Victoria’s Secret CEO Marta Martinez and the #MeToo Movement

Victoria’s Secret was born in 1977 as a store that sold women’s lingerie and promoted the idea that men could imagine prim Victorian ladies getting naughty in the boudoir. But when the company was bought by retail billionaire Leslie Wexner, the brand became a cultural force that shaped how society views female sexuality and beauty ideals. The annual fashion show and its “Angels”-supermodels like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks adorned in G-strings, angel wings and feathered headpieces-brought viewers by the millions.

For the next three decades, the lingerie giant used its brand to push an image that was overtly raunchy and erotically charged. Women who bought into the brand’s impossibly narrow conception of beauty-all razzle-dazzle push-up bras, super-exercised abs and culture-appropriative angel wings-were told that sexiness was about gratifying men’s fantasies. The model sexy brand’s message was a blunt one, and it had real-life consequences for the women who were hired to appear in its catalogs and on its runways.

After the #MeToo movement swept through Hollywood in 2020, Victoria’s Secret began to realize that its hyper-sexualized advertising and punishing size standards weren’t making a very good impression on consumers. Former models like Bridget Malcolm and Dorothea Barth Jorgensen spoke out against the company’s sizes, and then-CEO Ed Razek sent the internet into a frenzy with comments about transgender and plus-size women that were widely viewed as offensive.

In 2022, Victoria’s Secret named a new CEO, Marta Martinez, who had formerly served as chief brand officer at Estée Lauder and had experience leading global marketing teams in consumer products. Martinez was tasked with reversing the company’s course and addressing new competitive challenges. But it was a tough task. The brand’s sales were slipping and competitors like Aerie were gaining market share.

To start, the company revamped its ad campaigns and started featuring more women of all shapes and sizes in its ads and on its mannequins at stores. It also added mastectomy and sports bras to its product offerings, and refreshed the look of its stores with brighter lights and blush pink walls. It also brought in a more diverse group of women as ambassadors and advisors, including plus-size model Candice Huffine, director Jade O’Belle and indigenous activist Quannah Chasinghorse.

However, these efforts weren’t enough to turn around the company’s fortunes. By 2023, same-store sales were down 3% and the company was losing market share to other lingerie brands.

The company also found itself in hot water over the summer of 2019 when a Hulu documentary series called “Angels and Demons” revealed Wexner’s ties to the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was convicted in 2022 of using his position at the company to sex traffic underage girls.

These factors prompted Wexner to step down as CEO in November of that year. In the months after, Victoria’s Secret began to shift its merchandising strategy and drop some of its most controversial products, including its infamous panties. But many observers doubt that the brand’s current leadership can pull off a radical overhaul of its image in time to avoid long-term damage to its business.