Victoria’s Secret says its ‘runways have been culturally diverse for a long time,’ but it has been accused of cultural appropriation over and over again

Cindy Bruna walks the runway at the 2018 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

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Cindy Bruna walks the runway at the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
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Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

  • Monica Mitro, the Executive Vice President of Public Relations at Victoria’s Secret, told Vogue in an interview that the brand has “been culturally diverse for a long time.”
  • The executive continued to say that Victoria’s Secret was “one of the first to tell women to wear their natural hair.”
  • Despite the brand’s history of casting a diverse range of models, Victoria’s Secret has also been accused of cultural appropriation multiple times throughout the years.

Hours before the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was filmed on Thursday, Vogue published an interview with two Victoria’s Secret executives. Featured in the piece were Ed Razek, the Chief Marketing Officer of Victoria’s Secret’s parent brand L Brands, and Monica Mitro, Victoria Secret’s Executive Vice President of Public Relations.

Early on in the interview, Mitro says that Victoria’s Secret has “been culturally diverse for a long time.” In some ways, Mitro was right. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has featured models of color since its inception in 1995, and has hired more models of color in the years since. It has also been celebrated more recently for featuring models wearing their natural hair.

But despite the brand’s seemingly progressive casting, Victoria’s Secret has been accused of cultural appropriation on multiple occasions in recent years.

Victoria’s Secret executive Monica Mitro pointed out that the brand was the first to show a black model, Maria Borges, wearing her natural hair on the runway

When asked how Victoria’s Secret is handling the changing lingerie industry, which is seeing brands like Aerie grow in large part due to inclusive marketing campaigns, Mitro defended her company.

“I feel like our runways have been culturally diverse for a long time and that we’ve always celebrated our models’ backgrounds,” Mitro said. “I think we were one of the first to tell women to wear their natural hair, and that was a huge headline [two] years ago.”

Though brands like Prada and Balenciaga appear to have been the first mainstream designers to debut models wearing short Afros and close-cropped hair on the runway in March 2015, Victoria’s Secret was quick to follow suit in November 2015 when Maria Borges walked in the show wearing her natural hair.

Maria Borges was the first model to wear her natural hair during a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

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Maria Borges was the first model to wear her natural hair during a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
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Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

In April 2018, however, Tyra Banks said that a hairdresser hired by Victoria’s Secret wasn’t prepared to work with her natural hair, and it nearly cost her the job.

“I had to figure out how to make sure I looked good at work, because I almost lost my opportunity at Victoria’s Secret,” Banks told W Magazine. “I was sent home the first day because the hairdresser didn’t know what to do with my African American hair, so it looked crazy.”

Eventually, Banks said she was able to work in the show after she personally invited her own hairdresser to straighten her hair the following year. Banks said Victoria’s Secret has since hired hairdressers who know how to style natural hair.

Victoria’s Secret was also praised for casting its first Filipino model, Kelsey Merritt, in the 2018 show

This year, Merritt officially became the first Filipino model to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

On Instagram, the 22-year-old shared her excitement with fans after she learned that she had been cast to walk in the show.

“We did it Philippines! What an honor it is to be the first Filipino to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2018,” Merritt said.

Kelsey Merritt became the first Filipino model to walk in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show this year.

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Kelsey Merritt became the first Filipino model to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show this year.
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Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Canadian model Winnie Harlow also walked the show’s runway this year for the first time. The 24-year-old was awarded the Breakthrough Model of the Year at The Daily Front Row’s Fashion Media Awards in September.

Harlow, who has vitiligo, a rare skin condition, told Vogue she wanted “to shatter pre-existing beauty standards” at the Victoria’s Secret show.

“Representation is so important, and I want to [stand for] all women,” she said. “Every single woman.”

Winnie Harlow walks the runway at the 2018 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

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Winnie Harlow walks the runway at the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
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Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

While Victoria’s Secret might appear to be culturally diverse, the brand may not have always been culturally sensitive

Since 2010, Victoria’s Secret has been accused of cultural appropriation multiple times.

The 2010 show sparked controversy after it featured a “Wild Things” segment that included models, who were primarily women of color, wearing animal print lingerie and neck rings. As Revelist pointed out, Victoria’s Secret seemingly exoticized its models of color by having them walk almost exclusively during this portion of the show.

Read more: It’s finally time for Victoria’s Secret to ditch its supermodel-filled fashion show for good

Model Emanuela De Paulo walked the runway wearing animal print as barefoot men in sarongs danced in the background.

In 2010, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show featured a section called

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In 2010, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show featured a section called “Wild Things.”
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Theo Wargo/Getty Images

In the following years, Victoria’s Secret did not appear to have learned from its mistakes

In 2012, Karlie Kloss walked the runway wearing a headdress in attempts to represent indigenous people, which both Kloss and Victoria’s Secret apologized for before it was removed from the broadcast.

Karlie Kloss apologized on Twitter for wearing this outfit.

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Karlie Kloss apologized on Twitter for wearing this outfit.
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Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

But once again in 2014, the show featured an “Exotic Travelers” segment during which models walked wearing tribal-print lingerie. Many felt that the section promoted cultural appropriation.

Model Joan Smalls walked during the show wearing tribal-print lingerie and feathers. While it’s not clear as to which specific culture Victoria’s Secret drew inspiration from for these outfits, many still felt it was insensitive of the brand to seemingly exploit traditional garments.

Joan Smalls walked the runway at the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

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Joan Smalls walked the runway at the 2014 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Victoria’s Secret was accused of cultural appropriation again in 2016

Specifically, the 2016 show’s “Road Ahead” portion led to criticism. Garments worn during the segment appeared to have been inspired by Asian and Chinese cultures, including one that looked like a dragon. Many felt that the outfits mocked cultures that weren’t represented by models who walked in the show.

Elsa Hosk's outfit was deemed insensitive by many.

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Elsa Hosk’s outfit was deemed insensitive by many.
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Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Most recently in 2017, the brand came under fire once again for its “Nomadic Adventures” segment. Models, such as Candace Swanepoel, who walked during this portion wore tribal prints and Navajo-style beading. Viewers quickly criticized the brand for taking part in what they felt was cultural appropriation of indigenous people.

Candace Swanepoel wore an outfit that featured tribal prints.

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Candace Swanepoel wore an outfit that featured tribal prints.
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Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Victoria’s Secret has made progress over the years, but its fashion show still has a long way to go

For every step forward that Victoria’s Secret has taken, the brand also appears to have taken another step back with accusations of cultural appropriation. The brand does appear to have hired more models of color in recent years, but that does not mean that these accusations of cultural appropriation should be ignored.

And the show, while becoming more culturally diverse in some ways, still only represents women with one body type. The progress that Victoria’s Secret has already made is important, but won’t be enough to sustain the fashion show if the brand does not continue to move forward.

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show airs Sunday, December 2, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. Find out more about how to watch the show here.

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