The Victoria’s Secret Rebrand

victoria secret

The first Victoria’s Secret opened in 1977 with founder Roy Raymond seeking to make both women and men comfortable shopping for lingerie at his chain of stores. By 1982, it had five stores and a catalog and was nearing bankruptcy when it was sold for $1 million to Les Wexner, founder of L Brands (now known as Victoria’s Secret parent company Limited Brands). Wexner turned the business around, growing it into a global lingerie empire that would generate $1 billion in revenue by the early 1990s.

Wexner’s vision was to create a sophisticated lingerie retailer based on a refined image that promised sexuality packaged in a tasteful, educated fashion. In that sense, it was an antidote to the raunchy world of lads’ mags that had defined a certain kind of male fantasy in a sexless, binary way.

Over the years, however, that image began to look a bit dated. In a cultural environment that had shifted to the more inclusive, gender-neutral and body positive, the company’s hyper-sexualized ads and annual fashion shows began to feel like a reductive parade of quasi-soft porn and impossible beauty standards. The brand’s customer base started to turn away, and in late 2018, sales slipped enough that Wexner hired former Bath & Body Works CEO Martin Waters to oversee a reorganization and rebranding effort for the company.

Waters started by cutting a number of the underwear brands that had been acquired over the years, and by bringing in new leadership. He also revamped the Victoria’s Secret and Pink brand websites to be more modern and mobile-friendly, and he began to hire more diverse models for advertising campaigns. Some were more recognizable than others, such as Gigi Hadid and Heidi Klum, while other were less so, such as plus-size model Paloma Elsesser or US soccer player Megan Rapinoe.

The company also rolled out a series of changes to its rewards program that made it more flexible and generous. It expanded its gift card offering from a single gift to multiple gifts per year, and it added a new level of membership that allows customers to earn additional free bras each time they spend at least $300 in a year.

For many customers, the changes were welcome. “It seems like VS is trying to do the right thing in terms of inclusivity,” says Jane Hali & Associates retail analyst Jessica Ramirez. “They’re adding more sizes to their offerings in-store and online, and they’re using models that appear to be less retouched in images.”

However, it remains to be seen whether these efforts will be enough to revive the brand. The company is still facing competition from up-starts such as ThirdLove and Lively, and from American Eagle’s Aerie division, which sells a wide range of comfortable, body-positive bras.

And in the long run, it’s not just about the product — a retailer has to have a message that resonates with its consumers. For Gen Z shoppers in particular, that means a clear and consistent message that beauty is more than just skin deep.