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“At Victoria’s Secret, we are on an incredible journey to become the world’s leading advocate for women,” said Martin Waters, CEO at Victoria’s Secret. “This is a dramatic shift for our brand, and it’s a shift that we embrace from our core. These new initiatives are just the beginning. We are energised and humbled by the work ahead of us.”
Along with the new partnerships, Victoria’s Secret is also launching The VS Global Fund for Women’s Cancers and joining forces with designer and breast cancer ambassador, Stella McCartney.
It’s a big jump for the brand, which has had the male gaze at the heart of its DNA since its creation. As the story goes, Victoria’s Secret was originally launched by Roy and Gaye Raymond in 1977, specifically to help men feel more comfortable when shopping for lingerie for their wives and girlfriends. In 1995, the first Victoria’s Secret runway show took place, featuring a fleet of supermodels wearing giant wings, stilettos and g-strings. In 2019, after suffering from falling television ratings, it was finally canned (although WWD has reported that there still may be a future for it yet, albeit in a revamped format).
Over the years, Victoria’s Secret has also been dogged in controversy, from being called out for its ultra-sexualised campaigns and refusal to represent all sizes to the departure of former leader of parent company L Brands Leslie Wexner, who retired from the company, due to his relationship with financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
According to a report in The New York Times, the brand had 32 per cent of the intimates market in 2015, which fell to 21 per cent in 2019.
Too little, too late?
It’s clear that Victoria’s Secret has been in desperate need of a transformation for many years, but is the brand revamp enough for customers to buy into it, or is it too little, too late?
“Whilst they may get some applause from the industry and consumers, the risk is it doesn’t translate to sales, or that the move alienates their existing core customer base,” warns marketing expert, Emma Sharley, pointing out that prices points have also increased recently.
“To be successful, the new narrative needs to extend to quality, experience, and authority; and the perceived customer valuation and willingness to pay needs to be closely monitored over time.”
While former Jets general manager Kerry Cusack believes the VS Collective seem like potentially more relatable women than supermodels, more work needs to be done: “Start with the customer, every time. Talk to her, find out what she needs, and what problem can we solve for her. The marketing and hype are just the icing on top.”
Indeed, it has been two years since Victoria’s Secret hired its first plus-size model in 2019 and it still does not offer extended sizing. In an interview with WWD, chief marketing officer Martha Pease revealed the process is currently underway.
Cusack observes: “They need to listen to their customers, understand their size ranges and fit. It’s not as simple as just grading up or down, but acknowledging different body shapes and what product suits. They also need to use different sized models and diversity to showcase the product.”
As the Wexner’s relationship with Epstein has shown, in addition to remaining relevant to consumer sentiment, Victoria’s Secret also needs to maintain a major cultural change both internally and externally.
“Any deviations from the strategy and the brand will come across as inauthentic (as has happened in the past),” notes Sharley. “Inclusivity needs to be a consideration for every single decision made — across brand, marketing, product, distribution, partnerships, everything. It’s not a milestone to reach, but rather requires continual focus to re-build customer trust and drive business growth.”
The growth of the anti-Victoria’s Secret lingerie brand
In recent years, lingerie brands have shunned overtly sexual marketing ploys in favour of more down-to-earth, authentic campaigns, featuring diverse voices and bodies. The most well-known example is celebrity Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty brand, which regularly showcases a wide range of body shapes and goes up to US sizes 3X and 46DDD. Rather than solely using famous models, the Savage X Fenty shows shine a light on women of different ethnicities, sizes, shapes and backgrounds, including plus-size singer Lizzo, trans actress Indya Moore, drag queens Shea Couleé and Gigi Goode and little person, Tamera McLaughlin.
Cusack, who is currently managing director of vertical brands at investment business Alquemie, also credits Kim Kardashian’s shapewear brand Skims as being an example of a successful modern lingerie brand.
“Whether you are a Kim K fan or not, it is a brilliant representation of body and ethnic diversity. It has a simple yet beautifully curated product range that fits well, and of course, the customers themselves build the hype. That is true authenticity,” she said.
Lingerie brands have also changed their product ranges from focusing on push-up bras to now selling period proof underwear, shapewear, maternity bras, and in some cases, a unisex product offer.
Sophie Hopkins, co-founder of new lingerie brand, For Your Bits, pointed out that the intimates category has evolved as the body positivity movement has become more mainstream and more consumers are embracing their bodies, no matter the shape or size. Hopkins and co-founder Bianca Robortaccio launched their business this year in an effort to create a more modern, inclusive lingerie shopping experience.
“We felt there wasn’t anything out there that we connected to as consumers and we wanted to create more conversation around a category that was traditionally taboo or awkward and instead celebrate all bodies,” Hopkins explained.
“We wanted to create a space to have a conversation to break down barriers. I have many friends who have had babies and they’re like, ‘My boobs are big, now my boobs are small!’ They’re not quite sure where to go as they navigate their changing needs. We felt there was an opportunity to create a one-stop destination to service everyone’s bits.”
Earlier in February this year, Waters admitted: “When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond. We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”
But does Victoria’s Secret actually know what women want? We’ll just have to wait and see.