Hours before the 2018 Victoria's Secret fashion show taped at New York's Pier 94 on Thursday, Vogue published a joint interview with the lingerie giant's chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, and Monica Mitro, exec vp public relations. In their discussion, Razek was asked to explain why the annual spectacle does not include transgender or plus-size models.
In his response — which included the use of the word "transsexual," an outdated and offensive term — Razek said that trans and plus-size women do not exemplify the "fantasy" that Victoria's Secret is trying to sell.
"Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy," he told the publication. "It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is."
Razek said that he and the Victoria's Secret team have previously thought of casting trans and plus-size models but ultimately decided against doing so.
"If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show, we have," he continued. "We invented the plus-size model show in what was our sister division, Lane Bryant. Lane Bryant still sells plus-size lingerie, but it sells a specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world sells a range of clothing. As do we. We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world. We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t."
Reaction to Razek's problematic remarks was swift and heated. Many notable LGBTQ figures, including trans models, and plus-size stars took to social media to share their disappointment in Victoria's Secret. Internet personalities and models Gigi Gorgeous and Carmen Carrera were among the first trans women to speak out against Razek, encouraging a boycott of all VS products. On Instagram, Gorgeous revealed that she was "devastated (and disgusted)," while Carrera wrote, "I wish certain people would see beyond viewing me as just a 'transsexual.' I am way more than that, @victoriassecret #EdRazek."
On Monday morning, Gorgeous followed up with a YouTube video titled "SHAME ON YOU Victoria's Secret," in which she describes how much the brand meant to her in the initial stages of her transition when she first started shopping for lingerie. By the end of the 10-minute video, Gorgeous removes her pink bra and states, "I just wanted to say that this is the last time that I'm going to be wearing a Victoria's Secret bra. They definitely lost a customer in me."
Plus-size model Tess Holliday, tweeted on Saturday, "Who needs VS anyway?! They never supported plus ladies & now they are trying to dis my trans sisters? Hell nah. Kiss my fat ass @VictoriasSecret." Holliday also called out inclusive lingerie brands, giving props to Elomi, Torrid and Rihanna's Savage x Fenty, among others.
On Friday night, a day after Razek's comments had gone viral and ignited a social media firestorm, Victoria's Secret shared his apology via Twitter. "My remark regarding the inclusion of transgender models in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show came across as insensitive," he said in a statement, failing to acknowledge what he said about plus-size models. "I apologize. To be clear, we would absolutely cast a transgender model for the show."
He added, "We’ve had transgender models come to castings… And like many others, they didn't make it… But it was never about gender. I admire and respect their journey to embrace who they really are."
Despite Razek's apology, the Model Alliance issued a statement in response to his comments. "We are disappointed by the recent comments about trans and plus-size models made by Ed Razek, CMO of L Brands, Victoria's Secret's parent company," the organization wrote in a Saturday Instagram post. "Such comments create a hostile work environment for people who do not conform to Victoria's Secret's mold — one that enforces an idea of female beauty that is predominantly white, cisgender, young and thin."
The Model Alliance also called on Victoria's Secret to join its RESPECT program, a legally binding agreement created to ensure safe work environments for models. "This is not the 'PC' thing to do," the statement continued, referencing Razek's assertion that casting trans and plus-size women in the Victoria's Secret fashion show would be the "politically correct thing to do." "This is best business practice."
While none of Victoria's Secret's contracted Angels have publicly condemned Razek's quotes to Vogue, former Angels Lily Aldridge and Karlie Kloss both posted the following message on their Instagram stories: "Trans and [gender nonconforming] people are not a debate."
Kendall Jenner — who walked the VS runway for a fourth time on Thursday but isn't an official Angel — responded to Razek's remarks by posting an Instagram story that read, "Celebrate trans women." (Caitlyn Jenner, one of the model's parents, is trans.)
While speaking with Vogue, Razek also claimed that Victoria's Secret is the "leader" among other lingerie brands and boasted that its runway show is "the only branded special in the world, seen in 190 countries, by 1 billion 6 million people; 45 percent more people saw it last year than the year before."
But, as The Hollywood Reporter previously reported, the 2017 show slumped nearly 30 percent from its previous 2016 low, pulling in just under 5 million viewers in the U.S. Victoria's Secret has also faced commercial failure in recent years, with same-store sales dropping five percent in 2018.
The 2018 Victoria's Secret fashion show is set to air on ABC Sunday, Dec. 2, at 10 p.m. ET.