For years, the world’s largest lingerie model was struggling in China.
The once-highly effective Victoria’s Secret, which for many years had helped outline “sexiness” in Europe and the US by way of its racy lingerie and annual runway exhibits however had seen its gross sales tank and advertising hit a bitter be aware for lack of range, amongst different points, was additionally dealing with issues in mainland China. There, consumers complained of a scarcity of choices that match Asian physique varieties, whereas the label’s loud, flirtatious branding largely did not ring a bell with Chinese language shoppers.
But a profitable marketing campaign — and two neatly chosen ambassadors — helped seemingly endear the lingerie model to Chinese language shoppers as soon as once more because it tried to redefine “sexiness.” In April, VS introduced A-list actresses Yang Mi and Zhou Dongyu as their model ambassadors for Asia and China respectively.
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The marketing campaign was hailed as a dramatic pivot for the American firm, which had been replicating the supermodel-driven technique that had propelled them in different nations. (Up to now, VS had tried to woo Chinese language patrons by reserving extra Asian supermodels for his or her runway exhibits, and internet hosting their 2017 present in Shanghai.)
And for Chinese language netizens, the messaging appeared to catch on — or at the very least create a sizeable wave of promoting buzz. The hashtag on microblogging platform Weibo “Zhou Dongyu is the brand new VS spokesperson for China” (#周冬⾬成维密⼤中华区代⾔⼈#) obtained over two million views and a 95% thumbs up ranking on the platform. The hashtag for fellow ambassador Yang Mi obtained over 12 million views.
Many Weibo customers hailed the marketing campaign’s breaking down of “horny” stereotypes, and responded enthusiastically to the marketing campaign’s name for Weibo customers to outline what “sexiness” is to them.
“To vary the fashion of the previous, to redefine the normal sense of ‘horny,’” one Weibo person commented in response. “As a attraction that resonates with others, sexiness is rarely exterior — solely rooted in a snug state of self. If the ambiance is there, the sensation is true, sexiness comes naturally.”
Whether or not or not the marketing campaign will translate right into a long-term surge in bra and panties gross sales stays to be seen. However what VS lastly landed on is one thing that home lingerie manufacturers have maybe at all times higher understood — that Chinese language lingerie patrons search to outline “sexiness” on their very own phrases. Asian patrons have traditionally been described as having “shy,” “conservative” or “typical” attitudes in direction of lingerie — however in up to date China, significantly in its first- and second-tier cities, that paradigm is altering rapidly.
China’s underwear market in 2019 reached near 200 billion RMB, with girls’s underwear accounting for greater than 60% of the entire market dimension, in line with CBNData’s Underwear Trade Developments Analysis. Furthermore, 112 new underwear-based firms have been added in 2019 — a 38% enhance from the yr earlier than.
Various domestically produced lingerie manufacturers resembling Aimer, Gujin, and ManiForm, have traditionally made up the most important portion of lingerie catering to Chinese language girls. However amongst youthful shoppers — significantly China’s first- and second-tier urbanites — not all of them are essentially well-known or preferred. “I don’t normally purchase home manufacturers,” says 24-year-old Chen Ziyang, who is predicated in Beijing. “I suppose I’ve seen Aimer in procuring malls, and on-line being reviewed by style bloggers. However my impression was at all times that it was larger priced than Victoria’s Secret within the US.”
This doesn’t lengthen to all China-made lingerie, nonetheless — prior to now three years, the all-wireless lingerie model Neiwai (内外) has change into one thing of a sensation. Based in 2012 as an online-only model offered on Taobao — China’s largest ecommerce platform — Neiwai, which interprets to “inside, outdoors,” gained a following for its clear design, gentle materials, and extra unisex matches.
“I favor [Neiwai] to VS as a result of it’s extra comfy to put on, and likewise reasonably priced,” says 25-year-old Nicky Hu, who is predicated in Shanghai.
“I really feel that VS bras are fairly outdated when it comes to their fashion. They provide me a way of being ‘plastic’ — just for the aim of being horny, however not comfy in any respect.”
“[Chinese lingerie brands’] messages are extra alongside the strains of being pure and cozy,” Vicky Huang, co-founder of on-line lingerie boutique sassy x horny, tells RADII. “The colour palettes are normally extra subdued, and completely reverse to the loud VS glamour. There’s additionally lots of specialised lingerie now [catering to] small-chested girls that search to not push up, however to hug naturally.”
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Maybe the wake-up name for VS was one other lingerie marketing campaign that went viral earlier this yr, launched by none aside from Neiwai itself.
The marketing campaign — directed by Luo Yang, a photographer whose work has lengthy centered on sensible depictions of feminine magnificence — included a 14-minute “actual girls” doc titled No Physique is No person, which was launched for Chinese language audiences throughout WeChat and Weibo forward of Worldwide Ladies’s Day on March 8.
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The marketing campaign featured seemingly extraordinary girls that got nicknames resembling “Massive Boobs with No Brains,” “Muffin Prime,” and “Scars,” meant to symbolize all-too-familiar adverse feminine stereotypes. Paralleling the success of manufacturers like Fenty in bringing extra numerous physique varieties into the lingerie trade, reward of Neiwai’s push for illustration of Chinese language girls was echoed within the many feedback beneath their two official posts on social messaging app WeChat, which collectively garnered nearly 100,000 views inside the first 48 hours of their launch.
Coincidentally (or not) this voice of supposed feminine empowerment was echoed solely months later from an surprising Western angle — or ought to we are saying, “angel.” Victoria’s Secret chosen actress Zhou Dongyu — whose protagonist within the 2016 movie Soulmate really didn’t put on bras as she deemed them “pointless” attributable to her “flat chest” — because the “new and vibrant face to reinterpret the definition of sexiness” for the Chinese language mainland.
