The brand’s former vibe (thin, tanned models thrilled to wink at an audience of men cheering nearby) was no longer welcome to shoppers demanding inclusivity and autonomy. That’s why victoria secret is trying to reshape its image as the palace of pink dreams, a place for all women to buy clothes that reflect their invincible self-love.
The company’s early days
In the 1980s, entrepreneur Roy Raymond was fed up with frumpy undergarments from department stores and saw a niche for what would become Victoria’s Secret. He meticulously researched the lingerie market for 8 years and developed his line of bras, introducing the infamous Miracle Bra in 1993. The lingerie was an immediate success, and within a few years the company had grown to 350 Victoria’s Secret stores and a massive catalog business.
By the mid-2000s, the brand had expanded into a one-stop shop for everything a woman might need: undergarments, sleep wear, beauty products, clothing, shoes and swimwear, plus a sexy, tween-appropriate line called PINK. And its annual fashion show was a sexy spectacle of glitzy, feathered wings and sexy lingerie worn by Angels (models) like Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen.
The company’s growth accelerated until the early 2010s, when the #MeToo movement and increasing calls for greater representational inclusivity—particularly around body size, race and gender—began to chip away at sales. The scandals that rocked the brand in 2020 and 2022 (the firing of exec Ed Razek over alleged inappropriate contact with an underage student, and an accusation from the former model Bridget Malcolm that he sexually assaulted her) signalled the need for change.
While VS has taken steps toward inclusion, it hasn’t been enough to reverse the brand’s declining fortunes. Upstart competitors like ThirdLove and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty have begun to take a big chunk out of the company’s share, while its own attempts to shift the brand’s narrative from sexiness to empowerment have seemed like too little too late.
As a result, the brand has seen its profits decline for two straight years. The company’s latest move to embrace a more inclusive image, however, might be the first sign that the company has finally gotten it right.
This year, victoria secret announced that it would be casting more diverse models—including lesbian soccer champ Megan Rapinoe and plus-size model Paloma Elsesser—for its annual runway show and its new collection of lingerie to be released afterward. This is the most overt change to the brand’s imagery in its history, but it may be just a small part of a bigger plan for a much-needed overhaul. It’s too soon to say whether this will work, but it’s an encouraging start. It’s clear that the company is finally listening to what its consumers are saying. It’s a bold move that could just save the empire from fading into irrelevance. For now, Sierra Mariela, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, is sticking with Target and Depop (a private marketplace for used lingerie) for her sexy needs.