Victoria Secret: Angels and Demons

The lingerie company victoria secret has become something of a legend, even though it was founded in 1977 to sell women’s thongs and bras. Its name evokes male fantasies of prim Victorian ladies who turn naughty in the boudoir. The retail billionaire Leslie Wexner bought the brand in 1982 and turned it into a phenomenon that helped shape society’s views of female sexuality and beauty ideals. Central to the brand’s image were the “Angels,” supermodels like Stephanie Seymour, Heidi Klum, and Tyra Banks posing in G-strings and stilettos and strutting down the runway at the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show. The Angels were a symbol of what a young woman could be—beautiful and alluring, with a youthful sexiness that was irresistible to men.

The documentary victoria secret: angels and demons skillfully plots out the path that Victoria’s Secret took, under Wexner and his right-hand man, L Brands chief executive Ed Razek, to invent and brand this dream woman. They made her into a sexy, cisgender sexpot who was both genteel and continental. They filmed her in sexy commercials directed by the likes of Michael Bay. They staged the annual, wildly popular Victoria’s Secret fashion show, which was a cross between a runway show and a pole dance that aired on network television for nearly two decades.

But, as time went on, this idealized woman became less and less relatable. The sexy marketing aimed at men began to grate on women, and same-store sales started to decline. It didn’t help that a new generation of millennials were entering the workforce, with attitudes toward body image and sexuality that weren’t so traditional.

By 2018, Victoria’s Secret was struggling, and a letter written by one of its board members to CEO Paul Mehas called for a “more diversified culture and more inclusive brand.” Mehas fired the company’s longtime marketing chief, who had told Vogue that transsexual models didn’t belong on the runway and that the company wasn’t interested in casting plus-size women. It was a slap in the face for many of the company’s female employees and a public relations disaster, which prompted the resignations of several more board members.

Victoria’s Secret has since tried to rebrand itself as more gender-neutral and body-positive, introducing new, more inclusive lingerie pieces. But the company hasn’t managed to shake its image as a place for young, white, upper-class women who aren’t afraid of showing off their bodies. Sierra Mariela, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, says she hasn’t been in a Victoria’s Secret store in five years because she’s turned off by the messaging. Instead, she buys her lingerie at Target or on the app Depop. The new VS Collective ad campaign, which features models of all shapes and sizes, is a step in the right direction, but it’s too late to save the company from its slow decline. As a result, same-store sales are still down.