Victoria’s Secret swaps angels for “What Women Want”. Will you buy it?


The Victoria’s Secret Angels, those avatars of Barbie bodies and Playboy dreams, have disappeared. Their wings, fluttering rhinestone confections and feathers that could weigh nearly 30 pounds are gathering dust in the warehouse. The “Fantasy Bra”, from which real diamonds and other precious stones dangle, no longer exists.

It is replaced by seven women who are famous for their achievements and not for their proportions. These include Megan Rapinoe, the 35-year-old pink-haired soccer star and an activist for gender equality; Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese-American freestyle skier and future Olympian; 29-year-old biracial model and inclusion advocate Paloma Elsesser, who was the rare size 14 woman on the cover of Vogue; and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a 38-year-old Indian actress and technology investor.

You will lead perhaps the most extreme and blatant attempt at brand reversal in recent times: an attempt to redefine the version of “sexy” that Victoria’s Secret represents (and sells to the masses). For decades, the scantily clad supermodels at Victoria’s Secret with Jessica Rabbit curves embodied a certain, widely accepted stereotype of femininity. Now that these types of imagery are inconsistent with broader culture, and Victoria’s Secret is facing increased competition and internal turmoil, the company, according to its CEO, aims to become a leading global “advocate” for the empowerment of women.

Will women buy it? An upcoming spin-off, more than $ 5 billion in annual sales and 32,000 jobs in a global retail network of approximately 1,400 stores are based on the answer.

It’s a stark change for a brand that not only sold lingerie under the guise of masculine fantasies, but has also come under heavy scrutiny in recent years because of its owner’s relationship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and revelations about a misogynistic corporate culture that has engaged in human trafficking Sexism, Sizeism and Ageism.

“When the world changed, we were too slow to react,” said Martin Waters, former head of international operations for Victoria’s Secret, who was named CEO of the brand in February. “We had to stop being interested in what men want and what women want.”

The seven women who make up a group called VS Collective will take turns advising the brand, appearing in advertisements and promoting Victoria’s Secret on Instagram. You are joining a company that has a completely new management team and is founding a board of directors in which all but one of the seats are occupied by a woman.

Rarely has a company that is so dominant in its industry lagged as far behind the culture as Victoria’s Secret in the course of the #MeToo movement.

It was, Ms. Rapinoe said bluntly, “patriarchal, sexist, not only to see what it means to be sexy, but also what clothes wanted to achieve through a male lens and what men wanted. And it was being marketed very heavily to younger women. “That news was” really harmful “.

Victoria’s Secret’s cultural influence is a product of its industry position. Although the company’s share of the U.S. women’s underwear market fell from 32 percent in 2015 to 21 percent last year, it’s still a powerhouse, according to Euromonitor International. The next closest competitor is Hanesbrands with a 16 percent share.

Founded in 1977 as a shop where men could feel comfortable shopping for lingerie, the name already referred to the male fantasies of Victorian women who got naughty in the boudoir. Retail billionaire Leslie H. Wexner bought Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and turned it into a phenomenon that helped shape society’s perception of female sexuality and ideals of beauty. The focus of the ethos was on the “Angels” supermodels like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks, who posed exclusively for the brand, often in strings, stilettos and wings. In 1995, she introduced the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, a kind of cross between a catwalk show and a pole dance that aired on network television for nearly two decades.

It took Victoria’s Secret years to realize that its marketing was out of date. During this time, the brand’s value eroded and a number of competitors grew in part from positioning it as anti-Victoria’s Secret, complete with more typically female bodies and a focus on inclusivity and diversity.

The brand has also come under fire after Mr Wexner’s close ties with Mr Epstein came to light in 2019, and a New York Times investigation last year showed that Mr Wexner and his former chief marketing officer Ed Razek were entrenched Culture presided over by misogyny, bullying and harassment.

“I knew for a long time that we had to change this brand, we just didn’t have control of the company to do it,” said Mr. Waters. As for the angels? “Right now I don’t see it as culturally relevant,” he said.

