The Victoria’s Secret Reboot

Victoria’s Secret is an American specialty lingerie, clothing and beauty retailer, famous for racy marketing including a catalogue featuring supermodels dubbed “Angels” and an annual fashion show. Its stores, meanwhile, feature displays evoking Victorian boudoirs. But the company has stumbled in recent years, with same-store sales declining and newer, more overtly inclusive lingerie companies like ThirdLove and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty stealing market share.

In the fall of 2018, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show aired its last episode, drawing an estimated 1 billion viewers worldwide, but the show’s success had blinded the brand to changing cultural attitudes and upstart competitors that were building inclusivity into their business models from the ground up. The show’s reliance on an impossibly narrow conception of beauty—all razzle-dazzle push-up bras, highly exercised abs and angel wings—was starting to look outmoded, and the company started losing customers to more inclusive alternatives like Lane Bryant and Aerie.

But the real turning point came in 2020, when Les Wexner stepped down as chairman and CEO of parent company L Brands and sold his majority stake in the lingerie company. In the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Wexner’s longtime friend and financial adviser, Ed Razek, the company underwent a full rebrand, dropping the iconic Fashion Show and replacing the Angels with the more inclusive VS Collective, led by models like Megan Rapinoe and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.

Tyrnauer’s series also shines a spotlight on Victoria’s Secret’s internal culture, which is still dominated by men. One former executive, Sharleen Ernest, alleges that the company’s leadership was known to shut down any attempts to move away from the bombshell, unattainable image of the Angels and into more nuanced categories of sexiness. She says the leadership team, particularly the chairman and chief executive officer, “had an impenetrable wall of male power” that prevented any changes from being made.

Since its reboot, Victoria’s Secret has taken steps to broaden its appeal, expanding its size range to include plus sizes and offering more bra styles for a broader array of breast shapes; introducing maternity bras and mastectomy bras, for example. But it’s not clear whether these efforts will be enough to revive the company, especially in the face of growing competition from more overtly inclusive rivals that are better at communicating their message and making women feel good about themselves.