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Adios Angels: The not-so-secret problematic history of Victoria’s Secret

Jun 22, 2021 16:35 IST | By Vishakha Somani

Glamorous models, also called Angels, strutting their stuff down the runway scantily clad in sexy lingerie, accompanied by the hottest pop stars in the world’s biggest metro cities. Victoria’s Secret had quite the dream recipe for success and it even worked, at least for two decades. 

But the world’s most popular lingerie maker seems to have lost the plot in the last few years. While Victoria’s Secret still makes millions of dollars for owner L Brands and posted a 9% rise in same-store sales for the first three months of 2021 versus 2019. The brand has steadily been losing its share in the underwear market that is valued at a whopping $250 billion globally. In contrast, competitors like Aerie and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty have witnessed immense growth.  

In response, the market leader in crisis, Victoria’s Secret just announced a major identity makeover. The brand is bidding goodbye to its world-famous Victoria’s Secret Angels, ending an era of big wings, diamond-encrusted bras and questionable headgears.

From defining femininity for a generation of women to being outdated, let’s see some of the factors that have forced Victoria to rethink its ‘secret.’ 

Delusional Obsession With ‘Sexy’ 

Launched in 1977 as a lingerie shop for men who wanted to buy things for their partners, Victoria’s Secret has always focussed on male desire and the idea of ‘sex appeal’ for men. That may have worked for a while but this obsession with ‘sexy’ just doesn’t do it anymore. This has made Victoria's image detached and out-of-touch from the current zeitgeist.  

The Jeffery Epstein Connection 

The retailer’s image, in fact, suffered a big blow when its owner Leslie Wexner’s ties with Jeffery Epstein came to light. While the company distanced itself from the millionaire sex offender, the fact that Epstein was also a trustee for the Wexner Foundation did not help. 

Ed Razek’s Insensitive Comments 

On the same problematic train, the brand’s then Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek openly said the brand is too good to cast transgender or plus-sized models. The insensitive comments were only a tipping point as Razek was soon accused of breeding a culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment at the company. He was asked to resign after a massive online backlash. 

Just A Poor-Quality Product 

If the company’s insides weren’t bad enough, Victoria’s Secret has also been grilled about the terrible quality of its products. While the brand spent $22 million on the grand fashion show, customers flooded social media with angry comments about its shoddy products and customer service. 

Rise Of Comfort & Decline of 'Glam’ 

Lastly, the brand is also a victim of the changing intimate wear landscape. Even before the pandemic, the demand for comfortable, athleisure-forward innerwear had been rising. The market is skewing towards bralettes, wire-free bras and seamless garments and away from Victoria’s hallmark push-ups and glam bras.

There’s also a huge upshoot in the demand for sports bras as proven by the push from brands like Adidas and Nike into the segment. Even D2C brands like Tailor and Circus or The Underworld Co. in India and US-based Parade Underwear are creating new niches for themselves within the industry.

Also Read: Victoria's Secret ditches 'Angels', hires Priyanka Chopra

It's 2021 and Victoria is still scrambling to cast diverse models and hoist the women empowerment flag with the likes of Priyanka Chopra and Paloma Elsesser. 

Can the brand really appease the modern lingerie shopper without alienating its all-time fans?

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