Meet the Team Behind the Victoria’s Secret Extravaganza in Paris
Posted on 02 December 2016
The Victoria’s Secret fashion show is an institution, one that delivers fashion to the masses with its unique blend of glamour, sex appeal, and pop-culture cred. Each year millions tune in to see the brand’s Angels; performances by chart-topping musicians; and a fun, bombastic atmosphere unlike that of a traditional runway show. Entertainment serves as the focal point, with commercial and practical realities informing the spectacle. And it’s a show that requires tremendous effort behind the scenes, thanks to the combined talents of executive producer Monica Mitro, creative director Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou, and casting director John Pfeiffer, veterans in their respective fields. Together, the trio distills the work of hundreds into a single statement. “We begin planning our shows more than a year in advance,” says Mitro via email preshow.
From the Plaza Hotel to the Grand Palais For Mitro, who has been with the brand for more than 20 years, watching the show transform from an intimate affair at the Plaza Hotel into an international media event has been thrilling. “It’s been an incredibly rewarding and exciting journey,” says Mitro, who produced the very first VS show back in 1995 with president, Ed Razek. “It was a lingerie fashion show [back then]. We have evolved the show into an entertainment show seen in almost 200 countries by 800 million people.”
Moving past the simplicity of those early years hasn’t been without challenges, namely keeping an event that recently marked its 20th anniversary fresh. Moving the show to Paris raises the stakes. While the show has been staged in destinations like Miami and Cannes in the past, taking a quintessentially American event to the world’s style capital is a bold move and one that felt right this year. “We have always chosen cities that inspire us,” Mitro says. “Paris is one of the most exciting and beautiful cities in the world.”
The switch came with its share of obstacles including the task of transporting overseas a massive team and the intricate sets for which the show is known. Still, Paris’s architectural landmarks offered an irresistible opportunity. “The Grand Palais is such a beautiful venue—all of the sets look amazing,” Mitro says.
Setting the Theme In past years the show’s segments have centered on playful concepts like the University of Pink, 2014’s collegiate tribute, or Ice Angels, a Frozen-esque lineup of frosty princess looks displayed on a snow-covered stage. As artistic director, Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou comes up with the elaborate concepts, many of which emerge from her love of cinema and art. “It’s never the same things. It’s a film I might’ve seen when I was 11 or a book I read yesterday. I studied art history so could be an exhibition or even just a brilliant place,” says Neophitou-Apostolou. “The themes are buzzing around my head constantly. It’s one of my favorite parts of the show to realize the ideas and see them come to life.”
In Paris, Neophitou-Apostolou is aiming to move beyond the typical French tropes. “We tried not to be literal in any way about the location because our main focus is that it’s broadcasted all over the world,” she says. The knowledge that the whole world was watching helped to push the boundaries, and though Neophitou-Apostolou doesn’t settle on a favorite theme in this year’s lineup, she relishes the challenge of bringing everything together. “That’s making me choose my favorite child—I can’t. Each one of them has its own charm and inspires me in a different way.”
Casting the Models The most discussed element of the show, undoubtedly, is the model casting. Victoria’s Secret has notably turned models like Miranda Kerr and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley into household names. Each year the brand’s Angels are joined by a selection of fresh faces and established stars, all eager to try on the famous wings. Each year John Pfeiffer and his team create a cast that reflects both the brand’s sensibilities and the modeling mood of the moment, choosing its roster several weeks ahead of the show, and just one week after Paris Fashion Week. “It’s a unique way of working to cast a month in advance,” says Pfeiffer. “Three weeks in fashion is a long time. We had to get all the agencies on board for the timeline we are working with.”
The logistics may have altered the workflow, but they didn’t put a damper on the final cast, which is likely more diverse and distinctive than ever. It girls like Bella Hadid and Dilone join regulars Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio, social media queens Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid represent alongside runway standouts Xiao Wen Ju and Maria Borges. The mix of looks and personalities is refreshing as are the show’s many high-profile casting coups. The Internet buzzed over supermodel Irina Shayk making her Victoria’s Secret debut after around a decade in the business, but for Pfeiffer, the addition of Shayk simply felt appropriate. “Everything happens in its right moment, and this year it was the right moment for Irina Shayk,” he says. Similarly, the headline-making news that Gigi and Bella Hadid would become first sisters to walk the show together happened organically. Says Pfeiffer: “We were excited about the idea of sisters, but nothing is guaranteed until we finalized the lineup at the end of castings.”
For newer models the exposure offered by the show is unparalleled. Each year introduces a host of fresh faces but this time around Pfeiffer has his eye on Lameka Fox, a lithe beauty from Maryland who was scouted via #WLYG, a hashtag-based contest. “When I saw [her] at the start of the show season I wanted Victoria’s Secret to consider her.” Discovered little more than a year ago, Fox represents the new class of the brand’s talent. The selective nature of the process may be highly competitive, but according to Pfeiffer even the girls who didn’t make the final cut should feel a sense of accomplishment. “[Models] should know that just by being at the castings they are already very special. If they’ve made it to the final round they have already gotten so far and they should be confident in it.”
With a crew of hundreds putting the final touches on the Paris show, the audience is set for a treat, but they aren’t the only ones excited for the December 5 final reveal. Mitro, for one, is confident this year’s extravaganza will exceed expectations, thanks to the group effort. “We are very fortunate to work with incredibly talented people—there is no lack of creative ideas!” he says. “This is a unique working environment where everything is possible,” echoes Neophitou-Apostolou. “Every step of the way, there are so many brilliant experiences.”