Mr. Razek and Mr. Wexner will not be part of the new Victoria’s Secret, which will spin off from L Brands and Bath & Body Works into its own public company this summer. (The pandemic thwarted a sale to a private equity firm and swallowed $ 2 billion in revenue.) There are more women, including a new chief marketing officer, Martha Pease, who led the collective initiative. After a year of extermination, stores are getting lighter and lighter, and mannequins – which were typically 32B in size – will come in new shapes and sizes. The images of angels that once appeared even on bathroom TVs in stores will be phased out. The company will continue to sell products such as thongs and lace underwear, but its scope will expand into areas such as sportswear in particular.

“The Victoria brand used to have a single lens called ‘sexy’,” said Mr. Waters. While this was sold for decades, it also prevented the brand from offering products like maternity or post-mastectomy bras (not considered sexy) and prompting them to sell push-up sports bras (sexy but not as popular ). It also means “that the brand never celebrated Mother’s Day”. (Not sexy.)

There are many people who actually find motherhood alluring, but the shortsightedness of the Victoria’s Secret lens was so great that it was never recognized, let alone heard.

“As a gay woman I think a lot about what we think is sexy and we have the opportunity to do that because I don’t have to wear the traditional sexy thing to be sexy and I don’t think the traditional is that” It’s sexy when it comes to my partner or people I’ve dated, ”Ms. Rapinoe said. “I think functionality is probably the sexiest thing we can achieve in life. Sometimes just being cool is also sexy. “

Victoria’s Secret, which finally launched a Mother’s Day campaign last month and even featured a pregnant model, is set to start selling nursing bras soon. It also said it would be working on product lines with its new partners like Ms. Rapinoe and Ms. Chopra Jonas to be released next spring.

While it “probably was time for the Angels to leave,” the lingerie powerhouse needs to strike a balance between developing and nurturing existing customers, said Cynthia Fedus-Fields, former executive director of the Victoria’s Secret division responsible for her Catalog was responsible.

“If it was a $ 7 billion business before Covid and much of that $ 7 billion was based on that blatantly sexy approach, be careful what you do,” she said.

According to Raúl Martinez, who joined as Creative Director in January, every aspect of the brand is being rethought.

“It has to have a purpose, a reason to be there for the consumer, to say, wow, they’re really evolving,” he said, admitting that it was his 15-year-old daughter who convinced him Join Victoria’s Secret. “She said, ‘Dad. Do it for us. Gen Z ‘”, he remembers.

Still, the question remains: Why would women like Ms. Rapinoe and Ms. Chopra Jonas want to risk their names by putting their stamp on Victoria’s Secret? The line between selling out and infiltrating from within can be difficult to see.

“Of course there will be people who ask, ‘Does that make sense?’” Said Ms. Rapinoe, who admitted that when she was first approached, “I too thought, ‘What? Why do you want to work with me? ‘”She was convinced of the willingness of the brand’s executives to acknowledge their mistakes and history, and that their role is not limited to the typical“ brand ambassador ”, but extends to providing advice on language, that the company uses, the range of products it offers, and the narrative it publishes.

Ms. Elsesser said her decision to join Victoria’s Secret was “based on the metrics of the situation.”

“I didn’t start modeling to do all the cool things; I did it to change the world, ”she said. “With platforms like VS, where you step into everyone’s living room, you change radically.” She saw part of her role in working for Victoria’s Secret to increase her size to XXXXXL, she said. (It currently wears up to 42G in bras and XXL in sleepwear.)

The VS Collective also includes Valentina Sampaio, a Brazilian trans model; Adut Akech, a model and South Sudanese refugee; and Amanda de Cadenet, the photographer and founder of #Girlgaze, the digital platform for women photographers. According to Ms. Rapinoe, they are all people who were not “typical brand targets” in the past. As for the fashion show, Mr. Waters said it would most likely return in an entirely different form in 2022. What the brand will soon be offering is a podcast with the women in a collective, a medium that does without visuals.

“A rebranding takes many steps to ensure that they have consumer confidence and that this is not just a mere inclusivity,” said Erin Schmidt, senior analyst at Coresight Research.

Victoria’s Secret is betting a portion of its marketing budget that convincing such unexpected personalities to join their cause will in turn convince consumers and potential investors to believe in its postponement as well, which gives new meaning to the halo effect.

As Ms. Rapinoe said, “I don’t know if Victoria still has a secret.”

Contact Sapna Maheshwari at [email protected] or Vanessa Friedman at [email protected]


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