Victoria Secret Lingerie

It’s backstage, just minutes before the Victoria Secret fashion show is set to start. As scads of photographers mill around, the brand’s “Angels” — its lingerie models — pout and pose with their cascading curls and sculpted cheekbones. Clad in a mix of skimpy underthings and a fantasy-world palette of pink and white and tan, they embody a mythical universe of sexy women that has become synonymous with the American lingerie giant.

The eponymous retailer, launched in 1977 by Roy Raymond, began as a store where men could buy scandalous pieces of lingerie for their wives. It grew quickly and, in 1982, was sold to Leslie Wexner, the founder of Limited Stores Inc of Columbus, Ohio. He revamped the company as a catalog operation and introduced a more sexy, glamorous look that was meant to appeal to women.

From then on, the brand rode a wave of sexuality-as-empowerment feminism that was fueled by everything from “Sex and the City” to Calvin Klein’s seminal 1992 campaign featuring scantily clad models Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss. In the ’90s and early 2000s, the brand became known for its heavily padded Miracle Bra and its awe-inspiring runway shows, starring supermodels like Helena Christensen, Dorothea Barth Jorgensen, and Adriana Lima. Its advertising campaigns were a model’s fantasy — the kind of sexy and sultry images that have shaped our culture.

In 2019, sales started to slide, in part due to the #MeToo movement and lingering associations with the late designer’s Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of abusing his underage models. The company’s marketing chief, Ed Razek, insulted transgender women in a Vogue interview and faced a mutiny from former catwalk models. The following year, the brand apologized and cut its ties to Epstein. But the damage was done, and Victoria Secret soon began to lose market share to a new generation of women, led by companies such as American Eagle’s Aerie and online upstarts that were inclusive from the get-go.

The three-part documentary series, directed by Matt Tyrnauer, chronicles the rise and fall of one of America’s most successful retail brands. With its mix of archival footage and contemporary interviews, it paints a picture of the social context that allowed Victoria Secret to thrive and the cultural shift that brought the company to its knees.

While the company still holds a sizable market share in the US, it has lost ground to smaller, more inclusive rivals like Adore Me and other online startups. Its ad campaigns have also been hit with criticism, including Bella Hadid’s Victoria Secret body shaming post. But the company is slowly making its way back, with the 2022 launch of a new “Angels” initiative that includes plus-size and disabled models, as well as the first televised showing to feature an all-inclusive cast in years.