“I’m bringing sexy back,” said Justin Timberlake. It was more or less in these words that Victoria’s Secret executives hinted at the future of the brand during a recent presentation to investors. Despite its efforts to be more inclusive in recent years, the lingerie retailer continues to lose revenue. The company projects revenue of $6.3 billion in 2023, a significant drop from $7.5 billion in 2019 and $8.1 billion in 2018. According to a Business article of Fashion which has been making the rounds on social networks, Victoria’s Secret wants to regain its sex appeal. What will this look like? The brand remained vague. But right-wing media and commentators have already picked up the news, seeing it as irrefutable demonstration that companies that adopt progressive values end up suffering (go woke, go broken).
First Victoria’s Secret fashion show
Number of Victoria’s Secret brand stores in 70 countries, according to the company. In North America: 837 in 2022; it was 1,177 in 2016, according to Statista.
Number of viewers during the televised Victoria’s Secret fashion show in 2001, a record year. There were only 3.3 million left in 2018.
This is what the brand has done for decades and successfully. In one of its first advertising campaigns, models emerged from a cloud minimally clad in a balconette bra and a pair of white wings. “Victoria’s Secret embodied the idealized version of female beauty,” says Chantal Fernandez, independent journalist and co-author of a book on Victoria’s Secret to be published next year. That’s not all. The glamorous image of the brand also appealed to consumers. During its annual fashion show – which ended in 2019 – the brand treated itself to the biggest pop stars, from Taylor Swift to The Weeknd. Watched by millions of people, the event sparked excitement… and bets! Which model would have the honor of wearing the $10 million diamond-encrusted bra? Who would receive their first wings, the ultimate consecration in the Victoria’s Secret universe? “Everyone knew the brand, especially in the United States. It was present in all the shopping centers,” emphasizes Ms. Fernandez.
At the height of its popularity, Victoria’s Secret didn’t see the tide turn. In the mid-2010s, its image no longer fit with the values of the time. And the company’s revenues are starting to decline. Consumers criticize the unattainable beauty standards that the brand promotes with its angels – the nickname given to its muses – who are extremely thin but have generous curves. They’re demanding models that look like them, something other lingerie retailers, like Aerie and Thirdlove, understood long before. In the post era
More inclusive, more sober too: put side by side, the Victoria’s Secret advertising campaigns of recent years no longer have much in common with its beginnings. On her social networks, wasp waists have given way to love handles, models made in the same mold to a diversity of sizes and shapes. Among its inclusion efforts, the lingerie retailer hired its first transgender model and named LGBTQ soccer player Megan Rapinoe as the brand’s face. More recently, Victoria’s Secret launched an underwear collection suitable for people with disabilities.
It’s unclear to what extent the brand’s rebranding contributed to its loss of revenue. After all, consumer spending is down in the United States, Chantal Fernandez points out. However, the question is increasingly being asked: Should Victoria’s Secret bring back the angels and the extravagant parades? Online, thousands of Internet users are nostalgic for the brand’s heyday, criticizing its new direction. Even if it takes up a lot of space on social networks, the kind of discourse opposing inclusiveness and diversity rarely represents the majority, adds Stéfany Boisvert. That said, it is possible that the past of Victoria’s Secret continues to exert a power of attraction, even fascination, among consumers, without them advocating the return of starving models. “We live in a profoundly contradictory time in relation to the culture of beauty,” underlines the professor.