The lingerie, apparel and beauty retailer is known for its racy advertising, including a catalog featuring sexy models and a show that has aired on network television for decades. But the company has been in trouble since 2016, when its leaders failed to keep pace with shifting consumer attitudes and sexual misconduct allegations involving top executives. It is now struggling to regain the loyalty of consumers, even as more overtly inclusive lingerie brands such as ThirdLove and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty have eaten into its market share.
Founded in 1977, Victoria’s Secret is an American specialty lingerie and apparel company that is famous for its sexy marketing and branding. Founder Ron Raymond named the brand after Queen Victoria, for an association with the refinement of the Victorian era, but the company soon grew beyond its niche as a place to buy bras and panties to be worn under clothes. The brand expanded rapidly in the early 1980s and by the 1990s was selling billions of dollars in sexy merchandise through its catalog and stores that evoked Victorian boudoirs. In 1982, retail billionaire Leslie Wexner bought the company and transformed it into a cultural phenomenon by adding a fashion show that became a spectacle that rivaled the Super Bowl, showcasing its “Angels” — supermodels such as Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks wearing lingerie with wings and g-strings.
Over the years, Victoria’s Secret has enlisted A-list celebrities to perform at the fashion shows while its models strut their stuff, with musical acts like The Weeknd, Selena Gomez, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and more taking the stage. The company also began to introduce a line of underwear in sizes other than L, and launched its PINK brand to cater to younger women.
But despite these successes, Victoria’s Secret is still plagued by criticism that it promotes a negative image of women and overcharges for its products. In a recent poll, a division of Bank of America found that 23% of women said they liked the brand less than they did before the coronavirus pandemic, and that 64% had no change in their opinion.
In the last few months, the company has begun to try to reclaim its lost market share by promoting the new Love Cloud bras, which come in six different silhouettes and a variety of colors and prints. It has also shifted its advertising strategy to emphasize feminine strength and empowerment, with more ads showing women in suits and dresses instead of in swimwear.
Whether it can turn around its public perception will be crucial for the company, which has been hemorrhaging money and stock for the past several years. It is also trying to expand its product offerings with the acquisition of size-inclusive lingerie start-up Adore Me and a partnership with Frankies Bikinis to provide more swimwear options. But it will have to overcome its image problems and a lingering sense of mistrust in the wake of the #MeToo movement to win back consumers.