Victorious Secret: Lingerie for Overcomers| 08/29/2008
Victorious Secret bills itself as "The Lingerie Line for the Overcoming Woman"
And it is the "premier and dominant" producer of Christian-themed apparel in America, and maybe in the universe, according to the company's innovative founder, Veronique Wisteria.
Famous for her eccentric ways and romanesque figure, Veronique started the company as a mail-order operation in her laundry room. Now it has more than 400 employees at its headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., and a 70,000 square-foot warehouse in Orange County, Calif., that handles more than 800,000 orders a year.
But achieving that goal was difficult--about as difficult as slipping into one of the company's signature leather halter tops.
"We call this the 'Yokefellow,'" she explained, twirling around 360 degrees as I leaned back in my chair, both repelled and strangely excited.
It was, well...kinky. I was interviewing her for Christian Retailing and Inspirational Faithwear Magazine, but this was a challenge perhaps above my pay grade.
Ms. Wisteria was modeling this bold, skimpy design for me in her expansive and well appointed office in Kansas City. But the room now suddenly grew stuffy and claustrophobic, thick with the heaviness of desire. "You might think it's inspired by some kind of 'S&M' hanky-panky, but really it's patterned after garments that were worn by Middle Eastern goat herders during late antiquity. Surprised?"
As she leaned over me -- a little too close--to see what I was writing, I noticed the buckles and zippers were molded with the same metallurgy process used in the forges of Anatolia, circa 1200 BCE.
A bead of sweat formed on the tip of my nose.
"Isn't that design on the buttons a Coptic emblem from the early church in Alexandria?" I blurted out, shifting my chair away from her hot breath on my neck. "That's, uh, really a nice historical touch."
"Yes, thank you," she said coldly, sensing my hesitation, and moving back behind her desk.
She stared out the window and sighed, tapping her riding crop deliberately on the window sill. Was she pouting? I can never tell. Women! Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em...
Ms. Wisteria, who holds a degree in early Christian fabric and drapery design from Emory University's Candler School of Theology, worked as a model during her student days, and she came to a conclusion: Christian women needed a lingerie line that would let them look sexy but still retain that sense of modesty required for bedtime prayers and morning quiet time.
There's a widespread misconception, she said, that Christians fear pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, and see it as degrading, corrupting and tainted.
"That's a dirty, rotten LIE," she yelled, stamping her foot on the marble floor.
"But it's always so hard for a couple to transition from kneeling together in awe before the gates of heaven -- praying for famine victims in Darfur, for instance, or the political situation in East Timor--and then jumping into the sack for a session of hot carnal pleasure. I wanted to help bridge that gap. That was my sacred mission."
The result was her first popular cutting-edge design-- the breakaway flannel granny gown.
"That was a classic! When that was released in the late 1990s, a whole generation of Christian couples reached a new level of ecstasy... and, I might add, the Christian marriage counseling industry went into a nosedive," she said. "I think it was the combination of flannel on flesh that was so satisfying. And the plaid design didn't hurt."
Since then, her Victorious Secret line has continued to innovate, going from mail-order to Internet sales even as it opened hundreds of new stores in malls across the country. At the same time, the racy Victorious Secret catalog became a favorite smuggled item on seminary campuses.
Most recently, the company expanded into Mormon undergarments, a specialty product line that required retooling a whole factory.
But pride goeth before a fall, even for the "Marabel Morgan of our time," as Newsweek called her, and especially for a clothing line that had grown too big for its knickers.
This year's design was not warmly received by fashion critics or customers --a simple negligee made completely out of Four Spiritual Laws tracts. Sales were abysmal.
"OK, we over-reached. We were going for "Jack Chick" chic. But we learned our lesson this year--nothing too crinkly," she explained.
"I think the Christian zeitgeist, if you will, is moving away from overt bedroom evangelism to more purpose-driven, lifestyle-based seduction techniques. Our 2009 line will deliver more of a post-modernist, Blue Like Jazz kind of message, while maintaining that balance of holiness and hotness our customers have come to expect."
In fact, Victorious Secret is being challenged by the upstart Frederick's of Saddleback, which started as a kiosk in Rick Warren's megachurch and has taken away a lucrative slice of the cutthroat Christian faithwear market.
As we ended the interview and I took my leave, I noticed Veronique lingered at her door to watch as I walked down the hall, her riding crop softly tapping her leg, steam literally hissing off her bronzed, silken skin. The whole experience was very disconcerting.
Out in the lobby I thanked the receptionist, checked my watch, asked directions to the nearest Starbucks, and then surreptitiously picked up a copy of the Victorious Secret catalog off her desk while she wasn't looking.
I just wanted to, uh, price check that leather halter top.