The rise and fall of Victoria's Secret, the world's most famous lingerie brand: why it has lost so much popularity

  • By:karen-millen

27

04/2022

Since the late 1990s, Victoria's Secret has been one of the most well-known and buzzed-about brands every time it did something, no matter what.

Victoria's Secret has been instrumental in defining what is sexy in today's world through its edgy lingerie and supermodel runway shows.

But increasingly, the tide seems to be turning. Sales are down, customers are complaining that quality has dropped, and analysts are growing more skeptical about their future if they refuse to adapt in an era of #MeToo.

This Thursday its parent company, L Brands, announced that it will sell a 55% stake in the company to an investment firm. The president and CEO of L Brands has also announced that he is retiring after almost 6 decades at the helm.

Below you will find more information about how the company has achieved success and how it has stumbled recently:

Victoria's Secret was founded in 1977 by American businessman Roy Raymond.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by an awkward trip to a department store to buy underwear for his wife, Raymond set out to create a place where men would feel comfortable shopping for lingerie. He wanted to create a women's underwear store aimed at the male sector.

He named the brand after the Victorian era in England, wanting to evoke the delicacy of this era in his lingerie.

El Secreto de Victoria

El Secreto de Victoria

His vision was summed up by Slate's Naomi Barr in 2013: "Raymond envisioned a Victorian boudoir, replete with dark wood, Oriental rugs, and silk draperies. He chose the name 'Victoria' to evoke the decency and respectability associated with the Victorian era; Refined outwardly, Victoria's 'secrets' were hidden underneath."

He then opened several Victoria's Secret stores and released his famous catalogue.

By 1982, the company was bringing in more than $4 million in annual sales but was reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. It was at that moment that Les Wexner lunged at us.

Getty/Astrid Stawiarz/Stringer

Getty/Astrid Stawiarz/Stringer

Source: Slate

Wexner, who founded L Brands (formerly Limited Brands), was already making a name for himself in the retail world as he built an impressive empire.

In June 1982, The Limited — which had previously acquired Express and Lane Bryant — was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. A month later, under Wexner's leadership, the company acquired all six Victoria's Secret stores and catalog for $1 million.

Wexner turned Raymond's vision on its head, creating a store that focused on women rather than men.

Nicholas Hunt/Getty

Nicholas Hunt/Getty

He was closely following the European lingerie market at the time and wanted to bring this aesthetic to the United States. So he set out to create a more affordable version of the European luxury brand "La Perla" — lingerie that looked luxurious and expensive but was still affordable.

And it worked. By the early 1990s, Victoria's Secret had become the largest lingerie retailer in the United States, with 350 stores nationwide and sales exceeding $1 billion.

AP Photo/Adam Nadel

AP Photo/Adam Nadel

Source: The Telegraph

The brand began to consolidate its image in the following years. In 1995, their famous annual fashion show was born.

AP Photo/Terry Gilliam

AP Photo/Terry Gilliam

The show, directed by Ed Razek (now director of marketing for L Brands), became an icon of the brand's image.

Razek and his team were responsible for choosing the models that were going to guide the show. Because of this, he became one of the most important people in the modeling world, helping to launch the careers of Gisele Bündchen, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum.

In 1999, the show first aired online. Time described it as the "internet breakout moment" of this era after 1.5 million viewers tried to tune in and crashed the site.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

El ascenso y caída de Victoria's Secret, la marca de lencería más famosa del mundo: por qué ha perdido tanta popularidad

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Source: Time

Meanwhile, the brand was also launching some of its best-known and most successful products, including its padded Miracle Bra and Body by Victoria.

Body by Victoria was a "blockbuster" and more than doubled the sales volume of any bra Victoria's Secret had previously released, Michael Silverstein wrote in his book, "Trading Up."

Around this time (1997), the idea for the Victoria's Secret "Angel" came about after a commercial featuring Helena Christensen, Karen Mulder, Daniela Peštová, Stephanie Seymour, and Tyra Banks ran to promote their "Angels" underwear collection.

El Secreto de Victoria

El Secreto de Victoria

From then on, the term "Angel" became synonymous with the brand.

Throughout the '90s and early 2000s, her ads featured heavily made-up, scantily clad angels.

YouTube/Derek Dahlsad

YouTube/Derek Dahlsad

Razek hired the best photographers and television directors in the world to do commercials for the brand.

His shows became more and more lavish. In 2000, model Gisele Bündchen walked the runway in what was then the most expensive item of lingerie ever created, a $15 million diamond and ruby-encrusted "Fantasy Bra."

AP Photo/Stephen Chernin

AP Photo/Stephen Chernin

It is a tradition for angels to wear a "Fantasy Bra" on all catwalks since 1996. These change every year.

Source: Insider

In 2000, Sharen Jester Turney became CEO of Victoria's Secret Direct, running its catalog business.

AP Photo/Richard Drew

AP Photo/Richard Drew

According to articles at the time, Turney wanted to remove "hooker looks" from the catalog and made the aesthetic more like Vogue than Playboy.

He became CEO of the entire brand in 2006. Under his nine-year tenure, the company prospered; sales increased by 70% to $7.7 billion.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Turney abruptly resigned in 2016 and was succeeded by Wexner as interim CEO.

L Brands

L Brands

Wexner made a series of quick changes: ditching the catalogue, swimwear and apparel to focus solely on lingerie, the core of his business.

He also split the brand into three — Victoria's Secret Lingerie, Victoria's Secret Beauty and Pink — and recruited a CEO for each division.

