Victoria’s Secret Reimagines Itself

The lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret is reimagining itself to match the world it sells into. It’s introducing more body-inclusive models and focusing on health, all while it tries to reverse a slump in sales and profits. Its rebrand is an attempt to keep the company relevant in the face of rising competition from edgier, more inclusive brands and a waning interest in shopping malls.

But it’s also a reminder of how far the brand has strayed from its roots in 1977. Founder Roy Raymond opened the first store in San Francisco and published the first catalog a year later, luring consumers into an alternate universe of English romance, modern feminism and sexual escapades.

During the height of its popularity, Victoria’s Secret held a lavish fashion show every year that was broadcast to millions and featured “Angels,” including supermodels like Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen wearing risqué outfits while displaying their sculpted bodies in a nude state for the camera. Whether the show was a fantasy or a nightmare, it reinforced the idea that women had to suffer to be deemed desirable: They needed to train like Olympic athletes, eat like hamsters and zap their body hair. Those who managed to do so were rewarded with substantial paychecks (Bundchen told Refinery29 in 2018 that her Victoria’s Secret earnings made up 80 percent of her annual income).

While sales were reliably growing through 2016, the company lost steam, and the stock price plunged 40 percent. The fall was partly due to a hit to discretionary spending caused by stubborn inflation. But it was also a reflection of the fact that the lingerie retailer had stuck with an outdated marketing message and merchandising strategy for years, even as rivals embraced empowerment, inclusivity and better product quality and took market share.

The company has since canceled its annual fashion shows and started using a mix of models in campaigns and ads, including plus-size and transgender models. Its chief executive said the company would also start investing in its stores, announcing that the brand will upgrade 1,400 of its Victoria’s Secret and Pink locations. It will also open 400 new locations outside North America, the CEO said in a presentation to investors.

But the rebrand hasn’t done much to revive sales. Last month, the company reported its fourth-quarter sales were down more than 7 percent, a sign that the reimagination isn’t working. The company’s stock is still down more than 20 percent in the past 12 months.