Monday, July 31, 2023

I know Victoria's Secret Too

 In her song “I Know Victoria’s Secret,” singer Jax reveals that Victoria’s secret is that she was made up by an old man living in Ohio.  She’s right, but there’s more to it than that.  

Victoria’s Secret was invented by a man named Roy Raymond, who tried shopping for foundation garments at stores like Sears and found the experience inadequate.  Underwear for both men and women was produced by the same companies that produced them for the troops in WWII and sold them in packs of three, mostly in white, but sometimes prints or pastels for women.  Raymond was aware that the most successful clothing mail-order catalog that wasn’t Sears was Fredrick’s of Hollywood.  He had the idea to do the same thing, but less trashy and in a better location than West Hollywood.  Not knowing much about California, he picked Palo Alto for his first store and produced his first catalog with two sigs (16 pages) and a cover, which immediately sold out.

In the late 1970s, Les Wexner studied the growing patterns of young women shopping in the new phenomenon of suburban malls.  He combined that with the fashion sense he gleaned from the more popular women’s fashion magazines and found low-cost producers to make similar items priced for middle-class young women, with the result being The Limited, which by 1980 was almost entirely located in suburban malls.

Wexner was much better with money than Raymond, and in 1982, offered to buy out a bankrupt Raymond and add Victoria’s Secret to Limited Brands.  With the deal completed, Wexner was the unchallenged “King of Malls” and remained so until total sales in malls started falling off in the new century.

Jax’s song suggests Wexner might have been creepy.  He might have been, but not in an Aqualung sort of way as the song suggests, but in more of a Merchant of Venice sort of way.  He’s not eyeing little girls with bad intent, but he is making an awful lot of money.  

I’ve heard people read the long “I am a jew” speech from Shylock, suggesting that Shylock might have been a sympathetic character, and Shakespeare might have been sympathetic to Jews.  He was not.  Like a lot of Shakespeare’s work, you really need to read the whole play.

Wexner was responsible for a lot of things.  Among them are the move to women sexualizing their bodies at a much younger age, even younger than the “flapper” movement in the 20s.  He promoted an unrealistic body image that lead to an epidemic of eating disorders.  Between the fast food business and the fashion business, Americans have whiplash with regard to how they should feel about food.  

Wexler was also one of the first to move most of his production to Asian sweatshops with lax or no rules regarding child labor, so you ended up with a situation where pacific islander twelve-year-olds were manufacturing clothes sold to American sixteen-year-olds, who had to hide them from her father and change clothes in the car before going out to meet her friends.  

He did all this to make money, and he did make money—lots of it.  I think it’s important to do what Jax does and reveal how these things happen, so you don’t end up with young people who all they really know about the people marketing to them that “it’s cool” or not.  It’s an awful lot more complicated than just cool or not, and maybe songs like this are the best way to get the message to teenagers who really don’t have much time for us.

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