Victoria’s Secret has steadily become the superpower in fashion.
Sixteen of the 21 models on Forbes’ World’s Highest Paid Models list this year are either currently modelling their lingerie or have been one of their Angels in the past.
The brand is making models into millionaires and lingerie into front-page news. So what does it take to succeed in the most lucrative gig in fashion?
“The answer will surprise you,” says Ed Razek, chief marketing officer at Victoria’s Secret. “It’s how women respond to them.”
The rationale makes perfect sense; women do the majority of VS shopping. But it may shock the brand’s legions of adoring male fans.
“All of these women would be the best looking girl any guy had ever seen – guys are easy,” Razek laughs.
The annual Victoria’s Secret catwalk show that aired earlier this month is the most watched fashion event in the world. And it’s no surprise. As well as the copious amounts of lingerie, the Angels look like they’re having an absolute blast. It results in a procession of smiling faces that’s more fun than most brands dare to have on the catwalk. It’s more party than elitist runway show.
This year saw The Weeknd sing Can’t Feel My Face as well as stunning Disney graduate Selena Gomez perform to a global audience. Around 100 models are selected by Victoria’s Secret scouts from the year’s runway shows, who must then audition for the final role at the event.
A few have Angel contracts – the likes of mega-bucks Adriana Lima and Candice Swanepoel – and are signed up before the trials. But for the rest, it’s the last hurdle before making it onto the brand’s hallowed catwalk.
“All of these women would be the best looking girl any guy had ever seen – guys are easy”
So what are they looking for in order to turn a model into an Angel?
“We want women that are positive and happy and support each other,” Razek explained to Forbes.
Despite such a progressive approach to the selection process, becoming a successful Angel doesn’t come easy.
Looking at the brand’s rollcall makes it clear they support super-toned gym bunnies over high profile It Girls, and have turned a number of minor names into global megastars.
“There are rare athletes and rare models who have very long careers because they do the work, prepare and don’t take it for granted,” Razek concluded.
So how have five of the brand’s top earners achieved the holy grail of the fashion industry in 2015?
The longest-running Angel in Victoria’s Secret history, having been contracted to the brand since 2000, 34-year-old Lima banked a whopping $9m this year and is at No 2 on the models’ rich list. Speaking to Forbes, Razek was clear as to why she enjoys continued success. “Adriana Lima has consistently been supportive of younger models,” he says. “She doesn’t treat them as a threat or competition, answering any questions they have.”
Ambrosio is one of the most recognisable faces of recent Victoria’s Secret fashion shows with a killer smile not usually present on the runway. Charting at No 8, she banked a whopping $5m this year. She also made her acting debut in steamy Brazilian soap opera Verdades Secretas (Secrets And Lies).
Speaking to Glamour, Ambrosio was clear that the key to her success is sharing. “Maybe today it’s my turn to wear the Fantasy Bra, but next year, it’s going to be someone else,” she explained. “We get inspired by each other. The Angels are my coworkers, they’re gorgeous, and everyone there has their own spotlight.”
South African Swanepoel was discovered in a flea market in Durban but has rocketed up to No 8 on the rich list, matching Alessandra Ambrosio’s $5m pay cheque – almost twice what Swanepoel earned last year. Speaking to Vogue, the stunner – who also wowed playing Marilyn Monroe for Max Factor earlier this year – was clear to the reasons for her success.
“Boxing, laughing a lot, pilates, yoga – everything that involves core exercises and lots of resistance training,” she explained. “I have a trainer in New York who has been working with me for about eight years now. I also love yoga for the spiritual and physical sides. It’s hard to meditate in New York City, which is why I like to travel to remote places where I am surrounded by nature.” Not gorging on pies, then.
Despite the fact Kloss is no longer an Angel, trading in her wings earlier this year, a sizable chunk of her $5m haul is still largely thanks to the work she did with the brand. She made her debut for Victoria’s Secret in 2011, before famously cutting her hair into a bob before the show in 2012. It clearly worked, as the cut became known as ‘the Karlie’.
Kloss has become known as ‘The nice one’ in the fashion industry, and it’s a tag many credit to her great success aged only 23. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a superstar or not,” she says. “I think that the people who don’t forget that and let it change them are the ones who have long-term success.”
20-year-old Jenner made her Victoria’s Secret debut at the 20th anniversary of the brand’s fashion show this year. Rocketing up the rich list by earning a cool $4m, the glorious Jenner looks set for an illustrious modelling career. Fashion powerhouse Vogue agree, claiming earlier this month that although the phrase supermodel is overused, she is truly worthy of the title.
Speaking about how close the Angels are backstage at this year’s show, Jenner said: “It’s really exciting and it makes it more comfortable. Sharing this moment with your best friends is awesome.”
Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum