In today's Finshots we discuss why Victoria's Secret is making news right now
Victoria’s Secret cemented its place as an iconic brand by banking on the annual runway show featuring supermodels and risque lingerie. It was their claim to fame.
However, it also became their undoing. Here’s a reporter from the Fast Company tearing into the lingerie brand for promoting this glitzy event each year.
For decades, the strategy worked, and millions of everyday Americans tuned into the show. At its peak, in 2012, 12.4 million people watched it. Victoria’s Secret effectively turned a strip show into mainstream entertainment, much like Sunday night football. But all that changed in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In 2016, 6.7 million people tuned in. But the next year, when the first #MeToo stories broke, that figure had gone down to five million. By 2018, only 3.3 million people were watching.
As countless media reports exposed men like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Jeffrey Epstein who sexually harassed or raped women, it was impossible not to wonder about what kind of culture facilitated this kind of abuse. And the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was part of the problem, premised on the idea that models are objects of sexual gratification.
And the irony here ought to be palpable. The founder of Victoria’s Secret only ventured into the business after feeling uncomfortable buying lingerie for his wife at a department store. It was meant to be a safe space for men. And even though the company was eventually acquired by Les Wexner — the retail tycoon, they continued to espouse the same values.
Victoria’s Secret was always more about what men wanted as opposed to what women wanted themselves. And in some ways, this was always bound to backfire someday. But aside from all this, there were also business decisions that hurt them real bad. The company continued to operate most stores in outdated malls even as people began to adopt and embrace the online shopping experience. American malls were a dying breed. People didn’t frequent them as much as they used to anymore. And when sales started dipping, the company doubled down on discounts, hoping it would get more people into these stores. But once again, it wasn’t particularly effective. If anything, their margins eroded rather substantially.
And as sales continued to take a beating, they made some very bizarre decisions. They decided to discontinue non-core categories i.e. swimwear and apparel. Popular products were removed from the shelves arbitrarily. And quality deteriorated. Even the most loyal customers could see that the products no longer felt premium. And it was beginning to seem as if this was the end of the road.
But then a ray of hope. In February 2020, private equity firm Sycamore agreed to pay $525 million to buy out 55% of Victoria’s Secret. This was a lifeline by all accounts and it came at a time when investors were still downplaying the risks of the coronavirus. But within a month, Victoria’s Secret was forced to close all its stores and take down its online operations.
So in April, Sycamore tried to get L Brands (the parent company) to adjust the purchase price considering the situation at hand. L Brands flat-out refused to discuss it and they went to court. But considering both parties wanted to avoid long drawn-out litigation, they decided to settle amicably and walk away in peace.
After which, the company has been trying to remodel Victoria’s Secret in a bid to appeal to an entirely new audience. This is a final attempt to make the brand more relatable. They’ve now promised to ditch the unrealistic beauty standards, be more inclusive by featuring models of all shapes and sizes, and also collaborating with the likes of US soccer star, Megan Rapinoe and our very own Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
So yeah, this could be the final gambit for a brand that was once deemed irreplaceable. Will this work? We don’t know.
But until then…