The fallen angels: a look at the future of Victoria's Secret

Shamara Mohsin examines Victoria's Secret, the best known lingerie brand of the 21st century and their fast fall from the top

Shamara Mohsin
16th June 2020
@victoriasecret on Instagram
After five years of dwindling sales, poor marketing and a diversifying industry it was announced last week that America’s largest lingerie brand, Victoria's Secret, had filed for Administration for all UK retail locations.

The announcement comes after the company reported a £170m loss over January and February of this year which only worsened after the outbreak of COVID-19 in March.

Despite most retailers re-opening today at the helms of new government guidelines all British stores of the luxury lingerie will remain closed and leave 800 jobs at risk. The news is part of parent company L Brands attempt to unload rent costs in an effort to save the business, with an additional 250 planned closures around the world.

Victoria's Secret’s reductions are amongst several companies facing similar fates in the UK with brands Cath Kidston, Debenhams and Oasis also turning to administration. However, VS, at this moment, is the only company to be offered a ‘light touch’ administration by Deloitte.

For many news of Victoria's Secret’s failures are unsurprising, with a continued downfall in market value year upon year, and the recent axe to its annual fashion show many specialists have worried about the 43-year-old company's fate for some time.

Concerns surrounding VS begun building as early as 2018 when then head of marketing Ed Razek said in an interview with Vogue that neither plus size nor transgender models would ever feature in their coveted televised fashion show 'because the show is a fantasy'.

Image: @victoriassecret on Instagram

Despite stepping down the year after, the brand experienced a 40% drop in stock value and brought about additional criticism as many questioned its place amidst the #MeToo movement. The public became wary of the hyper-sexualised image and their apparent lack of diverse brand ambassadors, dubbed ‘angels’, who feature the likes of Romee Strijid, Miranda Kerr and Bella Hadid. The company were also called out for offering a reduced sizing option that marginalised a large percentage of body shapes, as well as products that simply didn't meet with current wants.

Throughout the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, the company underwent a serious shakeup in a move to revitalise the brand. This included intentions to sell a majority of the company to a private equity firm- with an estimated $1.1 billion dollar value and a 55% stake that later fell through.

VS also announced changes to castings, including increased representation of LGBTQ+ and minority ethnicities in their marketing campaigns. In April, the company hired their first celebrity to model their apparel with Chinese actress Yang Mi, a move that is anticipated to create a boom in sales in the Asian market.

Image: @yangmimimi912 on Instagram

The blame game for Victoria's Secret's downfall has been connected mainly to the brand's lack of progression in both their marketing and product selection. In 2019, UK retailers found that triangle bras rose by 39% from the previous year and that bralettes were now considered more valuable than standard bras. The facts show just how impactful the rise of athleisure, that soared to popularity in 2016, had on the fashion industry with push up bras and breast boosting products swapped out for sports bras and bralettes for comfort, and yet VS continued to market the former.

Similar to this was debate over what constituted ‘sexy’. What once was simply known as the double zero runway bodies of the 90s has changed as the fashion industry, albeit reluctantly, embraced all shapes and sizes. Therefore, how does a company that once defined what was 'sexy' become the epitome of exactly what isn't, and what can be done to save it?

In an age of diversity, the lingerie industry has seen a significant shift over the past few years. DTC brands have disrupted the market, gunning for market share from legacy players. Silhouettes have evolved with comfort at their core, “nude” shades don’t just cover one skin tone and a greater emphasis is placed on catering to all body types.

Source: Edited

Victoria's Secret began with a man, in the modern era selling an intimate product to the opposite sex, originally intended to please the man when worn, just doesn’t fly. VS in its prime continually pushed sexiness and style over comfort. Despite steep prices throughout the 2000s, VS sold the supposed superficial dream of the rail-thin supermodel look that dominated culture until fairly recently. But as times change so does the company in an effort to meet demand- only the lingerie giant was unable to part with the market they built and ultimatly leaving them behind with the times.

The problem hasn’t been recognising the need for more diverse model representation, increased size ranges or alternative products, it’s been the brands move to implement them.

In 2002 Victoria's Secret launched PINK, their teen centred clothing collection for fans fourteen and up to shop underwear, apparel and beauty products. Pink has been continually more affluent in speaking the language of present-day youth than their big sister. PINK has always moved with its audiences wants and needs. When your young adult audience brings in a fourth of your annual earnings at around three billion dollars (as reported in 2018) for a company with around a third of the consumer size then you have major untapped potential.

Image: @vspink on Instagram

Some specialists have gone so far as to speculate PINK's connection to Victoria Secret and its overtly sexualised image is the leading problem with its marginal growth in recent years.

Unbeknownst to many Victoria's Secret for its regular shoppers are as synonymous with their scented body sprays as they are with their striped satin PJs. The store has a beloved athleisure line and what was once a smash hit for a swimsuit section (that has just been re-released), as well as some of the trendiest general loungewear products available. Commended for their unfaltering customer service with one-to-one bra fitting sessions and free personal shopper assistance as well as their glamourous store interiors and classy presentation. The brand has all the makings of their former cult classic status.

Despite all their pros, VS remains eclipsed by their terrible turn in marketing that ultimately shines a spotlight on their outdated image. The company has been the source of many questions in recent years with growing concern for its place in the future of retail. It's unknown whether without an image overhaul the lingerie line can stand the test of a changing industry.

What becomes of Victoria's Secret is still undecided, but without major change, it's possible they could join one of many brands to fall very soon.

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