Angels and Demons: How Victoria’s Secret Lost Its Sex Appeal

victoria secret

For decades, Victoria’s Secret was the mall lingerie giant, a company that defined feminine beauty through its blatantly sexy ads and runway shows. But in recent years, the brand has fallen from grace as it has been accused of fat-shaming, body shaming, and promoting a culture of misogyny that allegedly bled into the lives of its models. This year, the company’s sales dropped by more than $2 billion and was the subject of a three-part documentary series on Hulu called “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons.”

After a series of public scandals, the company has been struggling to find its way in the new normal of women’s empowerment, diversity, and corporate wokeness. But even as the company continues its multiyear pivot away from unsubtle sex appeal, it still seems to be missing something crucial: trust.

In the early days of the company, founder Leslie Wexner built a brand inspired by a tasteful, educated British lady and decorated its stores to evoke Victorian boudoirs. But by the late 1990s, that image had contorted into a raunchier one that met the appetite of a generation of women seeking to reclaim their sexuality and embrace body positivity. This is when the iconic Angels were born: supermodels like Stephanie Seymour, Heidi Klum, and Gisele Bundchen, bombshells trussed up in lace and satin and mesh in high-concept, high-budget commercials and fashion shows.

The idea was that if you looked like an Angel, you might be sexy enough to snag yourself a wealthy husband, or even become a Victoria’s Secret mogul like Wexner himself. That image dominated the catalogs and even made its way onto the bathroom TVs in store bathrooms, but the company changed course after Sharen Jester Turney became CEO of the catalogue division and pushed for a more Vogue-like aesthetic to replace Playboy-inspired ones.

During Turney’s nine-year tenure, the company’s business thrived, and in 2006 she was promoted to CEO of the whole company. She brought Victoria’s Secret into the modern era and created its PINK line, which is designed to appeal to younger female consumers. She also diversified the model pool to include women of all ages, ethnicities, and body shapes.

But despite those efforts, the company remains viewed with suspicion by many consumers. A recent study found that 80% of shoppers could not identify the Victoria’s Secret models in ads, and the company has been losing customers to competitors as a result. In addition, the company is being hit with complaints that its prices are too high, according to a report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Now, with the help of a diverse group of new faces and a revamped marketing campaign featuring athletes, actors, and musicians—including Hailey Bieber, Priyanka Chopra, and country singer Brittany Spencer—the company is trying to change its image once again. In October, the company will be unveiling a new campaign called “Undefinable” that features women of all sizes and backgrounds in natural-looking lingerie, and it will feature a rotating cast of VS Collective members, including mental health advocate Hailey Baldwin, tennis star Naomi Osaka, plus-size model Paloma Elsesser, and sports stars Megan Rapinoe and Eileen Gu.