“I’m not ‘horny’ as conventionally outlined,” Zhou tells the digicam in a promo video for her announcement as the brand new VS Ambassador. “I outline sexiness as being comfy, non-conformist, and expressing [oneself] in a pure state. It ought to be we who outline sexiness, not we who’re outlined.”
One may argue that from its inception, Victoria’s Secret emerged from a male fantasy that was indifferent from actuality. Based within the 1970s by entrepreneur Roy Raymond after he wished to purchase lingerie for his spouse, VS catered as a lot to male because it did to feminine patrons — a method largely steered by the model’s former Chief of Advertising, Ed Razek, who stepped down in 2019 after coming below fireplace for feedback about trans and plus-sized fashions of their runway exhibits.
“Though I wouldn’t name this fantasy malicious, I think about it insensitive and harmful to younger girls who’re simply beginning to combine sexuality into their sense of self,” says Huang. “Bashing apart, I nonetheless respect the VS aesthetics. I believe what we’d like extra of is co-existence of equally coveted lingerie manufacturers that remember all types of magnificence. In any case, girls in all places are empowered by having a variety of decisions, from the VS sort of lingerie to the extra inclusive sort of comfy loungewear.”
Enter the satan’s advocate — and one arguably to not be neglected. As racially and bodily disparate as Victoria’s Secret could wish to painting itself, in some ways Zhou will not be precisely an inclusive choice. Regardless of how in contrast to the VS-endorsed supermodels Zhou is, the actress remains to be the epitome of a magnificence supreme that many post-80’s and 90’s-born Chinese language girls have tried to emulate for many years, and the recognition of which is rife throughout the nation’s (social) media — bai shou you, or white, skinny, and girlish.
Sustaining VS’s new (double) requirements could in reality imply buying and selling in a single unattainable magnificence supreme for an additional, setting equally unrepresentative norms for his or her prospects.
Evolution and revolution aside, conservative attitudes to intercourse nonetheless show prevalent throughout China, particularly past its first-tier cities. The dialogue surrounding sexual training and consciousness at giant, or relatively a scarcity thereof, rests screaming in silence. This, too, could relate to a shift in public perceptions surrounding what’s certainly “horny.”
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Very like in lots of conventional societies, girls in China have been traditionally taught to cover their expertise and sweetness so that they may very well be perceived as first rate and noble “creatures.” Underwear was initially referred to as xieyi (协议), with the character xie translating to “frivolous,” implying that it was an indulgence to not be made public.
Regardless of the drastic modernization that got here after China’s opening up — and turning into nicely acquainted with overseas (lingerie) types — to today “sexiness” within the vocabulary of many Chinese language girls is a time period largely lacking or missing definition.
“Again within the late ‘90s, the subject of underwear was taboo in China,” Yilei Wu, lingerie aficionada and founding father of Shanghai’s Xinlelu boutique, tells RADII. “Even in metropolitan cities like Shanghai, we didn’t obtain a lot instruction or info on being female, not to mention being ‘horny.’”
And it appears that evidently this established order is extra prone to stay outdoors of China’s tier one hubs.
Lily Teng, a undertaking supervisor born and raised in Shanghai, observes that this could be the case on the idea of first-tier Chinese language cities resembling Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen being worldwide hubs the place individuals are open to international developments. “There isn’t a doubt folks from first-tier cities have larger acceptability charges relating to ‘new issues’ than folks from smaller cities,” she says. “Folks residing within the latter are normally nonetheless deeply influenced by conventional tradition. Thus, they won’t settle for being ‘horny’ as a optimistic. A relatively extra conservative fashion may nonetheless be their consumption goal.”
Wu agrees, recalling an episode of Netflix’s Subsequent in Style that made the cultural distinction extra obvious. “The 2 Asian designers have been sensible — other than the one episode about ‘horny lingerie,’” she says. “You might actually really feel their awkwardness simply bouncing off the display screen.
“China’s trendy girls have to develop up. And so as to take action, we initially have to face slash embrace our our bodies, and embrace maturity.”
Years into her early maturity, Teng realized that the extra she began being attentive to her physique, the extra confidence she gained and the extra her lingerie shifted from padded to non-padded. “I 100% accepted having an A-cup and never being ashamed about it,” she explains. “These days, I actually favor a easy bra design, color-wise largely choosing black or nude. Years in the past, I did discover one model that does stunning lingerie that I really like very a lot. Lace is their go-to cloth, and their designs are cozy, skin-friendly — and horny.” She’s referring right here to Intimissimi, the upscale Italian lingerie model that opened its first mainland Chinese language retailer in 2017.
The predilection for lace and luxury in China’s massive cities carries over to different upscale lingerie manufacturers made inside China, resembling Atelier Intimo. Christy Liang, who based the model in 2014, is aware of the lace trimmings of her Chinese language clientele like no different. “The ladies we serve are well-educated girls in city life who’ve their very own clear insights into their Asian kind, the Chinese language id, and visible expression thereof,” Liang tells RADII. “The underwear they select represents the perspective they wish to categorical in that second. They know what they need. And they’ll put on what they need.”
Although each wearer’s wants and tastes are totally different, younger Chinese language girls are shedding the previous and embracing their undergarments as a type of each self-expression and self-acceptance. Whether or not they go for lace or loose-fitting, to them, self actually is horny — and it’s outlined on their very own phrases.
Extra reporting by Siyuan Meng
Header picture: courtesy Atelier Intimo
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