Candice Swanepoel walks the runway during the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at Pier 94 on November 8, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Timur Emek/FilmMagic)

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was always coming in on the back-foot this year. The travelling juggernaut sent its taut physiques down its coveted runway the same week as a history-making, unprecedented amount of women of all races, ages and sizes entered U.S. congress. Social media commentary was split; some in awe, some screaming it was anachronistic. In 2018, in the big business of smalls, was less really more?

The brand – which boasted over 1.6 billion people tuning in across 190 countries last year – knew they had to address this notion. As the audience patiently waited for the show to begin inside Pier 94 on New York’s Upper West Side – a mirror-lined ceiling which reflected the colours jutting off the runway at such a flicking pace, you could swear a teenage boy had left his Nintendo on to go and fix a snack – it was the most excellent time for people watching.

While there was a strict ‘no phones’ policy inside the show, Kris Jenner made herself the not-so-subtle exception standing up and filming with her phone high in the air. Her partner Corey Gamble was on one side of her, Derek Blasberg, the other. Close-by was Valentino – awash in a Hefe filter – and sat next to GRAZIA cover girl Olivia Palermo. In the next front row section, Yolanda Hadid chatted with her daughter Bella’s boyfriend The Weeknd. (Gigi’s boyfriend Zayn was nowhere in sight). To Hadid’s left was Adam Levinge, the musician husband of model Behati Prinsloo who was returning to the catwalk after two years. In the second row was all of Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid’s friends including Kourtney Kardashian’s supposed new beau Luka Sabbat.

As the lights went down, a black-and-white video edit of the brand’s main faces weighed in on Victoria’s Secret in the current age (read: this was a chance to defend the argument that the show’s concept of parading women in lingerie and heels was outdated). Prinsloo, Candice Swanepoel, Adriana Lima, Romee Strijd, Sara Sampaio and Taylor Hill discussed how this was, and always has been, a show for women. It’s not about men. And how ultimately, it made them feel successful, powerful, strong and empowered. While the social tide had turned, Victoria’s Secret was a joyous reprieve from the negative headlines, it said. It was a middle finger up to that ridiculous call for modesty in the wake of the Harvey fallout. You can still dress-up and feel sexy, it said. And while women have finally begun to get even, we’re not adjusting ourselves to make it easier on the world, it screamed.

Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, at 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion show at Pier 94 on November 8, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by J. Lee/FilmMagic)

Soul Singer Leema James opened the show performing The Greatest Showman’s title track This Is Me with an all-female, all black, choir. And then came Taylor Hill in tartan and a pleated mini. Then a tiny Stella Maxwell in tinier panties. Sara Sampaio was among a few of the angels who seemed to have a little trouble walking their pencil-width stilettos and titanic wings down the pink boarded runway.

The second theme was an ode to “the greatest angel of all time” Lima. Three hours before the show began, the 37-year-old announced she would be ending her 20-year reign at Victoria’s Secret tonight, 18 of those years were on the runway. As a montage of Lima’s career played to a Hannah Grace cover of Praise You, the audience remembered just how electrifying the Brazilian model was to watch. She embodied exuberance and a confidence that has never been replicated on the runway. She excited the consumer. And tonight, while the internet was still aghast Lima was indeed exiting after a two-decade tenure as the Angel ideal, the larger-than-life model was emotional as she took to the stage for the final time, in wings.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 08: Adriana Lima walks the runway during the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at Pier 94 on November 8, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

“Victoria’s Secret has grown as a brand and as a fashion show since the first one that I did,” Lima told GRAZIA backstage. “My first show was in 1999 and it was just a simple show. There was no change of stage or musical performances. All of this has changed. I miss a few of the angels here – Gisele, Heidi, Stephanie – I came from the Karen Mulder tribe, it was so long ago. I miss them but every one of the angels that are here and not here helped build the brand and helped build the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show as the biggest entertainment show on television in the world.”

She’s not wrong. In between segments, the brand reminded us of the label’s mammoth pull; Last year’s show saw 220 billion social media impressions, 70% of viewers were women, US$35 million has been raised for non-for-profits, 268 models have walked for VS in total in what they have claimed is the toughest show to book on earth. It has more cameras than the SuperBowl. It was of course a reminder to all the haters of just how big this brand is.

Outspoken feminist Halsey performed her hit track Without Me (an alleged hit at ex-boyfriend G-Eazy) as Elsa Hosk walked the US$1 million fantasy bra down the runway. In the trail was a slew of sparkling and feathered angels. The Weeknd stood to clap Halsey, igniting a rumour a collab could well be on the way (the musicians – and Bella Hadid – were seen partying together afterwards). UK artist Bebe Rexha covered off the PINK segment with her track I’m A Mess. It was here Australia’s own Alannah Walton walked her first show. The 18-year-old was cast four days after arriving in New York City to work as a model.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 08: Halsey performs on the the runway during the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at Pier 94 on November 8, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Timur Emek/FilmMagic)

Shaun Mendes performed his mega song Lost in Japan amid the Mary Katrantzou designed floral segment. Interestingly, a lot of these looks were more clothes, not underwear. Both Gigi Hadid and Josephine Skriver suffered under the weight of – what were they? – curtain drapes? A quilt cover? A parachute? But that didn’t stop Yolanda from screaming and wolf-whistling as Gigi came to the end of the runway.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 08: Gigi Hadid walks the runway during the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at Pier 94 on November 8, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Timur Emek/FilmMagic)

The social conversation has changed since last year. In a case of ‘Victoria, it’s not you, it’s me’, it seems the brand hasn’t moved with the times. If you take the costumed spectacle for what it is, it was an epic show.