Future of the runway: Fenty vs Victoria Secret

The basics are all there – a fashion show with a little bit more: live performances, theatrical looks, a focus on the female body as a part of the spectacle and charismatic models who make the show that little bit more special. Seeing beautiful people parade around in something as intimate as underwear for all to see is a staple to the Victoria’s Secret show that drew people in since its inception and Savage x Fenty takes this same path. However, that is where the comparison ends.

Rihanna’s new lingerie line takes the path untrodden in its diversity of colour, size, disability and sexuality in the models that walk the stage and the way femininity is shown to the masses; you can be sexy with a shaved head, you can be sexy with a prosthetic leg, you no longer have to look like everyone else in order to be a beautiful person. The brand takes a look at femininity and sexuality through a decidedly female lens, no longer catering to the male gaze and focusing instead on making women feel good about themselves. Even some past Victoria’s Secret models joined the cavalcade of women to show off Rihanna’s designs, highlighting the difference between the two brands as Bella Hadid rocked a covered head with gelled down curls, walking alongside Laverne Cox, who would not have been accepted on the VS stage due to her being transgender, someone the VS chief marketing officer Ed Razak stated would not be seen on their runway. This marked shift away from exclusivity to diversity and the incredible response from the public demonstrates a world that is ready for something new and better, demanding to see more of themselves reflected on the runway, rather than a select few deemed beautiful enough to be seen.

Not only were the models different, the performances and the show space took the lingerie catwalk to new heights. Not content with a straight forward runway, Rihanna’s team crafted a performance space more in tune with a theatre than a fashion show, with different settings to showcase each new collection. Dancers sporting Fenty lingerie performed routines as the models crossed the stage, arranged up and down stairs, stood in windows and on pedestals in a pool of water, as much of a feature to the show as the models were, proving that the underwear is as flexible as it is beautiful. Even Rihanna herself joined the dancers, performing in the opening number in a black bodysuit, verifying to her fans that she is as fully involved in her brand as anyone else and bringing her unique flair into fashion as she has always done. The musical aspects also highlights a change to the runway as each singer or rapper graced the stage by themselves without the accompaniment of models, allowing their music to speak for itself, rather than as a mere background to the fashion.

These significant changes to the way runway shows, especially lingerie shows, are run suggests that as a society, the desire for representation and inclusivity is now expected from brands and, as evidenced by the slow decline of the Victoria’s Secret brand, that expectation demands to be met. The overwhelming success of Rihanna’s debut show points to a future where the audience can look forward to seeing themselves walking down the runway, either through representation or in the real, as the doors to the world of fashion are slowly but surely being pried open for everyone.

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Josephine Nyeko-Lacek

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August 2022
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