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Victoria's Secret tones down suggestive displays

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Shoppers are getting their panties in a twist over racy marketing again. And this time, appropriately enough, the outrage is over lingerie.

Victoria's Secret stores in McLean, Va., and Wauwatosa, Wis., are targets of the latest clothing controversy. Local residents are railing against scantily clad -- and provocatively posed -- mannequins: women on all fours, others intertwined on a bed, still others in "garters and whatnot, and the only thing missing is a whip," says Stan Zurawski, who's leading the charge in Wauwatosa.

It's a familiar cycle: Retailers ratchet up the raunch because they want to be edgy. Concerned shoppers react with neighborhood meetings and protests, and the company tones things down. (Remember the now-defunct Abercrombie & Fitch catalog that showed topless models?)

In McLean, concessions have meant, among other changes, straightening up and flipping around a thong-wearing mannequin whose largely bare derriere had greeted passersby. (Opponents are still not satisfied: A second protest is planned for today after a gathering Friday drew 40 to 50 people.)

In Wauwatosa, a reclining mannequin has been turned over so that its thong-clad bottom is no longer "mooning" the window, as Zurawski put it. But that's "absolutely not good enough for us," he says.

What makes this episode interesting is that Victoria's Secret is straining the seams in a fashion climate that's more about modesty: Bodies are largely shrouded this season by demure, ladylike looks.

Edginess is what Victoria's Secret fans like, says retail consultant Candace Corlett of WSL Strategic Retail. "Good for them for smart marketing," she says. And, in responding to the outcry, "good for them for having a conscience."

Meanwhile, other outfits are continuing to embrace the extreme this season. Diesel's ad campaign celebrates "the world of individual hedonistic pleasure pursuits"; one shot features women with whips. Hipster chain American Apparel has softcore-styled ads including a tight focus on barely-covered backsides of women.

It's unclear how many Victoria's Secret stores have staged the display, as well as how many the company planned to unveil. Calls placed to Anthony Hebron, a spokesman for Limited Brands, Victoria's Secret parent company, weren't returned on Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, Hebron explained the company mission: "All we're trying to do is market what we sell. You see bras and underwear. That's lingerie. That's what we sell."

Some mall customers don't see what the fuss is all about, either. McLean patron Karimah Hatcher calls the controversy "ludicrous ... Is someone supposed to find that sexy? It is not a real woman."

Contributing: Theresa Howard, Laura Petrecca and Jenny Clevstrom

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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