© AFP / by Dan Martin | Victoria's Secret models pose to mark the countdown to the 2017 fashion show in Shanghai
SHANGHAI - 20 November 2017: Victoria's Secret brings its racy annual fashion show to Shanghai on Monday night, making its debut in China's growing lingerie market in typically brazen style but with added Chinese flair.
English heart-throb Harry Styles headlines the musical acts who will perform as the world's top models strut in skimpy bras and underwear in Shanghai's Mercedes Benz Arena, in what the US lingerie brand dubs the sexiest show on earth.
The show, now in its 23rd year, has faced past criticism for leaning heavily towards western models, but this year it will feature a record 55 women from 20 countries.
They will include eight from China -- also a new high -- led by the country's top model Liu Wen, the first Asian on Forbes' annual list of the world's highest-paid fashion divas. She revelled in the excitement of "walking" in her homeland.
"The VS show is different each year, but this time it is even more special because it is in China and in Shanghai," Liu, 29, told AFP during make-up on Monday afternoon ahead of the show.
"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."
Victoria's Secret is hoping to win a slice of that market, with Monday's glitzy gala following the opening of its first two super-stores in China this year, in Shanghai and Chengdu.
The company's sales in its home US market have sagged this year, with analysts blaming its slow-footed response to a trend away from constructed bras towards more comfortable intimate wear.
Victoria's Secret is banking on its name recognition and top models like Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio and their Chinese counterparts to win over women in China who are increasingly interested in expressing their sexuality, say social and fashion analysts.
- Quality and cachet -
As Communist-era prudity slowly recedes, lingerie has become one of the fastest-growing segments in the Chinese women's apparel market, according to market-intelligence firm Mintel.
The firm predicts it will grow to 148 billion yuan ($22 billion) by 2020, up 32 percent from 2015 numbers.
"Chinese consumers are receptive to foreign brands that ooze quality and cachet," said Matthew Crabbe, Mintel's regional trends director, calling the Victoria's Secret fashion show "a great way to raise consumer awareness".
But he added that Victoria's Secret was entering "a tough retail market with many competitors", both foreign and domestic.
"Foreign brands have to do their homework. They must learn about the local market dynamics, the culture and the consumers -- especially how diverse consumers are across China," he said.
The show has not been not without controversy.
Top US model Gigi Hadid withdrew Friday after Chinese netizens savaged the 22-year-old over a months-old video clip showing her making a squinty-eyed "Asian" face -- accusing her of racism.
US fashion media have also run unconfirmed reports that Russian models Julia Belyakova, Kate Grigorieva and Irina Sharipova, and Ukraine's Dasha Khlystun, were slated to walk in the show but were denied Chinese visas.
The show's climax comes when a model dons the jewel-encrusted "Fantasy Bra".
This year Brazil's Lais Ribeiro will model a $2 million bra by Swiss-based luxury-goods company Mouawad studded with nearly 6,000 gemstones.
The show tapes in Shanghai on Monday night but will not air globally until November 28.
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