Why Sui He's Appearance In The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show Matters
Walking in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is one of those once-in-a-lifetime achievements about which thousands of models likely dream of but only a select few achieve. (That now-famous clip of Gigi Hadid falling to the floor after she made the lineup sums it all up.) But Chinese model Sui He has appeared in every VS Fashion Show since 2011, and even though she's only one of two Asian models in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show this year, her repeated appearances on what might be fashion's most competitive runway prove that the industry is changing.
The most obvious reason that He's appearance on this year's runway, along with fellow Chinese model Ming Xi, is important has to do with diversity. (For the record, Xi has appeared in every VS Fashion Show since 2013.) Now, "diversity" has arguably become one of those words that's bandied about to the point where its core definition sometimes feels lost. Though the fashion industry at large has generally agreed that "diversity in fashion" is a good thing and a goal toward which the industry should work — in part demonstrated by the CFDA's (Council Of Fashion Designers Of America) regular reminders to designers to hire a diverse group of healthy models — no one seems to know exactly what "diversity in fashion" looks like.
But if there's one thing for sure, it's that Victoria's Secret definitely encouraged runway diversity in this year's show. History was made in 2015 when Angolan model Maria Borges walked the runway with natural hair, a first for a Victoria's Secret model. The show has already been applauded as being one of the brand's most ethnically diverse yet.
The numbers still don't sound ideal, of course. VH1 did a racial breakdown of the VS runway models, and of the 44 women on the runway, only 13 were women of color, meaning about 30 percent. However, compared to New York Fashion Week, where only about 20 percent of the models were racial minorities according to Business Of Fashion, the Victoria's Secret lineup looks pretty good.
This isn't to say that the retailer has a flawless record with diversity or even that this year's lineup was perfect. VS has received flak in the past for its lack of body positivity and size inclusivity. (Mic wrote on this topic with the attention-grabbing headline "Believe It Or Not, The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show Has A Boob Problem.") There has also never been an Asian Victoria's Secret Angel, and in this year's newest class of 10 Angels, only two are women of color. That being said, including Asian models such as He and Xi in the annual fashion show is a no-brainer if the brand wants to keep up its reputation for being inclusive.
There are also very practical reasons for Victoria's Secret to include Asian models in its annual extravaganza, which, at the end of the day, is a way to convince consumers to buy its lingerie and beauty products. And after Victoria's Secret entered China in 2015, and is making a big bet on the world's largest consumer market, one group of customers that the world's largest lingerie company is trying to attract are Asian women.
It's a clever move, considering China has become a major global consumer of luxury goods... or any goods, really. Alibaba, the Chinese answer to Amazon, set a sales record on this year's Singles' Day, a holiday to celebrate single people that has become a shopping free-for-all. The e-commerce giant made $14.3 billion in sales in just 24 hours. (To put that in perspective, that's more than the nominal GDP of Nicaragua.)
Chinese consumers are ready and willing to spend money on the things that Victoria's Secret is selling, and having Asian models like He — to whom Asian consumers can relate — is one necessary part of that strategy. Though He is still relatively unknown in the United States, she's a celebrity in China and a regular in the pages of Vogue China, so including her in this marquee event is another way way to drum up interest in that much-desired market.
He's and Xi's repeated appearances at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show are an indication of the ways in which fashion's center of power is shifting toward Asia. It's a move that's been a long time coming, but 2015 was the year that this reality started to sink in. The fashion elite finally began accepting that pivot toward the Pacific, as Obama might phrase it, with the 2015 Met Gala celebrating Chinese influence on Western fashion in its exhibit "Through The Looking Glass" and Karl Lagerfeld presenting Chanel's 2015/16 Cruise Collection in Seoul, South Korea.
There definitely seems to be more crossover between American and Asian fashion than ever before, and no one, not even former Victoria's Secret Angels, are immune to the changes. Recently, Karlie Kloss was recruited by Huawei for the the company's ad campaign for its new smartwatch, and He's and Xi's appearances in this year's VS Fashion Show are simply another way in which this cross-pollination is manifesting.
Though Xi's three appearances in the VS Fashion Show also highlight many of these changes, He's five years on fashion's most competitive runway, along with the fact that she's only the second Asian model to ever walk down that runway, bring the importance of trends into the forefront. And yet, I'm still disheartened that she doesn't have the recognition of models like Martha Hunt or Stella Maxwell despite the fact that He's walked for Victoria's Secret more times than either of those two. He is a veteran, no stranger to one of fashion's biggest nights, and over the last five years, she has effortlessly integrated into this elite group of models, even referring to her "VS family & girls" in an Instagram post announcing her most recent turn with the Angels.
With that, He has proven that having an Asian model in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, year after year, can be something totally normal, even if it's only one step in the quest for changing the fashion industry to become more inclusive and more global than ever before. But it's one step I'll happily celebrate.