Victoria’s Secret Must Address Legacy Issues

victoria secret

When Victoria’s Secret was founded in 1977, founder Roy Raymond envisioned it as a refined lingerie brand with stores that evoked Victorian boudoirs. But by the 1990s, he had lost his way, and the retailer’s image became increasingly raunchy as it tried to meet the appetite for a new generation of women who wanted to reclaim their sexuality. The result was a tumultuous decade of decline that left Victoria’s Secret struggling to hold on to its core customers as it lost market share to upstart competitors like Aerie and La Perla.

It’s been a long road back to profitability for the company. But the company is on the right track, boosted by its successful launch of the inaugural Victoria’s Secret World Tour in 2022 and efforts to change its marketing strategy from the supercharged sexy model that drew the attention of only the most fervent fans in years past. That includes highlighting fuller-figure models in ads and store mannequins, as well as expanding into more comfortable sports bras and mastectomy bras. It also revamped its fashion show, ditching the supermodel “Angels” in favor of a diverse group of ambassadors like actresses Priyanka Chopra and Emily Ratajkowski and US soccer star Megan Rapinoe.

And the company’s newfound commitment to body positivity has proved especially resonant with the youngest female shoppers. Gen Zers — most of whom are teens or young adults — are known to vote with their wallets, supporting brands that reflect their social values and boycotting those that don’t. As a result, they’re flocking to brands that promote diversity and inclusivity, including the lingerie maker’s more feminine and empowering offerings.

But if Victoria’s Secret’s attempt to embrace the new normal is going to work, it will need to address some serious legacy issues. In addition to a sexy ’90s-era reputation that hasn’t aged well, the company has a history of misogyny and abuse, from its founding father’s ties to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to claims that it routinely exploited its models for nude photos that were published in limited-edition books. In 2022, a Matt Tyrnauer documentary and a book by Business of Fashion reporters laid out the company’s dark past in stark detail.

Adding to that list of challenges is the fact that a challenged retail sector is driving consumers away from brick-and-mortar stores and into off-price options, where Victoria’s Secret has struggled to compete. As a result, the company has had to close some of its 250 Victoria’s Secret and Pink locations, and its same-store sales have been declining in recent years. Nonetheless, investors are optimistic about the brand’s turnaround efforts and the success of its new product lines. And if all goes according to plan, it may soon be time for the Angels to come out of hiding.