On Thursday, as the 2018 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show was set to tape, Vogue.com published an interview with the brand's Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek and Executive Vice President of Public Relations Monica Mitro. In it, Nicole Phelps takes Victoria's Secret to task for its homogenous casting practices, namely, only both casting women who are very thin and not casting trans women.
To say that Razek's responses — which included answers like, "Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy." — were a disaster would be something of an understatement. The interview quickly went viral online, with many outside and inside the fashion industry rebuking Razek's comments. By the time, Victoria's Secret released an apology from Razek on Twitter late Friday night, specifically addressing his comments about the trans community, but not the plus-size customer, it was too late.
By Saturday, the Model Alliance had posted a statement of its own on Instagram. "We are disappointed by the recent comments about trans and plus-size models made by Ed Razek, CMO of L Brands, Victoria's Secret's parent company," it begins. "Such comments create a hostile work environment for people who do not conform to Victoria's Secret's mold – one that enforces an idea of female beauty that is predominantly white, cisgender, young and thin."
The Model Alliance calls on Victoria's Secret to join its RESPECT program, a legally binding agreement that will protect models against sexual harassment, as well as provide a blueprint to create safe working environments for everyone involved. "This is not the 'PC' thing to do," the statement reads, digging at Razek's insistence that diversifying Victoria's Secret's casting would be exclusively the "politically correct thing to do." "[T]his is best business practice."
Leyna Bloom, a trans model whose campaign to be cast in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show went viral in April, posted to her Instagram. "This is the moment where all trans people should abandon this brand, this is the problem of our society today," it reads. "I’m disappointed, because I thought you were the leaders and now I know your the problem, and I’m thankful for you for revealing your secret [sic]."
Model Alliance member Karen Elson spoke up, as well, noting that while she has many friends who walk the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, she believes things need to change. "Every VS show I hear stories of models doing excruciating work outs and restrictive diets to look 'perfect' for the show," she says. "I want to see women in their natural state whatever that may be, not one that’s been tortured in the name of beauty, because real beauty shouldn’t be detrimental to women’s mental health and well-being."
Over the weekend, calls also came in through Twitter for models associated with the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show to stand up for their trans sisters; so far, just Lily Aldridge and Karlie Kloss responded by posting a graphic reading, "Trans and GNC [gender non-conforming] people are not a debate" to their Instagram stories, while Kendall Jenner posted a pin reading "Celebrate Trans Women" to her own.
It remains to be seen how the controversy will continue to impact this year's show, which won't air until Dec. 2, or if it will even change the company's practices at all. But it certainly can't help the troubled lingerie giant, which has been facing declining sales for years and which — whether Razek cares to admit it or not — is increasingly losing its market share to brands like Aerie, ThirdLove and Rihanna's own Savage x Fenty, the latter of which was widely praised for its diverse casting at New York Fashion Week in September.