Founded in 1977 by Roy Raymond, an American businessman, Victoria’s Secret has become one of the world’s largest lingerie brands. But its long history has also been plagued by allegations of racism, sexual abuse, and misogyny. Several lingerie upstarts have emerged over the last few years, and Victoria’s Secret has attempted to shift from a male gaze to a female empowerment message. In January, Victoria’s Secret announced a series of executive appointments, including two female directors. The company will also continue working with former Angels such as Megan Rapinoe and Paloma Elsesser.
In the late 1990s, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show featured models who strutted down the runway in a variety of lingerie. The supermodels were often dressed in tiny lace and satin. But these Angels also wore a newer version of the ideals that had originally defined the Victoria’s Secret brand. Victoria’s Secret was inspired by male fantasies of Victorian women, and dubbed its company “Victoria’s Secret,” in honor of Queen Victoria.
In the 1980s, Roy Raymond’s company expanded and began selling underwear. But Raymond was uncomfortable with his lingerie salespeople and thought that there was no way he could find nice underwear for his wife, Gaye. He was so uneasy that he conceived of a lingerie store in honor of Queen Victoria. Raymond’s store was named “Victoria’s Secret” and grossed $500,000 in its first year. Raymond had also studied the lingerie market. He wanted to purchase Gaye some nice underwear. But he could not find them.
In 1982, Les Wexner bought Victoria’s Secret. He then renamed the company L Brands. Wexner helped to shape the way society thinks about female sexuality and beauty. He built an empire with Victoria’s Secret, and sold most of his shares to a private equity firm in 2020. He would remain as a board member and chairman emeritus.
In 2019, he was indicted on federal sex-trafficking charges. He is a convicted sex offender. And the brand has come under fire because of his close relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the former CEO of Victoria’s Secret. Wexner declined multiple interview requests, saying that he was unaware of Epstein’s criminal conduct. In response, Wexner sold most of his shares to a private investment firm, Sycamore Partners.
Victoria’s Secret recently announced that they are forming a new board of directors. All but one seat will be held by women, and most of the company’s other board members will be female. The company also announced that they have hired Raul Martinez as their new creative director. They have also created a new campaign called “Very Sexy” that promotes body-positive messaging.
Victoria’s Secret is the subject of a three-part documentary series, Angels and Demons, which looks at the company’s history. The series follows the company’s relationship with former CEO Jeffrey Epstein, as well as the rise and fall of its brand.
Victoria’s Secret is now a publicly-traded company that has taken steps to update its image and promote inclusivity. They have also created a new group of female supermodels called “the collective” that will alternately promote the brand on Instagram and advise the company on marketing. The company is also hiring more body-inclusive models.