Jan Singer became CEO of Victoria's Secret Lingerie in September 2016.

Courtesy of Spanx

Courtesy of Spanx

Between 2015 and 2018, sales began to decline.

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Victoria's Secret was slow to adapt to a shift from padded and padded bras to bralettes and sports bras, missing out on an important fashion trend.

More underwear brands emerged that took the lead and positioned themselves better in the market.

Facebook/Aerie

Facebook/Aerie

Victoria's Secret was accused of not adapting to the times.

Between 2016 and 2018, its market share in the United States fell from 33% to 24%. Some buyers complained that the quality of their underwear had been sloppy.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Source: Business Insider

One of its biggest assets, the teen-focused Pink brand, also began to suffer. Sales fell, and deep discounts were used to attract buyers.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

"We think Pink is on the brink of collapse," Jefferies analyst Randal Konik wrote in a note to investors in March 2018, commenting on the level of in-store promotions.

Some parents complained that Pink was being shunned by Victoria's Secret's sexualized ads.

Her annual fashion show drew criticism for being old-fashioned, and the audience fell apart. In November 2018, Razek came to prominence in an online scandal after making controversial comments about transgender and plus-size models.

AP Pictures

AP Pictures

Razek said in an interview with Vogue that he didn't think her show had to include "transsexuals" because this is a "fantasy." "It's a 42-minute entertainment special. That's what it is," he said.

Getty Images/Dipasupil Day

Getty Images/Dipasupil Day

Razek has formally apologized online, but some of her critics said she should have resigned.

Former executives at the company told Business Insider that it wasn't about Razek giving up her position, as she is "untouchable" in Wexner's eyes and has full control over the brand image.

Less than a week after Razek's comments went viral, Singer resigned.

AP Images/Evan Agostini

AP Images/Evan Agostini

Source: Business Insider

Singer was succeeded by John Mehas, who took over in early 2019.

Agostini/Invision/AP

Agostini/Invision/AP

Mehas has a tough job, analysts say. Victoria's Secret same-store sales were down 3% in 2018, and it's slowly losing market share to startups.

Plus, he has angry shareholders to deal with. In March, activist shareholder Barington Capital sent a letter to Wexner, making recommendations for improving Victoria's Secret's growth to "unlock substantial value."

In the letter, Barington CEO James A. Mitarotonda called the company's brand image "outdated."

"Victoria's Secret's brand image is starting to look dated and even a bit tone deaf as it is not aligned with evolving women's attitudes towards beauty, diversity and inclusion," he wrote.

Barington highlighted the lack of diversity on its board of directors as a problem for the brand. Of the 12 board members, nine are men.

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

Source: Business Insider

And it seems that Victoria's Secret has taken this criticism very seriously. Although he acknowledged the letter in a statement, he has also actively sought to replace three board members to be more diverse, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In March, fans praised the company for its decision to take on Hungarian model Barbara Palvin as one of its latest angels.

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Although she is not a plus-size model, Instagram users celebrated a publication starring Palvin for being more inclusive of beauty canons, since she was considered curvier than some of the other models of the brand.

"This model looks healthy and I love it," one Instagram user wrote.

"Finally! A real human body," said another.

The company also hired its first openly transgender model.

Getty/ Dominique Charriau / Contributor

Transgender Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio shared a photo of herself on Instagram in August tagging the Victoria's Secret Pink brand along with the hashtags "campaign," "vspink," and "diversity." A day later, she shared a video of herself captioned "Never stop dreaming."

Her agent later confirmed that she had signed a contract with Victoria's Secret.

On the same day, Wexner announced that Razek would resign in mid-August in a statement sent to employees.

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images/Fragrance Foundation

Source: Business Insider

And on November 21, the company confirmed that it was officially canceling its lingerie show.

AP Photo/Francois Mori

AP Photo/Francois Mori

During a call with analysts after reporting third-quarter results, L Brands CFO Stuart Burgdoerfer responded to a question about whether the Victoria's Secret Angels Show would be held again.

"We're going to communicate with customers, but nothing close in magnitude to the lingerie show," he explained.

Wexner had previously told employees in May that Victoria's Secret was "rethinking" the show. And Victoria's Secret model Shanina Shaik, who has walked in several of its shows, told the Australian edition of the Daily Telegraph in July 2019 that the annual show would be canceled this year.

Although these were potentially positive changes, the brand found itself embroiled in a new controversy in the summer of 2019: its CEO and the company were linked to Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex criminal.

Astrid Stawiarz/Stringer and Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Epstein managed Wexner's money for several years, and former company executives told the Wall Street Journal that he tried to meddle in the Victoria's Secret business, offering information about which women should be models.

Some of Epstein's victims have also testified that he used his connection to Victoria's Secret to coerce them into performing sexual acts.

The L Brands board of directors announced that it had hired an outside law firm to review his relationship with Epstein. In September, Wexner discussed her ties to Epstein at the L Brands investor meeting.

"At some point in your life we ​​all get betrayed by friends," Wexner said. "Being taken advantage of by someone so sick, so cunning, so depraved, is something I'm ashamed of even being around. But that's in the past."

The company has announced that Wexner is retiring as chairman and CEO of L Brands and that he is selling a 55% stake in Victoria's Secret to private investment firm Sycamore Partners.

Jay LaPrete/AP Images

Wexner will remain on the board of directors as chairman emeritus.

Source: Business Insider

The rise and fall of Victoria's Secret, the world's most famous lingerie brand: why it has lost so much popularity
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