Lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret has furthered its quest for world domination with an elaborate fashion show in Shanghai, China – but the execution was not without its struggles.
Visa issues for models and performers and crew members’ concerns about the Chinese government monitoring their communications plagued the annual event on Monday, which traditionally costs upwards of $US20 ($A26.5 million) million to pull off.
The company, founded in 1977 in California, is making a concerted bid for the Chinese market, opening a four-storey flagship store in China in February, followed by another in Chengdu. There are also plans for a third store in Beijing.
But the underwear megastore may have to tread carefully if the tumultuous preparations for its latest parade are anything to go by.
Singer Katy Perry was slated to perform but pulled out at the last minute, reportedly because she was unable to obtain a visa after wearing a Taiwanese flag at a 2015 concert in Taipei.
Model Gigi Hadid had to be dropped when her visa request was also denied, allegedly for a video posted earlier this year showing her squinting while holding up a Buddha cookie.
At the time, Chinese social media lit up with criticism for the model, with some users on the platform Weibo saying she was “not welcome” in China, despite Hadid’s apologies.
Four Russian models and a number of press were also denied visas, while staffers working on the show were convinced their emails were being monitored by the Chinese government.
A wardrobe malfunction for Bella Hadid and a mid-catwalk tumble for Chinese model Ming Xi added insult to injury, and the much-anticipated after-party was shut down early by local police.
Still, the brand is set for major success in China, says Fuming Jiang, a professor of international business at Curtin University.
“There’s so much competition in China, you need to do something big [like a runway show] to make an impact,” Professor Jiang explains.
“Young people will love it – a large part of the population don’t have those body shapes, so it’s very attractive.”
As for whether the government could be monitoring VS crew members’ emails, Professor Jiang says it’s “likely”.
“If you are recording in public, they do take notice. For China’s government the most important thing is stability.”
Dr Karen Yuang Wang, senior lecturer at the UTS business school, concurs that there are certain topics that are off-limits for a Chinese audience.
Last year’s show was slammed on Weibo for using Chinese symbols like dragons and phoenixes as part of its costumes, with one user commenting: “Chinese style is reserved; linking it with bikini outfits just makes it slutty.”
“It would be inappropriate if linking a dragon with a bikini, as dragons symbolise the power of a man. Chinese shoppers won’t accept it,” Dr Wang explains.
“In brief, businesses entering China should avoid referencing Western religions, Taiwan and Hong Kong independence, human rights, freedom of speech or media and negative aspects of Chinese culture.”
Surprisingly, the main thing Victoria’s Secret needs to do to succeed in China is to hire fewer Chinese models, according to Professor Jiang.
This year’s show saw Chinese pop star Jane Zhang perform, while a record six Chinese models walked the runway.
“Chinese people want to see different faces, not more of the same! All the store windows in the big cities have models with European faces,” Professor Jiang laughs.
As an added bonus, the company’s name may also help its business fortunes.
“The name Victoria is a really good word in China, because it’s from the United Kingdom and the Queen – it’s a famous name,” Professor Jiang says.