Victoria's Secret Mother Angel Talks Wings, Cara Delevingne & Empowering Women
Ripped Abs, feathered plumes and a $12million budget: the Victoria’s Secret show is the world’s biggest runway spectacle. Beaming into homes in over 185 countries and watched by more people across the globe than any other fashion event, it’s both the canniest hour-long marketing tool and the ultimate pink glitter-covered girl fest. Among the team that brings the show to life, which includes the British stylist Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou, it is Monica Mitro, the show’s executive producer and Victoria’s Secret executive vice president for brand communications, who rules the roost.
(Mother Angel, Monica Mitro)
As Mother Angel, Monica, who is a VS veteran of 20 years, is involved in the extravaganza every step of the way, from the initial discussion on themes – 2013’s show included stop-offs in Paris, the UK and a magical shipwreck – to the film of the show’s final edit. It was Cleveland native Monica who came up with the idea for the $1 million bra, first worn by Claudia Schiffer in 1996 (this year’s version worn by Candice Swanepoel was worth a staggering $10 million), and under her watchful eye, the show has become an iconic cultural event which has helped propel a successful lingerie label into a multi-billion-dollar business.
‘Each show is nine months in the making and involves countless people from artisans, couturiers, gaffers and electricians to photographers – and of course the Angels,’ Monica, a former model herself, explains backstage at New York’s Lexington Armory show venue. This year 40 models made the VS grade, a nod that can send their career stratospheric. ‘Once you’re in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, all the agents want to meet you,’ she says. ‘We’ve had a lot of success – Miranda [Kerr], Alessandra [Ambrosio], Behati [Prinsloo] and Candice [Swanepoel] all came in as looks models. Then we cast them and their careers took off.’
[The $10 million bra.]
Aside from the models, the show is, Monica argues, ‘all about the outfits’. Each look is handmade by artists and couturiers sourced from Paris’s esteemed couture houses. The show’s distinctive wings are painstakingly constructed. ‘Everything in the show is couture,’ says Monica. ‘The beading women will be working on pieces for months. This year we did a special 3D printed costume – Lindsay [Ellingson] had to go through an MRI scan to get her exact measurements then, over the months, they built it up.’ This year’s costumes were as sensational as ever.
‘For the “British Invasion” section, we wanted to evoke the VS heritage [during the 1980s the stores were remodelled to look like 19th-century English boutiques] so we had a British bobby, a horse-riding girl and a footballer.’ Playing striker was Cara Delevingne, whose fitting Monica says was, “the most fun”. Monica recalls the first time she met the British beauty: ‘Cara’s first show was last year and I hadn’t seen her before. She’d told us that she could roller skate then showed up and she was kind of lurching around and I was like, “Cara, you don’t know how to roller skate, do you?” We got her a coach but, finally, I said, “Cara, just wear shoes”. From last year to this, she’s become a superstar – all those major campaigns. We’re so proud of her.’
Of course such hiccups are par for the course, even in such an orchestrated production. ‘There are always mishaps,’ says Monica, ‘but no one tells me right away! A few years ago, I watched the show back and thought “Where are those wings?” Someone had worked on a pair of wings for months, then the model just couldn’t make the change. Or last year, Lais [Ribeiro] fell in rehearsal, sprained her ankle and couldn’t do the show. That was really, really tragic for her. Another girl had to wear her wings and they felt bad... well, for a second.’
Those wings can be both heavy – weighed down with jewels, metal frames and the Swarovski caviar which creates that sparkle – and unwieldy. ‘We make sure the girls can walk in both their heels [this year’s six-inchers were created by British designer Nicholas Kirkwood] and wings. Of course every girl is like, “Yes, yes, yes, I want them!” They literally scream and we always have criers.’
[The Victoria's Secret Angels]
While the spectacle of scantily-clad young girls romping on a shiny catwalk might not sound like the apex of feminism, Monica believes the brand ‘empowers’ women. ‘These girls are fit, healthy and they all have incredible personalities. A Victoria’s Secret model has to have a spark behind their eyes, we want them to be themselves in the show, to smile and get the crowd going. It’s about confidence.’
The company also says that 98 per cent of the lingerie sold in stores is purchased by women, who make up two thirds of the show’s global audience. Many of those viewers are ardent fans who have, Monica says, ‘an encyclopedic knowledge of the shows and girls. They know how many shows Adriana’s been in, who wore the fantasy bra in 2006 – they are so obsessed and loyal. Victoria’s Secret translates to so many people. Everyone loves the fantasy.’