Transgender model Valentina Sampaio wants to be part of a “new chapter” for Victoria’s Secret. Given recent upheaval at the iconic lingerie brand, she may well get her wish.
Less than a year after Victoria’s Secret executive Ed Razek told Vogue that he doesn’t think “transsexuals” should appear in the fashion show because the program is supposed to be “a fantasy,” the company has hired the 22-year-old Sampaio for a Pink campaign. Mere days after that information became public, news broke that Razek was resigning. His exit comes amid a challenging period for the company, which has been struggling to find an identity that aligns with present-day values and is struggling to distance itself from the late sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. Sampaio, however, has her eyes focused firmly on the future.
“I think the brand now has started a new chapter,” she told The Daily Beast via email when asked about the significance of her hiring “To me, it represents a victory for society—not just for the trans community, but for all people who are currently underrepresented in fashion.”
For Sampaio, who hails from Brazil and has worked for brands like L’Oréal, booking a gig with Victoria’s Secret is the fulfillment of a major career goal. “When I knew that I got the job, I was so happy and stoked,” she said. “It has always been a dream for me to work for VS.” How fitting, then, that when she announced her work for Victoria’s Secret on Instagram, she captioned her post “Never stop dreaming.”
Over the past few years, transgender models have become increasingly visible, reaching high-profile milestones and gracing the pages of the fashion industry’s most prestigious publications. Two years ago, Sampaio herself set one such precedent, becoming the first transgender model to appear on the cover of French Vogue. But even as other companies began embracing transgender talent, Victoria’s Secret seemed to resist the trend as part of a commitment to a more traditional—and many argued outdated—notion of beauty.
Razek’s comments rankled consumers and became a PR catastrophe not just because he said “transsexuals” shouldn’t be in the fashion show but because he also seemed to resist the idea of including plus-size women. Razek addressed the controversy over transgender models in an apology on the Victoria’s Secret Twitter account shortly after the Vogue interview published—but the backlash continued.
Razek’s remarks seemed to reveal a once-beloved brand in crisis, clinging to conventional beauty standards as the fashion industry shifted toward diversity and change. The week after the Vogue interview was published, Victoria’s Secret CEO Jan Singer resigned. Sales have continued to struggle well into 2019 as the brand retools its approach.
Asked if she could help bring diversity to Victoria’s Secret, Sampaio said: “I think we are experiencing a moment, an evolution and it is a positive one. Brands are finally learning and catching up to the importance of inclusivity and diversity. Fashion is for everyone, from all backgrounds and all communities. This is just the beginning and it is an evolution for everybody.”
This is also an auspicious start for Sampaio, who has been active in the modeling industry for about three years. Between Vogue, L’Oréal, and Victoria’s Secret, she has already worked with some of the most iconic names in beauty. Booking a job with the most recognized lingerie brand in the world, she noted, is definitely a highlight so far.
“Well, for sure it is on the top five list,” she said. “I feel very proud of my achievements but I’m still so young and this is just the beginning.”
Even 10 years ago, it would be hard to picture an openly transgender model like Sampaio ascending as rapidly as she has. Early transgender models like Tracey Gayle Norman, who worked in the 1970s, often stayed in the closet before being outed later in their careers. Today, transgender beauty is being recognized—and celebrated—out in the open. Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox, who started the #transisbeautiful hashtag, has been a major player in that change, setting transgender milestones at Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and more.
Sampaio has witnessed the rapid pace of that change, and she’s excited for what it will bring: “Both the world and society are changing super fast,” she told The Daily Beast, “So I think that even [the] fashion industry must follow these changes in order to satisfy the new customers’ demands.”
She is well aware of the cultural cachet that Victoria’s Secret carries—and of what an effect her hiring could have on both the company and the industry in general.
“I’m really happy and proud to be working with Victoria’s Secret, especially during this time of change,” said Sampaio. “Being appointed the first transgender model for the brand is a hugely important moment not only for myself, but my community and beyond.”
But the young model doesn’t just want to be a beneficiary of that change, she wants to help bring it about with a platform that is bound to grow larger with her new gig. “It is important that I use my voice and my visibility to try to change the status quo not only in the fashion industry but also in society,” she told The Daily Beast.
For all the transgender fashion precedents that have been set, a major one remains elusive: The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which has taken place every year since 1995, has never featured an openly transgender model. The controversial fashion show has often been criticized for its lack of diversity, but it remains a sort of holy grail within the industry. To be featured on that runway is a statement impossible to ignore.
Transgender model Carmen Carrera told The Daily Beast in 2013, “I want to walk the Victoria’s Secret show,” after an online petition circulated urging for her to be featured. In 2018, Leyna Bloom made a social media push to be “the 1st Trans model of color” to walk in the show, as she tweeted:
But this year, there may not be a fashion show at all, if model Shanina Shaik’s recent comments to The Daily Telegraph are any indication. Shaik told the Telegraph, “Unfortunately, the Victoria’s Secret show won’t be happening this year.”
If the show does return, Sampaio would love to participate.
“Are you kidding me?” she said. “For sure I would, it’s my dream!”
And Sampaio’s dreams have a funny way of coming true.