The country’s largest lingerie company is going in a new direction. It jettisoned its signature sexy image this week. Gone are the stable of supermodel “Angels” who starred in glossy ads and its annual big-budget fashion show. In their place are women who don’t fit the traditional Victoria’s Secret mold. The move reflects changing attitudes toward body size, shape and sexuality. The company’s rebrand is also meant to reposition itself as a purveyor of more modest lingerie. Vanessa Friedman, the chief fashion critic for The New York Times, joins us to discuss this sweeping overhaul.
Friedman: When the founder, Roy Raymond, came up with the name for the brand in 1977, he wanted to create a place where men and women felt comfortable shopping for lingerie. He imagined a boudoir, with wood-paneled walls and Victorian details. He called the store Victoria’s Secret, after Queen Victoria. He chose the name for the lingerie line as well, a reference to the outwardly respectable monarch who had nine children.
By the mid-1980s, Victoria’s Secret had expanded into a national retailer. It was profitable and growing quickly. But its reputation was tarnished by the nude photo shoots that Raymond used to promote his line. Some of the models who appeared in these photos, including the supermodels Busta Rhymes and Claudia Schiffer, sued over the images. They won compensation, but the suits had a chilling effect on the company.
The company’s chief competitor was Frederick’s of Hollywood, a chain of lingerie stores. In the 1990s, the company added gifts and hosiery to its lineup. In 2000, the company introduced a line of bras underwear called Playful Promises. Its sexy, raunchy marketing campaign included a series of videos that aired during the Super Bowl. Its annual fashion show was a wildly popular event, drawing huge audiences.
In the early years of the new millennium, the company’s fortunes began to wane. It was losing market share to more sexy competitors like Frederick’s and Maidenform. Its advertising campaigns and fashion shows seemed out of step with society’s changing views on sex. And in 2018, the company lost its most famous model, Adrianne Curry, after she was accused of sexual misconduct.
For the past two years, Victoria’s Secret has been retooling its image. It has revamped its marketing to include fuller-figured women in its ads and on store mannequins. It’s offering mastectomy bras and comfy sports bras in addition to its sexy lingerie.
But the company’s rebranding has come too late to reverse several years of falling sales. And in 2022, a three-part Hulu documentary series titled Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons revealed that billionaire founder Les Wexner had links to Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier charged with sex trafficking underage girls. It alleged that Wexner turned a blind eye to Epstein’s behavior. He resigned from the board in 2023.