On Wednesday, Victoria’s Secret announced official plans to replace their once vaunted Angels, the stable of supermodels who strutted down the runway in the glitzy annual fashion show that was often dubbed the Super Bowl of lingerie. Current Victoria’s Secret CEO Martin Waters went as far as to say that the Angels were not “culturally relevant.”
The sexy show was quietly halted in 2019 after the beleaguered brand was tied to a multitude of scandals including complaints about a lack of diversity, plunging show ratings, declining sales and L Brands founder Les Wexner’s cozy relationship with accused child sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein.
But for nearly two decades, the show and its models shaped pop culture, launched careers, controversies and headlines.
“Back in the day, becoming an Angel was proof that you had arrived at supermodel status,” said Aliza Licht, author and host of the “Leave Your Mark” podcast. The Victoria’s Secret show and campaign helped turn a virtual United Nations of catwalkers such as Gisele Bündchen, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Alessandra Ambrosio into household names. And it didn’t just stop at lithe ladies. The extravaganza featured chart-topping singers and pushed broadcasting boundaries with the sexy display.
“The best example of this was exemplified by the crossover success of the fashion show to globally broadcasted network television, starting on ABC in 2001. Cries of indecency to the FCC from the public didn’t slow them down,” said Licht.
The Angel universe even turned the trainers, who toned the models’ gamine bodies, into bona fide influencers.
But after a two-decade run of holding a monopoly on the lingerie world, the brand was saddled with baggage, unable to pivot and grow with fashion’s new edict of “inclusivity.” The Angels fell to Earth.
Licht said, “The world has changed, though, and today’s Angels are more likely health-care workers and activists than lingerie-clad models.”
As the chapter is officially closed, here are some of the show’s sexiest, most controversial and defining moments.
A daring debut
The show kicked off in 1995 at the ritzy Plaza Hotel in Manhattan and included iconic ’90s supermodel Stephanie Seymour. But it was not a glitzy, winged affair with fantastical costumes. Rather it was a showcase of catwalkers wearing sensible panties and bras, otherwise known as the undergarments normal ladies own.
A wing and a prayer
The Angels officially earned their wings in 1998. Tyra Banks sported a tall ivory pair with her sexy yet simple bra and panties. Over the years, the wings would morph into intricately designed showstoppers that resembled the wildest costume at Rio’s Carnival.
What’s your ‘Fantasy’?
In the late ’90s, the lingerie brand introduced staggeringly expensive “Fantasy” bras encrusted with pricey jewels and impracticality. In 2000, Bündchen wore a $15 million ruby and diamond bra and panty set. The next year, Heidi Klum hit the runway in a $12.5 million bra complete with a 90-carat emerald-cut diamond nestled into the center. More colorful precious breast-holders followed, including Candice Swanepoel’s $10 million cups made of rubies, diamonds and yellow sapphires that were topped off with a giant teardrop ruby.
Stars turn the runway into a stage
Things got spicy on the runway in 2007 when legendary English pop group the Spice Girls reunited for a girl power session. The members, including Victoria Beckham, wore sexy 1940s military costumes and performed “Stop” and “Headlines (Friendship Never Ends).”
. . . And used it to woo their mates
That same year, Klum sang a duet of “Wedding Day” with her then-husband, singer Seal. Also in that show, he serenaded his wife, who was wearing a massive icicle on her back, to “Amazing.” The pair, who had four children, including Klum’s daughter Leni, from a previous relationship, split in 2012.
The runway serenade hasn’t exactly been auspicious. In 2011, sexy Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine performed “Moves Like Jagger.” As his then-girlfriend Anne V hit the catwalk, he grabbed the Angel’s hand, escorted her down and kissed her cheek as the crowd cheered them on. The pair split in 2012 and Levine started dating Angel Behati Prinsloo, whom he later married. In 2013, while she walked, he stayed offstage and gave her a standing ovation from the front row.