Victoria's Secret Has Forgotten the Refined Art of the Tease

The Lingerie Purveyor Doesn't Need to Be Less Sexy, Just Less Icky

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You walk into Victoria's Secret and the music is blaring, the d├ęcor is Bordello Barbie and you find yourself caught up in a whirlwind of g-strings. Some are frilly, some silly, some are cotton-candy pink covered with red-lipstick kisses, and a customer says, "What I like about the store is that the stuff isn't trashy."

It isn't?

I'm trying to think of something trashier than Victoria's Secret, and all I can come up with is preteen pole-dancing classes at the Y, which I don't think actually exist. (Yet.)

The plastic mannequins are wearing garter belts and see-through teddies, natch. What's really disturbing is that you see-through to ribs -- two or three of them, poking out. The mannequins are anorexic.

Meanwhile, giant photos show a model peek-a-booing from between some other model's legs. In another photo, breasts the size of bald men's heads pop out of the bra being featured. ("Hey, lady! Nice Vin Diesels!") A bottle of pink perfume says, "Pick me up, I purr," and by golly, it does. The bottle makes a little purring sound, like a kiddie toy that ran away from home and got pimped out.

The place is, in short, trashapalooza. If trash were a country, Victoria's Secret would be its Epcot -- a ham-handed celebration of all its most trashy elements. But so far the only one willing to call a thong a thong seems to be the company's CEO, Sharen Jester Turney.

In a conference call to Wall Street analysts after the stock dropped a few weeks back, she said, "We have so much gotten off our heritage" -- heritage, as if Victoria's Secret began generations ago, as royal purveyors of furbelows to Her Majesty the Queen -- "and we use the word 'sexy' a lot." In fact, she admitted, the company uses it too much. The brand had become "too sexy."

Praise the Lord, she's onto something! But she's wrong.

When something is too sexy, it's great. Think of that certain someone who drives you absolutely wild, no matter what he or she is wearing (or not). Yowza!

But when something is trying too hard to be sexy -- when a woman has to dress like a prostitute to get a guy's attention, say -- that's pathetic.

And pathetic is what Victoria's Secret has become.

Far from being sexy, the store looks like the Kmart Halloween-costume section, with its polyester French-maid outfits. One little pair of Victoria's Secret undies was embroidered with the words, "French kiss," as if simply being skimpy, lacy and easy to take off was not enough. It had to tell you just how sexy it was. The whole store feels as if you're being hit over the head with a bottle of pink champagne.

"I think [they've] taken it too far," said a 20-something saleswoman at the Manhattan flagship store, nodding toward a ceiling-high photo of a model with a shoelace for panties. Her friend, another saleswoman, agreed.

Both of them were beautiful and not very provocatively dressed. They dressed, in fact, like they were trying to look a little older. There is something sexy about that.

The problem, says Lisa Daily, author of the soon-to-be-published "Fifteen Minutes of Shame," is that about a decade ago Victoria's Secret shifted from being a store for women to being a store for men. "The catalogs got smuttier, the TV ads looked like network-approved lap-dances and the Super Bowl ads just ticked us off," she says. "My lingerie-buying friends and I started buying our delicates somewhere a little less icky."

That's what Victoria's Secret needs to become again. Not less sexy. Less icky.

And they should start feeding their mannequins, too.
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