When Victoria’s Secret first arrived in the early 80s, it was a minor player in the lingerie market. After being frustrated with department store lingerie selections and frumpy undergarments from brands like Fruit of the Loom, entrepreneur Roy Raymond decided to start a company that was geared exclusively towards women. By the time he was ready to take his venture public, he had amassed five stores and an annual catalog of lingerie.
The name “Victoria’s Secret” has become synonymous with sexy, glamorous lingerie that sells for a fraction of the price of comparable brands. Over the course of the next four decades, the brand became the most famous retailer of lingerie in the world. The company’s lingerie is so affordable that it appeals to all levels of income, with Victoria’s Secret bras and undies available at most major retailers and at discount chains such as Target. The company also offers a variety of other products, including bathing suits, cosmetics, perfumes and jewelry.
In the late 1990s, Victoria’s Secret was the defining image of a new generation of women who wanted to reclaim their femininity and regain control of their sexuality. The brand was sexy and glamorous, with its pink shopping bags, velvet-lined dressing rooms, and ads featuring sultry models in sexy lingerie. It was a rite of passage for young girls to get their own Victoria’s Secret bras and panties once they were “of age.” It was the first time that a mass-market lingerie brand had defined what it meant to be a woman in America, and it was a success.
But the brand had its problems as well. The lingerie industry was hit hard by the #MeToo movement, and Victoria’s Secret was implicated by its links to Jeffrey Epstein. Then, former catwalk models Bridget Malcolm and Dorothea Barth Jorgensen spoke out about the company’s punishing size standards. The company’s chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, insulted transgender women in a Vogue interview.
All of these incidents led to a 40% stock plunge for Victoria’s Secret in 2019 and a rethinking of the company’s strategy. The company announced that it would stop airing its annual Fashion Show and revamped its lingerie collection to include plus-size models and different kinds of body shapes. The company also added a line of nursing and mastectomy bras.
The new Victoria’s Secret seems to be on the right track, with a mostly female board of directors and campaigns for breast cancer research. But it’s too soon to tell whether the rebranding will be enough to reverse years of declining sales and declining consumer confidence in the company.
Whether the changes at Victoria’s Secret will work depends on several factors, one of which is changing society’s emphasis on an idealized feminine image. The company’s rebranding is not without controversy, but it is an important step in a direction that many consumers believe will benefit them. The company still has a long way to go, but it is a company that deserves credit for recognizing that its reputation is based on a narrow definition of beauty and that the brand needs to change in order to appeal to a wider range of consumers.