Can Chi­nese women save de­clin­ing Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret?

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Louise Ho The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

Amer­i­can lin­gerie brand Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret opened two full-line re­tail stores, on Huai­hai Road, Shang­hai and in Chengdu, Sichuan Prov­ince, last week. The news gen­er­ated much pub­lic­ity, as it is the first time for Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret to sell its sig­na­ture sexy ap­parel in China (hereto­fore they were only au­tho­rized to sell per­fumes and beauty prod­ucts).

The in­creas­ing pur­chas­ing power of Chi­nese con­sumers has, in re­cent years, spun off a bur­geon­ing lin­gerie mar­ket in China. Ac­cord­ing to mar­ket re­search firm Euromon­i­tor, China’s lin­gerie mar­ket is ex­pected to be val­ued at $25 bil­lion this year, dou­ble the value of the US mar­ket. An­a­lysts said com­pared to the more-sat­u­rated lux­ury and beauty care mar­ket, the lin­gerie in­dus­try in China has big growth po­ten­tial.

As a Chi­nese woman, I un­der­stand Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret ap­peal. I used to shop from their web­site from time to time, long be­fore they had any pres­ence in China. It’s where my vo­cab­u­lary ex­panded from biki­nis and T-thongs to “cheekies,” “cheeki­nis,” “hi­phug­gers” and “short­ies.” An im­por­tant rea­son why the brand is so pop­u­lar is its af­ford­abil­ity. For ex­am­ple, a ba­sic T-shirt bra is only $40 while a pair of knick­ers is $20 for two, with year-round pro­mo­tions on­line. To look sexy in their lin­gerie is now a to­tally at­tain­able dream for the av­er­age Chi­nese women.

There of course is no lack of pre­mium lin­gerie brands in Shang­hai, where I live, but Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret has a spe­cial place in the hearts of Chi­nese women be­cause of its an­nual fash­ion show. Ev­ery year, the brand in­vites su­per­mod­els to saunter down a cat­walk wear­ing lin­gerie along with a pair of wings (the brand’s sym­bol) on the backs of mod­els, hence their name, “An­gels.” Be­cause of the global ex­po­sure this show re­ceives, only A-list celebri­ties and jour­nal­ists are in­vited.

The show is broad­cast in 200 coun­tries and is very pop­u­lar in China. Ev­ery de­tail of the event is closely mon­i­tored by Chi­nese me­dia and ne­ti­zens, who have be­come so ob­sessed with it that dur­ing the same month it is aired, lo­cal women col­lec­tively start di­et­ing, ex­er­cis­ing and tak­ing self­ies of their slim bod­ies for so­cial me­dia; their own per­sonal way of show­ing sol­i­dar­ity with the An­gels of Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret.

There have also been nu­mer­ous reports of fake Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret fash­ion events tak­ing place around China. Ev­ery win­ter, wannabe Chi­nese mod­els are hired by lo­cal shop­ping mall man­agers or auto expo or­ga­niz­ers in re­mote lo­cales like Nan­chang, Jiangxi Prov­ince, and Wuhan, Hubei Prov­ince, to try to at­tract cus­tomers. Dressed in Chi­nese-brand panties and wear­ing cheap-look­ing wings, these poor girls earn only a frac­tion of what a real An­gel earns.

China’s fas­ci­na­tion with Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret has not gone un­no­ticed by the cor­po­ra­tion’s brand man­age­ment. The Chi­nese el­e­ments pre­sented at its event in Paris last year proves that Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret highly val­ues the Chi­nese mar­ket de­spite hav­ing no full-line re­tail stores here. Five Chi­nese su­per­mod­els were in­vited to join the An­gels team, and Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics (in­clud­ing a big dragon hang­ing on the back of one model) were in­cor­po­rated into de­signs seen on­stage.

News about the Shang­hai soft open­ing ex­ploded on lo­cal so­cial me­dia. Young women from all over China made a pil­grim­age to the store for its open­ing. Crowds, how­ever, were not as huge as ex­pected, prob­a­bly due to the fact that it was a work­day. When the 1,475-square-me­ter space (for­merly a Louis Vuit­ton store) of­fi­cially opens next week, I’m sure throngs of women will be there el­bow­ing each other to snatch up all those 200 yuan ($29.10) thongs.

Un­for­tu­nately, in­vestors are con­cerned that Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret sales have been in de­cline in re­cent years. L Brands, the New York Stock Ex­change-traded par­ent com­pany of Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret, re­vealed sag­ging sales for fourth quar­ter 2016 and first quar­ter 2017 in its earn­ings reports last week. An­a­lysts say sexy lin­gerie is not what women want any­more, now that more com­fort­able un­der­gar­ments have be­come en vogue.

None­the­less, Shang­hai and Chengdu are only the be­gin­ning for Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret in China. The brand an­nounced it would hold a fash­ion show in Shang­hai this year, and more shops around China may even­tu­ally open as well. It re­mains to be seen (but only by their hus­bands) if the fe­male Chi­nese masses are will­ing to re­place their tried-and-true lo­cal un­der­gar­ment brands for Amer­i­can-made frill and lace.

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