Joz Wang doesn't buy things at Victoria's Secret -- overpriced, she says, though she occasionally strolls through the store known for racy lingerie sported on runways and in catalogs by sexy, sultry models.
But even if she could spare the money, Wang, founder of an influential Asian-American blog, might be tempted to stay away from Victoria's Secret for the moment. At least until she gets an answer to what the clothing company was thinking when it launched its recent "Go East" collection.
One particular number in the collection -- the "Sexy Little Geisha" -- raised eyebrows, especially from the Asian-American community. Many found it offensive and accused Victoria's Secret of exploiting sexual stereotypes of Asian women.
You can't find the image of "Sexy Little Geisha" on the Victoria's Secret website anymore. Apparently, it and the entire "Go East" line vanished after the online firestorm.
But several blogs posted the catalog picture of a voluptuous blonde model in a sheer mesh teddy with cutouts and strategically placed Asian floral patterns.
Wang could see why the getup was called racist.
It was, after all, a hyper-representation of the geisha girl with chopsticks in her hair and fan in hand. Seriously, asked Wang. Chopsticks in the bedroom? It could make a great costume for Halloween or perhaps even a bad porn movie, she thought. But as lingerie?
"Part of me says: maybe they're just clueless," said Wang, a co-editor of the blog 8Asians.
She said Victoria's Secret has not used Asian models very much -- in their catalogs or on their runways. So, its plausible that they just didn't know.
"Then there's another part of me that's more cynical -- this is a sexy little controversy to get people intentionally riled up."
Others were less generous.
The blog Racialicious decried some of the catalog descriptions, calling the "Sexy Little Geisha" a perversion of its reference.
Racalicious contributor Nina Jacinto wrote:
"When someone creates a collection like this, making inauthentic references to 'Eastern culture' (whatever that means) with hints of red or a fan accessory or floral designs, it reinforces a narrative that says that all Asian cultures -- and their women -- are exotic, far away but easy to access. It's a narrative that says the culture can be completely stripped of its realness in order to fulfill our fantasies of a safe and non-threatening, mysterious East.
"But when a company takes it one step further by developing a story about how the clothes can offer a sort of escape using explicit sexualized and exploitive language, it takes the whole thing to another level. It's a troubling attempt to sidestep authentic representation and humanization of a culture and opt instead for racialized fetishizing against Asian women."
The fury started, apparently, with a post on the blog Angry Asian Man.
"Have you seen Victoria's Secret's new Go East line of lingerie? Yup. Asian-inspired. With "touches of eastern delight," whatever the hell that means.
"This one above's probably the worst of the bunch, called Sexy Little Geisha. Seriously. And it's not even Halloween yet. Yaaaay, hooray for exotic orientalist b------t."
Angry Asian Man's Facebook page acquired a collection of comments:
Devika Srivastava wrote: "Exoticism, the ultimate insult. Dummies."
Tressa Berman wrote: "The new Orientalism a la mode."
The story was also picked up by Bust, a women's pop culture magazine.
The Bust reporter said she rushed over to the Victoria's Secret website only to discover that the "Sexy Little Geisha," and the "Go East" Collection had vanished.
"Excited by the possibility that all "Go East" merchandise had been collected from Victoria's Secret stores and warehouses under cover of night and burned in a ritualistic fire to banish the racism and exploitation, I looked up their press contact. Of course, the press office didn't confirm my fantasy version of what had happened, and instead suggested that the product had sold out. (I had asked specifically about the "Sexy Little Geisha," the piece in the collection that seemed to piss people off the most.) However, when pressed, they couldn't confirm that the piece had, in fact, sold out. Nor could they explain why an error message comes up on the website even for a general search of the phrase "go east."
Bust pointed out that there wasn't necessarily anything wrong with a clothing company incorporating Japanese patterns.