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Spanish model Blanca Padilla Photo: IC

Chinese model Xi Mengyao Photo: IC


The glitzy Victoria's Secret fashion show stumbled across the finish line on Monday night in its first-ever China staging after a run-up marred by setbacks.

Models breezed down the catwalk sporting elaborate feathered wings and billowing trains as the US brand held the racy show in Shanghai in hopes of making a splash in the country's growing lingerie market to offset declining US profits.

But the show, now in its 23rd year, suffered a blow when top US model Gigi Hadid announced on Friday she was withdrawing.

She gave no reason for the decision but it came after Chinese netizens savaged the 22-year-old over a video clip showing her squinting her eyes in an apparently derogatory facial expression.

"It is not right to let people who show contempt for Chinese people to come to China to make money," commented Sina Weibo user MCczp on Monday.

US media also reported that singer Katy Perry was expected to headline the musical acts but was denied a visa by China. Instead, England's Harry Styles led the way.

The stumbles continued Monday night at Shanghai's Mercedes-Benz arena, whose exterior was bathed in garish pink.

A system breakdown slowed the entry of the thousands of invited guests, delaying the show's start, and the Chinese crowd largely resisted entreaties to show much enthusiasm.

Tripped up

Despite these hiccups, or perhaps because of them, news and highlights about the show have been all the rage on Chinese social media platforms since Monday.

"Liu Wen's wings," "Alessandra Ambrosio's last VS show" and "Xi Mengyao tumbles" were among the top 10 most searched keywords on Sina Weibo on Monday night, while some posts about the event received millions of views.

Probably one of the most talked about events was the moment Chinese supermodel Xi Mengyao, or Ming Xi, slipped and fell to her knees while walking down the runway in a silver lingerie ensemble with wings. Kneeling, the supermodel adjusted her hair for a few seconds, then Gizele Oliveira, the model behind her, gave her a hand and helped her to stand and continue down the runway.

Photos and videos showing the model's literal slip up quickly went viral.

"My heart broke watching that. But Ming is still pretty! Go girl!" said one of thousands of Sina Weibo comments.

"Sorry for letting everyone down and thanks for all the care. Modeling for seven years now, I've stumbled numerous times on my way… but I know for sure that however painful it is, I have to stand up and finish walking… the road ahead is long and I will continue walking… thank you all," Xi posted on Sina Weibo later that night.

Supermodel Karlie Kloss chimed in on Xi's feed.

"You handled that with such grace and elegance. Sometimes you trip and fall but it's how you get back up that matters, and you got up like a champ and owned it. Love you Ming!" Kloss said.

Some Chinese netizens were less forgiving, regarding the accident as a serious mistake and criticizing the way Xi handled things as unprofessional.

"This is about professionalism. When a model falls down, he or she should stand up right away to continue her walk instead of sitting there embarrassed. What's funny is after the accident, she has somehow become an adorable baby in the eyes of public," Sina Weibo user Zhelishiyingwenjiang (Lit: This is Mr English) posted on Tuesday.

Catering to a market

According to reports, as part of its China charm offensive Victoria's Secret selected a record seven Chinese women to be among the 55 models. Earlier during make-up, one of these seven - China's top model Liu Wen, a veteran of several Victoria's Secret shows - told AFP that Monday's show was "even more special" to her this year because it was held at home.

"We can be thankful that China is such a big market, so there could be so many Chinese faces appearing. So personally I feel proud of my own country," Liu said.

Victoria's Secret is hoping to win a slice of that market, opening its first two super-stores in China this year, in Shanghai and Chengdu.

This dedication to entering the market could be seen in the many Chinese elements that had been added to the show this year, such as Victoria's Secret angels dressed in colors that recalled classic Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) blue and white porcelain vases or clothing with red peonies, China's national flower. 

An edited version of the show will air on Chinese online streaming platform iQiyi on November 29.