L Brands Revives Victoria’s Secret

It is a backstage scene from the lingerie brand’s annual fashion show, tense with anticipation. There are only minutes to go until the show is scheduled to start, and models clad in lace and satin are sauntering around, posing for photographers, as they wait to take their place on the runway. The show is a big deal for Victoria’s Secret, which reaches over 7 billion in sales per year and has 400 stores nationwide.

The company was started in 1977 by Roy Raymond, who was frustrated by the dowdy undergarment options available at department stores and wanted to create a line that celebrated female beauty. The brand grew quickly, and by the mid-’90s it had established itself as a lingerie powerhouse with stores that evoked Victorian boudoirs and annual shows starring era-defining bombshells like Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen strutting down a runway in push-up bras and thongs.

But as sexual assault became a national issue, Victoria’s Secret began to struggle. The brand’s image was deemed inappropriate and sexist by some, and the infamous fashion show was criticized for being outdated. Same-store sales dipped, and viewership of the annual event declined. In addition, several parents complained that the brand’s sexy ads targeted their teenage children. In a 2018 letter to shareholders, CEO John Mehas outlined a plan for reviving the company, including promoting its lingerie for women of all shapes and sizes, increasing diversity in the models used in its advertising, highlighting plus-size products, and expanding its stores’ mannequins to include fuller-figure bodies.

In 2022, the company announced it would spin off the Victoria’s Secret business into a standalone entity while continuing to operate L Brands’ other brands. It overhauled the company’s image — swapping its Angels for a group of activists and entrepreneurs who advocate for gender equality — and refreshed its stores, introducing brighter lights and blush pink walls.

VS also hired its first chief sustainability officer, appointed two women to its board of directors, and introduced new products like plus-size swimwear and sports bras. And it launched a three-part documentary series on Hulu featuring a “collective of bold, diverse women who are using their platform to reclaim Victoria’s Secret and rewrite the rules of sex.”

But those efforts weren’t enough to reverse years of declining same-store sales. In the third quarter of 2019, VS reported its largest quarterly loss in history, sending its stock price tumbling and prompting investors to demand that chairman and CEO Ed Razek step down from his position.

In a bid to revive the business, Victoria’s Secret hired new marketing executives and replaced its model roster. It now features more body-positive women, is more inclusive in its advertising campaigns, and has redesigned its stores to feature more mannequins of different body types. The company also has begun to offer a wider range of products, including sleepwear and accessories, beauty, active wear, shoes, swimwear, and its teen-centric PINK brand. Its online presence has diversified, and it has increased its global reach. The company is now trying to regain its former glory by improving profitability and crossing $7 billion in sales again.