The Wee Hours: Close Encounters, Heavenly Bodies at Victoria's Secret Show

Illo: Peter Arkle

The first thing we noticed about the den of Angels was the smell.

Hours before the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the creaky freight elevator in the Lexington Avenue Armory rattled up to the fifth floor. As the doors opened, a sharp tang of beauty-product acid smacked up against us, a collision of perfumes cut with a sweet whiff of lotions, the clouds of hairspray gushing from big bottles and wafting throughout the space. Past two aisles of models in pink gowns, beyond the couch where the most beautiful women in the world sat tonging mounds of salad with silver implements, was Karlie Kloss, a St. Louis native who, at 19 years of age, may be the most important model in the world.

“You don’t need any glitter, Nate?” Ms. Kloss asked The Observer, offering a hand with a big gloop of the shiny stuff. “It’s not the look you’re going for today? You don’t want to be an Angel?”

“Well, of course, if you need someone else for the show …”

“Put on some wings—I have an extra pair!” she said giggling. “In case someone drops out last-minute.”

The makeup artist was dabbing the girl’s eyelids with a soft purple, and when she was done Ms. Kloss batted them at her, and then at us, practicing. Though not the only model making her debut in wings—she was among a freshman class of 12 girls, the largest ever—Ms. Kloss had become the de facto face of the newcomers due to her startlingly young age and, well, her face. For some, this is a problem. Over the years, this unapologetic spectacle of skin has gone unmolested by the torchbearers of family values (it airs on CBS on Nov. 29), but it has rankled some to hear that such a young lass would be strutting the runway in the skimpiest of lingerie.

As her sisters in this elite sorority massed at the other end of the room—their hair curled, straightened and extended, their tan skin shimmering and immaculate—Kanye West made his entrance, at which point each Victoria’s Secret Angel walked over to pay her respects, supplicants to a priest. The cameramen clamored to get their shots.

“I think he’s the center of attention,” noted VS Angel Chanel Iman, who was once linked to the rapper romantically.

We stood around chatting with Miranda Kerr, an Australian model, about the $2.5 million bra she would wear that night. Lily Donaldson, a British model, told us of her passion for cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her fellow expats in New York.

But it was Ms. Kloss who put things in perspective. “Oh, my god,” she said, looking around at the other models. “I grew up in St. Louis—I’m an American girl, so you grow up and you idolize the Victoria’s Secret Angels. They set the standard of beauty in the eyes of teenage girls. I feel like I’m living the dream.”

On our way out, we ran into a serviceman in uniform. After spending three hours with women in their underwear, it can be easy to forget that this huge, antiquated edifice is, for the rest of the year, an armory.

“I work here, and I usually take today off,” he said. “But, hey, it could be worse.”

“In 2007, I was supposed to perform at this show,” Kanye West said later as he prepared to go on. “But I lost my superhero, and now she’s my superangel.”

The Wee Hours: Close Encounters, Heavenly Bodies at Victoria's Secret Show