Victoria’s Secret is the world’s largest intimates specialty retailer, offering a full assortment of modern, fashion-inspired collections including signature bras, panties, lingerie, sleepwear, swim and athleisure. The brand also offers prestige fragrances and body care products. The company was founded in 1977 by entrepreneur Ron Raymond. It started with a single store and a catalog, but now has grown into a global retail powerhouse.
The lingerie brand’s most recent fashion show, titled Undefinable, is a complete 180 from the blonde bombshells and all-pink era it was known for. It features a diverse cast of models, including MMA fighter Rose Namajunas, paralympic athlete Femita Ayanbeku and country singer-songwriter Brittany Spencer. The new marketing campaign shatters all stereotypes of what a Victoria’s Secret angel looks like and promotes female empowerment.
However, this attempt to take itself more seriously is not well-received by viewers. The rom-com-style voice overs used to transition between the mini-shows and the glaring pink lighting seem to be the most obvious missteps. And the sexy, over-sexualized images of the VS Angels are not in step with a culture that has begun to reject objectification and reclaim girlhood.
Despite the company’s attempts to flip its narrative and make it more inclusive, it is still struggling to connect with younger consumers. For Sierra Mariela, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, the lingerie is not the problem; it’s the messaging that’s off-putting. She hasn’t stepped foot in a Victoria’s Secret store in over five years, and instead buys her lingerie at Target or on Depop, a privately-held marketplace for used clothing.
When a major scandal shook the company in 2020, Victoria’s Secret had to cancel its Super Bowl halftime show and faced criticism over its association with child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and its punishing size standards. In the aftermath, a crop of more body-positive underwear brands such as Aerie and ThirdLove began to take market share from Victoria’s Secret, and sales slipped.
The company was forced to address its image issues head-on, hiring its first plus-size model and revamping the way it marketed its products. In addition, the brand expanded its offerings to include mastectomy bras and comfy sports bras. And its stores are being redesigned to be brighter and more feminine, with blush pink walls and pink lights.
But the company is still trying to grapple with what it means to be a brand that celebrates women, and a new documentary on Hulu, titled Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons, helps connect the dots between the underworld of high fashion and the billionaire class, child sex trafficking, and pedophilia. The harrowing exposé suggests that, even in the age of the MeToo movement, the sexual misconduct is far from over and that there’s much work to do to create an industry where people are treated fairly.