The Inside Story Behind 2016's Elaborate Victoria's Secret Show

There's no denying how fervently we all absorb, in great detail, the incredible tricks and tips behind the Victoria's Secret Angels' training regimes and the phenomenal result that is framed by each elaborate catwalk ensemble. But have you ever thought about the other all-important logistics that are in place to make this monumental fashion show a possibility each and every year? There are 82 runway looks and 43 pairs of extravagant wings created. The coveted Fantasy Bra alone shimmers with over 9000 precious gems—diamonds and emeralds included—and costs a whopping $3 million.

Surely, then, the woman who makes this all come together must be a powerhouse of the highest degree? Correct. Meet Sophia Neophitou-Apostulou, one of the industry's most respected and revered editors, the founder of 10 Magazine, a consultant to many a designer, and a seriously smart woman who has been steering the VS runway ship under her creative direction for the past seven years. The Angels may train like devils for months on end, but the process of this production is like no other catwalk in the world—and we wanted to know more.

Which leads us to Paris, where VS has decided to host this year's extravaganza under the hallowed domes of the city's Grand Palais (the very same venue Chanel always uses). I caught up with Sophia backstage—in a strict military operation-style 20-minutes-per-person-only haze of hairspray and pink everything (really, everything)—in order to get the inside track on what it takes to be the Victoria's Secret stylist and creative director. Keep going to read our exclusive interview and to see some of the event's stand-out looks…

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Gigi and Bella Hadid backstage at the Victoria's Secret show in 2016.

WHO WHAT WEAR UK: This is my first ever Victoria's Secret backstage experience. I'm feeling quite overwhelmed, Sophia.

SOPHIA NEOPHITOU-APOSTOLOU: Oh my god, you’re going to die! It’s like sensory overload; it’s amazing. It’s the best fun.

WWW UK: I don't see you as the kind of woman who is really into pink, but it's everywhere! Do you wear it?

SNA: Me? Pink? No! But I love this environment—it just makes you happy. You can’t be sad inside a pink room.

WWW UK: On your first season, what were the biggest challenges?

SNA: I think the biggest challenges for the first show were appreciating the magnitude of the task I was undertaking. The brand impacts globally, and the show is the biggest, most spectacular communication for the product. Ultimately I feel a real responsibility to achieve the highest excellence possible in all aspects. 

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The Road Ahead theme was the runway's opening section.

WWW UK: And what about now? Is there anything in this particular show that has been a major feat to produce, outside of the Fantasy Bra?

SNA: I think one of the most challenging things this year for us has been [adjusting to] a slight change—an adaptation of a theme, where we had to re-create eight looks in The Road Ahead [section] and creating the "opening wing." We wanted it to be a dragon that wrapped around her body, [so] the challenge for something like that is the weight, the distribution of the weight, how it moves, and then making it look light as a feather. 

WWW UK: So you have probably learnt some bizarre skills over the years doing this job then, right?

SNA: Did I ever think I’d be designing a wing? No! Did I ever think I’d be thinking about the logistics of something like that? No! Also, [there are] just so many layers… commissioning artisans, being really specific about what you want and not being apologetic about being specific. Because sometimes I think the nature of us Brits is to be quite "Oh, I’m sorry!"

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Yes, that creation is on Devon Windsor's back.

WWW UK: What part of the job do you enjoy the most and why?

SNA: I enjoy every aspect of it. It’s exciting from the very moment of conceiving the idea to the very end of seeing the final result. There isn’t a moment, that I don’t enjoy… Well, I don’t enjoy it finishing and honestly can’t wait for the process to start again. 

WWW UK: And how is this different from a regular fashion show?

SNA: The main difference is that I’m designing and even conceiving the themes… It’s creating a vision that is a framework for the pieces. It’s got a very commercial [aspect]… You know, everything is sold the next day with tags that say "as seen in the fashion show," so there’s a really big responsibility there commercially for me to tick those boxes.

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Jasmine Tookes wearing the Fantasy Bra.

WWW UK: How far in advance do you work on each show? And can you explain a little about the process behind creating and producing the looks?

SNA: We start dissecting the last show after the airing in December and discuss things that could improve or change. Then we start working on the new show ideas that could work for the next one. We have a dialogue with Monica [Mitro, the executive producer] in February, and then that’s when it starts in earnest.

The process of producing the looks is really long and involves lots of artisans from all over the world to realise all the ideas. It can be triggered from a film or a book, and it also can be a place or idea of a song.   

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Taylor Hill looking rather sassy in her "dark angel" get-up.

WWW UK: Are there any particular models who just love working with the most?

SNA: You know what? I couldn’t even go there. It’s like saying "who is your favourite child?" It’s impossible! 

As if by magic, Lily Donaldson appears at this moment, resplendent in her pink satin gown and with blonde tendrils cascading around her, to discuss the sparkly wings she's been allocated—and, like a mother of Angels, Sophia explains the status of said wings and that all will be fixed in a flash, explaining to me that matching the right girl to the right look is a natural, "guttural decision."

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Et voilá! The finale brought together the performance acts (Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and The Weekend) with the supermodels.

WWW UK: So has Paris influenced this year's show?

SNA: Yes and no. [It has] influenced in making it the best I can make it and making it the most exquisite it can be—giving it a couture hand—but in the themes we’ve tried to be less literal because it’s a global audience we’re talking to.

WWW UK: Where are all of the costumes kept after the show?

SNA: Everything is kept in Ohio at the head office—and actually, the new store on Fifth Avenue has a floor that’s going to have archives in it, so there’s like a permanent exhibition of past collections in the store. It's great as they can [now] be seen up close. You see, the challenge [with styling the show] is that so much attention to detail is put in place because it’s HDTV and cameras come in close, so that’s also quite important for us.

WWW UK: Phew—many an important factor to juggle. Right, we'll leave you to it. Thanks, Sophia!

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Bella Hadid shook her tail feather for the catwalk photographers.

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Opening Images: Getty Images