Studio Visit

The Secret Behind All Our Favorite Victoria’s Secret Runway Looks

You’ll never guess what goes into creating those amazing outfits.

By: Hannah Baxter
Photography: Weston Wells

Today is the day when we can finally watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in all its glittering glory. We’ve chatted with Angels about how they prepped (it involves a lot of squats), learned their last-minute beauty routines, and even discovered the code word every girl hears before she finally gets a pair of wings. But what about all the amazing fashion that floats down the runway year after year?

To get all the details on our favorite section of the show—Porcelain—we decided to go right to the source: Jeff Fender. The Brooklyn-based artist owns his own custom fabric painting studio, designing and creating costumes for dozens of Broadway shows as well as several musicians’ tour outfits (Katy Perry and Madonna are among his fans). But for the last eight years, Jeff Fender Studio has contributed some of the most incredible creations to the annual show. Remember that green butterfly outfit that Gigi wore last year in Paris? That was all thanks to Jeff and his team hand-painting for days. “That was a lot of fun to paint,” he reveals after showing us around his studio space—including a sneak peek at all the VS garments. “The Broadway stuff we do is fun and interesting, but this is always a little more artistic.”

Click through to find out how the lingerie giant recruited him, what goes into creating a custom garment for the show, and the dream section he’d love to see the Angels wearing next year.

“I started working in theater designing costumes, and then the fabric painting came later. The thing I liked about theater was being a fashion designer for every period. [laughs] Like you were doing a show, and you were the best fashion designer of the 1920s or the 18th century or whatever, so you have to really pull from every kind of [era].”

“[Fabric painting] came mainly out of necessity. I would design a show, and then I would make up a fabric and want to paint it myself. I just kind of taught myself how to do it and [attended] a couple of workshops. There was this guy, Brian Coleman, who was an amazing fabric painter in New York in the ’70s and ’80s when lots of Broadway shows had custom-painted fabrics. He taught a workshop, and I sort of picked it up from that.”

“For [Victoria’s Secret] projects, first they give me the sketch, and then I do my own research. They’ll send me a lot of inspiration with the sketch, because it’s specific but not set in stone. For the Porcelain [section], I found pictures of plates and pottery and that kind of thing. Then I receive the garment pattern.”

“The main difference [between painting on fabric vs. canvas] is it’s all painted with dye. Especially for Victoria’s Secret stuff because it’s all on silk. There’s more of a process of setting the dye into the fabric so that you can clean it and wash it and nothing runs out. We have to steam-set everything.”

“There’s a lot of looking at the mock-up [design] and figuring out their patterns because sometimes they’re crazy [laughs], and they’re all written in Italian. We’re always trying to convert, looking up words and saying, ‘What does this mean?’ [laughs] Sometimes it’ll take two or three days just to do the artwork. Luckily, I used to be a draper in a costume shop, so I know how things are put together. You have to really know where everything goes and visualize when you paint it.”

“Before I draw the pattern on the garment, I’ll come up with the scheme of the pattern—whether it’s a floral or a paisley or that kind of thing—and do a quick sample for them to approve colorwise. Because with [Porcelain], it’s all blue, but there’s probably 40 different colors of blue. I want it to look special, and I don’t want it to all look the same, even though they are the same, but in my mind, at least, they’re all different colors and different shades of blue.”

“I sketch with pencil on a paper pattern [and] make a whole drawing. Luckily, they use this satin-faced organza fabric for almost everything, so you can see through the fabric enough when you lay it out to paint it. You can see the pattern, so we usually just paint right on that so you don’t have any lines or anything.”

“Depending on how many people are working on it and how intense it is, the painting takes from two days to a week. One of the sections in years past, they did a huge skirt, a row of ruffles and then another on top of that, and by the time you got to the bottom it was like 50 feet of ruffle, [and] it was all painted with multicolored flowers.”

“I try to be really careful with the look of everything, to make it look a bit hand-drawn. It definitely has a hand-painted look to it; it doesn’t look like a computer-generated pattern.”

“[I got involved with Victoria’s Secret] through Sarah Sophia. She does a lot of theater also, and they needed a fabric painter eight years ago [for] the rock ’n’ roll section. I painted a kimono [that] had tattoos. It’s still one of my favorite pieces that I’ve done because it was so intense.”

“[My dream section to paint would be] birds. That would be fun to paint bird wings. Woman: Birds of Paradise. Angels of Paradise.”

“This is the first time we’ve actually painted shoes. A lot of times if they’re like, the super high ones, they’ll be on velvet or fabric. This time we’re painting them on stretch leather. I think they’re trying to get away from the fabric ones because they sag down the ankles so bad. They just look like weird tights sometimes.”

“A friend of mine in London called me one time and said, ‘I saw there’s a dress you painted in the store window at Victoria’s Secret in London.’ Last year they had that blue-and-yellow floral corset that Kendall Jenner wore. We always like when one of the top girls wears a painted thing because then there are photos everywhere.”

“I’ve basically [mentored] most of the people working for me. They haven’t painted fabric before. I love it. Some call it wisdom, [laughs]. It depends on what day it is or how tired they are, but I love showing other people how. There aren’t a lot of fabric painters.”

“[To celebrate being done] we usually just have a lot of vodka [laughs]. And take a day off. Actually, I’m really excited to see these made into things, this section especially, because we’re doing so many of them. Hopefully the painting is a little different on each one. I’m trying not to make it look like the same person painted everything, it’s almost like a pottery plate or something, so that each look has its own special kind of vibe to it.”

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