Victoria’s Secret: The Rise and Fall of the Lingerie Mall Brand

victoria secret

The new three-part documentary on Hulu explores how the lingerie mall brand secured its position as arbiter of mass-market sexuality in the ’90s and ’00s only to fall from the pinnacle of pop culture a few years later. The show’s writer and director, Matt Tyrnauer (of the superlative documentaries “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” and “The Interview”), skillfully plots Victoria’s Secret’s meteoric rise and its subsequent fall into disrepute.

It’s not hard to see why the company lost its luster: In a era where raunchier movies were becoming mainstream, a generation of women was growing up and becoming more aware of their own bodies, and companies like Victoria’s Secret capitalized on this newfound empowerment with a series of infamous fashion shows featuring bombshells trussed in tiny bits of lace and satin who strutted down a runway while being filmed for high-concept commercials that would become an iconic part of the pop culture.

During the heyday of Victoria’s Secret, its iconic lingerie models — era-defining bombshells like Stephanie Seymour, Heidi Klum, and Gisele Bundchen — were more than just models; they were brand ambassadors. The annual fashion show was a must-see event for many, and the catalog models became household names thanks to televised commercials starring them in their push-up bras. Then came the #MeToo movement and calls for increased representational inclusivity in terms of body size, race and ethnicity, and gender, which caused sales to begin to slip. The lingerie industry was also getting crowded by more overtly inclusive brands such as ThirdLove and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty, which put more of a focus on real-life sizes and shapes.

In 2019, the founder of the parent company, L Brands, Leslie Wexner, apologized for the company’s links with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and its misogynistic corporate culture, which trafficked in sexism, ageism, and body-shaming. In 2021, the brand separated from L Brands and its longtime marketing chief Ed Razek resigned; and since then Victoria’s Secret has been undertaking a sweeping, ambitious rebrand, removing the so-called Angels from the fashion show, and developing new, more inclusive products such as nursing and mastectomy bras.

But will these changes be enough to revive the brand?

As it stands, Victoria’s Secret has a long road ahead of it. The company’s sales have been declining for the past few years as more overtly inclusive lingerie brands such as ThirdLove and Rihanna’s lingerie line Savage X Fenty began to take market share away, and calls for more representational inclusivity in terms of body size, racial and ethnicity, and gender continued to grow in response to the #MeToo movement. In addition, the company has been plagued by reports of a lack of sexual harassment training for its staff and a general corporate culture that appears to have turned a blind eye to abuse and misconduct.