We live in a fast, trend-changing society. While decades ago, companies got away with unethical production and profiting at the expense of both consumers and the environment, things have changed. Today, consumers want to buy from companies that focus on social activism and ethical production.
Most of us have heard of the famous lingerie brand, Victoria’s Secret. Whether it is from the trendy and glamorous products, supermodels, angel wings, or yearly fashion shows, it has become clear to many critics that their marketing strategies are arguably outdated. Victoria’s Secret is going through a rebranding process by introducing VS Collective, a campaign where the angels are no longer the center of attention. Instead, realistic models with attainable and diverse body images are taking their place.
Many lingerie brands are starting to focus their marketing campaign upon inclusion and representation. They are shifting their attention towards producing ethical and comfortable materials for women of diverse sizes and backgrounds. This has allowed brands to better connect with their customers as well as reach untapped markets. Victoria’s Secret, however, seems to have remained a few steps behind.
Over the years, Victoria’s Secret has driven marketing and production campaigns primarily to satisfy male fantasies. This is mainly due to the company’s corporate culture that, as The New York Times has reported, is profoundly rooted in misogyny, sexism, ageism, and sizeism. Former Chief Marketing Officer, Ed Razek, is one of the few reported to be responsible for the brand’s unethical culture. Victoria’s Secret has also been criticized due to Razek’s revealed sexual harassment and close relationship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The negative company culture prevalent at Victoria’s Secret has been clearly reflected in the brand’s recent poor financial performance. It’s no secret that the brand has been losing customers to competitors. Other body inclusive and diverse lingerie brands such as Aerie, Savage X Fenty, Saalt, and TomboyX are only a few among many that have been able to attract more customers by portraying an authentic reality regarding women.
Losing revenue and market share has forced Victoria’s Secret to listen to consumer desires and implement more diverse models. It wasn’t until 2019 when the brand introduced its first plus-size model, Ali Tate-Cutler to promote diversity and inclusion. It took the lingerie brand decades to introduce their first plus-size model, despite the average female size being 16.
Where It All Started and The Rise of Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
Victoria’s Secret was founded on June 12, 1977, in San Francisco, California, by Roy Raymonds. According to the Washington Post, Raymonds began the multi-billion dollar idea after feeling uncomfortable while purchasing lingerie for his wife in department stores. Alongside his wife Gaye, they turned their idea into a reality that in 2020 produced $5.4 billion net sales. Currently, Victoria’s Secret has 1,400 stores around the world generating over 32,000 retail jobs.
It wasn’t until 1995 when the first Victoria’s Secret fashion show took place at the New York Plaza Hotel. Within the first few years, the fashion show gained rapid popularity, and by 1999, the angel wings became a signature symbol of the company.
Some of the earlier angels include Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bündchen, Karen Mulder and Laetitia Casta. Other big-name models such as Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, Candice Swanepoel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Miranda Kerr, and Behati Prinsloo appeared throughout the years.
Each year, the fashion show surpasses the previous year’s show with more elaborate costumes, props, stages, celebrity appearances, and performances. In 2014, for instance, angels Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio each walked down the runway in a $2 million bra that shocked the viewers.
In 2015, angel Maria Borges was the first model to walk down the runway wearing her natural short hair. This was the beginning of other models being allowed to wear their natural hair during fashion shows. In 2018, Kelsey Merritt widened the brand’s diversity by being the first Filipino woman to walk the runway.
That same year, the brand was widely criticized by consumers and the media after Ed Razek, the Chief Marketing Officer of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, mentioned in an interview with Vogue that he did not believe “transexual” models should appear in the runway show because it did not meet the brand’s ideal fantasy.
Ed Razek resigned soon after the report was made public. Following the controversy, Victoria’s Secret’s 2019 fashion show was canceled due to a decline in viewership. With criticism came an opportunity for the company to rebrand its values. Since then, the brand has hired its first openly transgender model, Valentina Sampaio. This year, the lingerie company will also bring back its new redefined annual fashion show without angels.
The Victoria’s Secret Rebranding: VS Collective
After receiving numerous criticisms and experiencing a decline in sales over the years, Victoria’s Secret decided to leave behind their symbolic angel models and wings. Instead, the brand is opting to replace them with seven women that authentically embody feminism. These women are famous activists and celebrities known for their achievements and female empowerment.
The women consist of:
- Adut Akech, a refugee, mental health activist, and professional model.
- Amanda de Cadenet, a journalist, photographer, equality advocate and the founder of Girlgaze.
- Eileen Gu, a world champion freeskier, youth and women’s sports advocate, and professional model.
- Megan Rapinoe, a professional soccer player, LQBTQ+ and pay equality advocate.
- Paloma Elsesser, a body positivity advocate, community creator, and professional model.
- Priyanka Chopra Jonas, an actress, producer, entrepreneur, and activist.
- Valentina Sampaio, an actress, model, and LGBTQ+ activist.
Among these amazing women are astonishing models representing diverse backgrounds ranging in sizes, sexes, race, and age. Victoria’s Secret is striving to change the meaning of ‘sexy’ and what constitutes ‘attractiveness’ that they have marketed throughout the decades. The brand is hoping to do so by turning away from glamour and glitter in favor of more realistic beauty and female empowerment.
The brand’s new Chief Marketing Officer, Martha Pease, was instructed to ignite the branding shift. Through Pease’s leadership, the lingerie company is hoping to change its reputation. They seek to empower rather than diminish women’s social image and feed into the negative toxic social traits regarding body appearance. The company decided to “listen to what women want” and removed the angels to use realistic bodies that spread positivity instead.
Will a New Marketing Campaign Be Enough to Change Victoria’s Secret’s Reputation?
In an interview with NBC News, Becca Post, the founder of Helen & Gertrude, states that it will take a lot more than introducing a new marketing campaign to change the negative values the public associates Victoria’s Secret with.
To reverse the reputation the brand has created for itself throughout the past decades, it will take enormous effort and engagement on all company levels. The company’s efforts must be genuine in order to be associated with the inclusive and diverse brand they hope to become.
The new VS Collective is certainly a step in the right direction. Victoria’s Secret’s rebranding will better align with the younger generation’s social activism. It will also no longer portray the male fantasy it has been feeding into since its foundation.
Some may view VS Collective as a way for the brand to save itself. Yet, the brand’s global footprint and influence will certainly inspire women’s empowerment through the marketing of diverse models and bodies.
It’s never too late for brands to take initiatives to promote inclusion and representation. For too long, fashion corporations have leveraged the power of social media to instill the “ideal” female body image into society. This has negatively affected women and young girls for decades.
The “ideal” body images portrayed by the fashion industry have led people to obsess over unhealthy dieting regimes, excessive training, and body appearances. These factors are oftentimes the common cause of mental and eating disorders.
Victoria’s Secret is using its influence and resources to reverse the unrealistic social constructs they have helped create throughout the years. By doing so, they hope for the next generation of women to feel empowered to be their most authentic selves.