in lingerie fashions in a private and exclusive setting.
However, while the Shanghai fashion show may create greater exposure, it can't solve the pressing issue of growing global competition.
Luxury Italian lingerie maker La Perla already has eight stores in China with additional outlets coming down the pike. Canada's athleisure yoga brand leader Lululemon is also weighing in with a flagship store in Shanghai. And China's own Guangdong-based mass-market lingerie brand Cosmo Lady has already staked claim to 4 percent of the domestic market.