Could the lingerie empire we all know and love be leaving us before we know it? After years of building a name for themselves in the industry, Victoria’s Secret is on the verge of bankruptcy after their parent company, L Brands reported a major drop in sales last June. Though the brand has held their extended Semi-Annual Clearance event and markdowns, it surprisingly did not bring much revenue.
The news of the brand’s foreseen downfall comes as a shock to loyal followers and fashion-conscious young women as Victoria Secret established itself as a cultural icon in the 2000’s thanks to its strategic branding and image.
Photo by Frazer Harrison
AP photo by Andy Wong
I was 12 years old when I first set foot into the frilly world known as Victoria’s Secret. I immersed myself in the hypnotizing smell of glitter body spray and sticky vanilla lip gloss. Beautiful models graced the storefront, modelling the brand’s beloved push up bras and lacy panties. This image was embedded into my head and made me question what beauty really was. My innocent pre-teen self had a vague understanding of my body, much less female sexuality and body positivity at the time. I didn’t see any models that looked like myself: tan, dark hair, Asian.
Learning of the sudden bankruptcy opened my eyes to this new perspective, bringing me back to my days as a pre-teen, learning about my body and my sexuality. After all, how could I love my body when marketing campaigns and societal pressures tell me to look a certain way?
If the beloved brand could build an empire worth millions of dollars over a few decades, what led to their demise?
Marketing, which ironically is one of the main factors that led to their success.
For years, the brand has been criticized for its hypersexualization in marketing campaigns and their overall effect on young girls’ self-esteem. The VS Angels are a staple to the brand’s overall youthful, sexy image with models maintaining a specific ‘look’. I mean, you cannot shop at Victoria’s Secret without a poster of the famed models, they’re essential to the brand and a well-known icon.
The models are showcased in the line’s annual fashion show, parading lacy lingerie and elaborate costumes, much to the concern of body positivity activists and parents of young teens. The diversity of models is also a factor in the brand’s waning image. Many of the VS Angels have eurocentric features: blonde, leggy, light-eyed.
Photo by Randy Brooke via WireImage
Victoria Secret isn’t the only major brand facing this situation.
Once-popular 2000’s clothing brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch have also faced the same fate as Victoria’s Secret, sporting a similar marketing ploy. The brand has faced criticism for their hypersexualized ad campaigns. Walk into any store to be greeted with a black and white poster of a shirtless male model on a beach. Former CEO, Mike Jeffries, has also faced criticism for his comments on plus-sized consumers and people of colour. Jeffries has also gone under fire for his treatment of employees, namely people of colour.
“ In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely” says Jeffries in a 2006 interview.
Considering the brand’s minor changes to their marketing tactics, I am not surprised that they are slowly losing popularity with millennials.
On the other hand, competitors such as American Eagle’s lingerie/loungewear brand, AERIE have noticed a dramatic increase in sales and revenue. The #AERIEReal campaign has made rounds on social media for its approach on the lingerie market. Everyday women front the brand’s campaign, displaying a message of self love, girl power and positivity.
The #AERIEReal campaign was one that many women (including myself) have been waiting to see: strong, empowered women confident in their skin no matter their race, identity or disability. This is a major step for a brand in the lingerie market after years of criticism and the first time a major company has done a campaign of this kind.
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer
What can we expect of Victoria’s Secret in the near future? Tactics that have once worked for teens in the late 2000’s no longer work for millennials. Millenials want to see equal representation in the lingerie market rather than a ‘standard’ look across brands. They want to see human bodies represented in everyday loungewear and be able to feel comfortable buying something as simple as a t-shirt bra without feeling hypersexualized.
Would a few minor changes increase the brand’s image and overall sales? Honestly, it’ll be interesting to see how Victoria’s Secret will rebrand themselves amid the changes in the fashion industry. While most brands are catching up to the inclusivity and diversity of marketing campaigns, will those changes be enough to salvage the brand? Furthermore, what will those specific changes do in response to the brand’s iconic image: would removing the VS Fashion Show have further repercussions?
Only time can tell if the brand catches on to the memo and we are waiting to see what Victoria Secret has in store for the upcoming Holiday Season.