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Go woke, go broke! How Victoria’s Secret went from sultry catwalk shows to a feminist rebrand after a series of scandals – but now it’s bringing sexy back to reverse plunging sales


Victoria’s Secret is said to be ditching its feminist makeover in favour of ‘sexiness’ once again as it tries to reverse plunging sales.

The lingerie brand was famed for its sultry catwalks which featured the likes of Cara Delevingne and Miranda Kerr as its ‘Angels’ – but such marketing came under fire from campaigners, forcing the company to retire its shows.

But while the US company’s move to become a more inclusive retailer gained ‘favourable reviews online, [it] never translated into sales,’ according to Business of Fashion reporter Cathleen Chen.

As part of its rebrand, the firm – which was at one time synonymous with ‘sexy’ – replaced supermodels with a more diverse range of brand ambassadors including soccer player Megan Rapinoe and transgender model Valentina Sampaio.

But with the brand’s efforts to promote inclusivity failing to halt falling sales, bosses are now looking to bring back the firm’s ‘sexiness,’ according to a report by CNN on Tuesday.

Models Ming Xi, Grace Elizabeth, Cindy Bruna, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Alexina Graham walk the runway at the 2018 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

Models Ming Xi, Grace Elizabeth, Cindy Bruna, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Alexina Graham walk the runway at the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

The brand’s revenue is projected to reach $6.2 billion for 2023, a five per cent drop from last year and even lower than 2020 when the brand made $7.5billion.

Chief executive Martin Waters reportedly said: ‘The reality is we all know the performance of the company and so there must be something that’s not going to plan.

‘It can’t all be at green status. And the harsh reality is that the most important aspect of the work that we had to do in 2023, which was strengthening the core of the company are not where we need them to be.’

Meanwhile Victoria’s Secret and Pink brand president Greg Unis told investors: ‘Sexiness can be inclusive.’

‘Sexiness can celebrate the diverse experiences of our customers and that’s what we’re focused on,’ the brand executive added.

Victoria’s Secret was founded in 1977 by US businessman Roy Raymond, who set up a small chain of boudoir lingerie shops when he could find no man-friendly women’s stores.

In 1982 he sold the company to clothing magnate Les Wexner for $1million – a fraction of its current value. Raymond later committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

He chose the name Victoria after Queen Victoria, thinking it sounded refined, and added Secret to refer to what was hidden under the clothes. 

Models are pictured in the promotional video for Victoria's Secret World Tour 23

Models are pictured in the promotional video for Victoria's Secret World Tour 23

Models are pictured in the promotional video for Victoria’s Secret World Tour 23

Bella Hadid is pictured in February this year in a more inclusive Victoria's Secret promotional campaign

Bella Hadid is pictured in February this year in a more inclusive Victoria’s Secret promotional campaign

The brand attempted to shake its unfavourable reputation with its inclusive 2020 Christmas campaign (pictured)

The brand attempted to shake its unfavourable reputation with its inclusive 2020 Christmas campaign (pictured)

Eventually, hundreds of stores opened coast to coast, but it was the glitzy launch of Victoria’s Secret’s first blatantly sexy catwalk show at the Plaza Hotel, New York in 1995 which made the difference.

Broadcast on network TV to 185 countries, millions tuned in to see supermodels Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Tyra Banks and Karen Mulder – among others – stripped back to the barest of essentials.

Victoria’s Secret opened its first flagship store in London’s Bond Street in 2012, and staged its first catwalk show in 2014, featuring Ed Sheeran as star turn, but recent years have been more challenging.

Victoria’s Secret shuttered 20 stores in 2018 amid a poor annual sales performance, ending the year with former CEO Jan Singer resigning.

The lingerie giant’s parent company, L Brands, confirmed in November 2019 that its famous show wouldn’t take place. The decision was part of a move to ‘evolve the messaging of [the company],’ Fortune reported at the time.

It came a year after marketing chief Ed Razek said the brand would not cast plus-sized or ‘transsexual’ models because the show is a ‘fantasy.’

Victoria’s Secret was then plunged into controversy in 2020 when an investigation by the New York Times alleged a ‘culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment’ at the company.

Les Wexner, the chief executive of Victoria’s Secret’s then-parent company L Brands was also outed for his ties to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. Wexner was accused of turning a blind eye to sexual harassment allegations at the firm.

In 2021 Rapinoe said the old marketing sent out a ‘really harmful message,’ adding its marketing was ‘patriarchal, sexist, viewing not just what it meant to be sexy but what the clothes were trying to accomplish through a male lens and through what men desired.’

Rapino launched her own sports collection with the retailer as part of its rebrand, appearing alongside model Bella Hadid.

At the time, Hadid told Marie Claire: ‘What magnetized me to coming back was them coming to me and really proving to me that, behind the scenes, Victoria’s Secret has changed so drastically.’

Models Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bundchen, Adriana Lima, Selita Ebanks and Alessandra Ambrosio pose on the runway at The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the 69th Regiment Armory November 9, 2005 in New York City

Models Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bundchen, Adriana Lima, Selita Ebanks and Alessandra Ambrosio pose on the runway at The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at the 69th Regiment Armory November 9, 2005 in New York City 

In 2016, the Victoria's Secret fashion show was criticised for cultural appropriation, the collection was showcased by model Kendall Jenner (pictured)

In 2016, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was criticised for cultural appropriation, the collection was showcased by model Kendall Jenner (pictured) 

Recent campaigns have also included stars such as Hailey Bieber and Emily Ratajkowski, as well as plus-size models and body positivity advocates including Paloma Elsesser and Ali Tate-Cutler.

Victoria’s Secret has also been under pressure to keep up with more inclusive underwear brands such as Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty.

Kim Kardashian’s Skims too has gathered popularity for its inclusive messaging. The shapewear brand raised funding in July at a $4billion valuation.

This year the company launched the ‘Victoria’s Secret: The Tour ’23’ in an attempt to revive its runway show format. Among those to star in the show were Julia Fox, Kate Moss’ daughter Lila and Jude Law’s daughter Iris.

A spokesman told DailyMail.com: ‘We are absolutely committed to inclusivity, as our brand president stated at our investor day.’



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