How the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show Costumes Come to Life

Brooklyn-based artist and costumer Jeff Fender let 'Fashionista' into his studio in the weeks leading up to the brand's debut runway show in London.
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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Brooklyn-based artist and costumer Jeff Fender let 'Fashionista' into his studio in the weeks leading up to the brand's debut runway show in London.
Trying on a hand-painted look for the show that's meant for a woman a foot taller than I am. Photo: Nina Frazier Hansen/Fashionista

Trying on a hand-painted look for the show that's meant for a woman a foot taller than I am. Photo: Nina Frazier Hansen/Fashionista

The event I look forward to most every holiday season by far is the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. It allows me to tune out the world for an hour and step into a fantasy land where all of the women are flawless, magical creatures — Angels, in fact — the soundtrack is perpetually Taylor Swift and the clothes are handmade works of art. The lingerie brand is taking its runway extravaganza to London for the first time next month, and ahead of the team's trek across the pond, we were invited to Brooklyn for a visit with Jeff Fender, an artist and costumer who's responsible for hand-painting upwards of eight pieces for the show each year.

Fender, who's been working with Victoria's Secret on its runway ensembles for five years, welcomed us to his Williamsburg space by showing us "The Bible" — a comically overstuffed binder where he stores all of his paint samples, swatches, vendors and inspiration for safekeeping. It's filled with the beginnings of this year's designs (which include tribal-inspired silk painted pants and an oversized vinyl raincoat for the "Pink" segment) and scraps from shows past — the most notable of which is a Moroccan-inspired skirt that consisted of 40 yards of fabric and took five days to paint.

Throughout the rest of the year, the artist and his small team primarily work with Broadway shows like "The Book of Mormon" and "Cinderella," as well as on some productions in Vegas, but the Victoria's Secret commitment is a big one: preparations in Fender's studio begin as early as nine months ahead. "Most of the time they send ideas in the beginning, we do a sample and [Victoria's Secret] approves the colors," Fender explained of his hand-painted fabrics, which this year are mainly silk and vinyl, a textile he's never worked with for the brand before. "We get the inspiration in April or May, so we’re working through the summer."

While Fender and his team can rack up to eight hours of actual painting time a day, that doesn't account for the pattern-drawing and the back-and-forth with the in-house designers."It’s still a 'couture' thing, with all of the hours and the work that goes in — especially with the painting," Fender said. Even though the pieces he painstakingly creates only have to last for a dress rehearsal and the main event (unlike Broadway costumes that must endure eight performances a week), that doesn't make his job any easier. "It's the same amount of time to paint flowers on something that will last 10 minutes as something that will last 10 years."

Fender's pieces have been worn by the likes of Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift, and this year he created a pair of loose trousers for Dutch model Maud Welzen, which we were able to see at her fitting for the show. Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at Fender's work for Victoria's Secret, and see it all come to life when the show airs on Dec. 9 on CBS.