Victoria’s Secret Swaps Angels for ‘What Women Want.’ Will They Buy It?

From The New York Times:

The Victoria’s Secret Angels, those avatars of Barbie bodies and playboy reverie, are gone. Their wings, fluttery confections of rhinestones and feathers that could weigh almost 30 pounds, are gathering dust in storage. The “Fantasy Bra,” dangling real diamonds and other gems, is no more.

In their place are seven women famous for their achievements and not their proportions. They include Megan Rapinoe, the 35-year-old pink-haired soccer star and gender equity campaigner; Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier and soon-to-be Olympian; the 29-year-old biracial model and inclusivity advocate Paloma Elsesser, who was the rare size 14 woman on the cover of Vogue; and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a 38-year-old Indian actor and tech investor.

They will be spearheading what may be the most extreme and unabashed attempt at a brand turnaround in recent memory: an effort to redefine the version of “sexy” that Victoria’s Secret represents (and sells) to the masses. For decades, Victoria’s Secret’s scantily clad supermodels with Jessica Rabbit curves epitomized a certain widely accepted stereotype of femininity. Now, with that kind of imagery out of step with the broader culture and Victoria’s Secret facing increased competition and internal turmoil, the company wants to become, its chief executive said, a leading global “advocate” for female empowerment.

Will women buy it? An upcoming spinoff, more than $5 billion in annual sales, and 32,000 jobs in a global retail network that includes roughly 1,400 stores are riding on the answer.

. . . .

“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said Martin Waters, the former head of Victoria’s Secret’s international business who was appointed chief executive of the brand in February. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”

. . . .

Founded in 1977 as a store where men could feel comfortable shopping for lingerie, even the name referred to male fantasies of prim Victorian ladies who became naughty in the boudoir. The retail billionaire Leslie H. Wexner bought Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and turned it into a phenomenon that helped shape society’s view of female sexuality and beauty ideals. Central to its ethos were the “Angels” — supermodels like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks who posed exclusively for the brand, often in G-strings, stilettos and wings. In 1995, it introduced the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, a sort of cross between a runway show and a pole dance that aired on network television for nearly two decades.

It has taken years for Victoria’s Secret to acknowledge that its marketing was dated. In that time, the value of the brand eroded and a slew of competitors grew in part by positioning themselves as the anti-Victoria’s Secret, complete with more typical women’s bodies and a focus on inclusivity and diversity.

. . . .

“In the old days, the Victoria brand had a single lens, which was called ‘sexy,’” Mr. Waters said. While that sold for decades, it also prevented the brand from offering products like maternity or post-mastectomy bras (not considered sexy) and prompted it to sell push-up sports bras (sexy, but not so popular). It also meant, he said, “that the brand never celebrated Mother’s Day.” (Not sexy.)

There are plenty of people who do, in fact, find motherhood seductive, but the myopia of the Victoria’s Secret lens was such that they were never acknowledged, let alone listened to.

. . . .

Victoria’s Secret is betting a chunk of its marketing budget that persuading such unexpected personalities to join its cause will in turn convince consumers, and potential investors, to similarly believe in its shift, giving a new meaning to halo effect.

As Ms. Rapinoe said, “I don’t know if Victoria has a secret anymore.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

For PG, the NYT’s key quote (and one of relevance for the book business and everybody else) is, “When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond.”

For PG, traditional publishing is the epitome of not changing when the world has changed.

He won’t go on a rant to prove his point, but there’s a good rant hanging in the back of closet of his mind if he ever needs one.

6 thoughts on “Victoria’s Secret Swaps Angels for ‘What Women Want.’ Will They Buy It?”

  1. I stopped shopping at VS a few years ago when I saw that all they seemed to sell were thongs and G-strings and push-up bras and underwear with scratchy lace. Where were the undergarments for everyday women who just want to be comfortable? Who wants to dress like a sex kitten when you’re running after kids or sitting at a desk? Any man who insists on pushing those items on women should be forced to wear them himself.
    (Yeah, and I could say the same for sky-high heels)

    Now that women execs seem to be taking charge of VS, I may very well venture back into their stores.

  2. I haven’t been in a VS in so long I didn’t know angels were their thing. Doesn’t look like I missed much.

    But I agree with your point, PG. VS and trad pub appear to be run by the same people. It will be interesting to see if either of them can join the 21st century.

  3. I don’t think it’s as much as what the people want as to what businesses want in order to not be “cancelled” or trolled because of their (allegedly) “non-woke” business model.

    Personally, I don’t think this will help them regain relevancy that they’re desperately looking for. And having the female equivalent of ex-President Donald Trump (for better or worse) as being the public face of your product will surely alienate a portion of your clientele in the long term.

  4. oh, what the heck…

    Victoria’s Secret product were never about practicality. They were aspirational, selling fantasies. Not to men, though but to young working women and middle aged moms.
    “I may not be as sexy as the models but I can dress like them.” goes through the back of their minds, not necessarily openly.

    Standard marketing.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspirational_brand#:~:text=In%20consumer%20marketing%2C%20an%20aspirational%20brand%20%28or%20product%29,supply%20appears%20limited%20due%20to%20limited%20production%20quantities.

    It’s why the Pontiac Fiero and 4 cylinder sporty coupes of the 80’s and 90’s made most of their profits selling to young working women. It’s why people pay more for certain products (Nike, Apple, etc) when equivalent or better competitors go for less.

    Judging VS products by practicality or “mission suitability” is a mistake and pivoting that way is likely going to be worse. It reminds me of JC Pennys trying to go upscale by ditching discounts. Almost killed the chain in a couple of months. Also the CADILLAC CIMARRON. New COKE.

    Messing with a brand’s identity rarely turns out well.

    • You miss the point that VS USED to have practical products. VS used to carry comfortable, practical items like cotton briefs and wearable bras. I used to go in there regularly to shop for undergarments and nightwear and spent plenty of money. But sometime in the last 5 years, the products changed. The male execs remade it into their version of Frederick’s of Hollywood. Gone were the cotton briefs; in their place were lace-trimmed thongs. I remember walking through the entire store a few years ago and not seeing anything I used to regularly buy. I’m sure there are many women like me (40+ years of age) who sit at desks all day or chase around their kids, who don’t want to be itching and scratching at that lace thingie in their crotch. And I’m sure those same women (and let’s face it, the population is aging and yes, we have money) abandoned VS and headed online for other brands. That’s what I did.

      VS forgot who its customers are. They are women who want to be comfortable, not men.

      • Did they ever breakdown how well the functional sold vs the decorative?
        Just wondering.
        Was their marketing (skimpy barbie dolls) focused on their best sellers or a waste of effort?
        Both are possible, the only difference is where they were wasting resources.

        My point remains: marketing needs to align with the revenue streams. And tbat matters in every business. Even tbe “swedish bikini team” and the pond frogs existed to promote the brand’s big money maker.

Comments are closed.