Victoria’s Secret Is Falling Out of Step With the Times

In the lingerie world, victoria secret has long been the go-to for bras and panties that flatter every curve. At its peak, the company’s annual fashion show was a rite of passage for teen shoppers buying their first “grown-up” bras, and its Angels — era-defining bombshells like Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, and Gisele Bundchen — were household names.

But even as Victoria’s Secret continued to grow, its blinkered conception of beauty and desirability became increasingly out of step with the times. And by the time Rihanna debuted her Savage Fenty show in 2018, it was clear that the company’s reliance on razzle-dazzle push-up bras, highly exercised abs, and feathered wings was no longer enough to hold the attention of a younger generation.

The lingerie company was founded in 1977 by American businessman Roy Raymond, who wanted to create a retail empire that sold high-end lingerie and other intimate apparel. He opened the first Victoria’s Secret store in San Francisco and published his first catalog the following year. His vision was a fusion of English romantic and modern feminist: a dreamy, sensual woman with a combination of femininity and strength.

By the early 1990s, he had built a chain of stores that were designed to evoke Victorian-era boudoirs, and the company’s sales exploded. He eventually sold the company to private-equity firm Wexner for $1 billion.

Throughout the ’90s and 2000s, Victoria’s Secret enjoyed consistent growth and acclaim. The fashion shows drew millions of viewers, and the brand’s Angels were household names. The company expanded its product line to include sleepwear, swimwear, and other clothing, as well as perfumes, body lotion, and haircare.

In the mid-2000s, the company’s stock price soared as same-store sales rose steadily, reaching $7.7 billion at the height of its glory in 2016. But things started to turn around as newer, more body-positive competitors emerged, such as Aerie and Skims. Sales fell, and by 2020, the company was pulling in only $5 billion a year.

That year, Victoria’s Secret began a major revamp of the brand. CEO Stefano Razek was sacked after an interview in which he said that transgender models were not appropriate for the fashion show because it’s “a fantasy.” The company also dropped its annual fashion show for a few years and relaunched it as a movie, with the promise of more inclusive casting choices. The move seemed to pay off — in 2023, the retailer announced that its fashion show would return for a one-off event alongside a reimagined movie and a revamped catalog. But it’s not yet clear whether the new direction will be sustainable. The company’s earnings have been slipping since. The turnaround effort may depend on whether the reimagined fashion shows can recapture the brand’s former luster, and whether its new products can compete with upstart alternatives that have more in common with the lingerie most women actually wear. But there’s no doubt that the company still has a lot of work to do in the battle for women’s hearts and wallets.