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The Downfall Of Victoria's Secret

Victoria’s Secret ain’t so “secret" anymore. Wild connections to Jeffrey Epstein, distasteful marketing practices, and difficulties tackling the e-commerce market have caused a free-fall of a once-coveted brand.

The Downfall Of Victoria's Secret

Victoria’s Secret was founded in 1977 by American businessman Roy Raymond after he had a terrible experience shopping for his wife. The inspiration for the name of the brand derived from the Victorian era in England. By 1982 the company was making more than $4 million in annual sales but was nearing bankruptcy. That’s when Les Wexner took over.

Les Wexner had a very prominent history at the time. Under his parent company L Brands, he’d already acquired Express and Lane Bryant. He flipped Roy Raymond’s vision, creating a store that was more focused on women than men. And it worked. By the early 1990s, it had become the largest lingerie retailer in the US with 350 stores nationally and sales reaching over $1 billion.

The brand began to cement itself in 1995 when the famous Victoria’s Secret annual show was born. Around the same time, the idea of the Victoria’s Secret “Angel” came into play. Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, its commercials featured heavily made-up and risque-dressed Angels.

soiree les wexner
Les Wexner and his wife Abigail (AP)

Soon the runway show would become more lavish, as model Gisele Bündchen in 2000 walked the runway in what was the most expensive item of lingerie ever created; a $15 million diamond and ruby-encrusted “Fantasy Bra.”

That same year, Sharen Jester Turney come on as CEO, heading up the catalog business. She became CEO of the brand in 2006. And under her nine-year tenure, the company thrived. Sales increased to $7.7 billion. Then Turney abruptly stepped down in 2016 and was succeeded by Wexner as interim CEO (hmmmm did she know something?)

L Brands has long staked its fortune on the American shopping mall. The company doubled down on malls in the 1980s and 1990s. The plan worked and helped transform the brand. But that strategy has recently backfired as consumers have moved towards online options - and revenue has declined in 12 of the last 13 quarters.

Between 2015 and 2018, sales began to drop significantly, as more body-positive brands came out such as Aerie, ThirdLove, and Lively.

WEXNER-EPSTEIN CONNECTION

The retailer has been destroyed by its ties to Jeffrey Epstein, a millionaire sex offender who once managed billions of dollars for Les Wexner. Although they have sought to distance themselves, it hasn’t worked at all.

In addition to managing Wexner’s money, Epstein was a trustee for the Wexner Foundation and two other family trusts, including one named for Wexner’s four children. Epstein’s Manhattan mansion, which authorities seized, was once owned by Wexner.

“People have said it’s like we have one brain between two of us: each has a side,” Epstein said of Wexner in a 2003 Vanity Fair interview.

Wexner called Epstein “very smart with a combination of excellent judgment and unusually high standards.”

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Launch of Victoria’ Secret “Angels” (BI)

OUT OF TOUCH MARKETING

Victoria’s Secret has built a brand around male desire and sex appeal. Although it worked for some time, it’s completely outdated because of the shift in how people, especially young women, think about beauty and desire.

For nearly two decades, Victoria’s Secret relied on its annual fashion show to drum up buzz for the brand. But women are buying fewer push-up bras and more sports bras, creating new problems for a company known for its glamourous and strappy styles.

Bra shopping is a dreaded chore for many women. But a growing amount of start-ups promise an easier process and an experience that’s more enjoyable and diversified.

Victoria's Secret is attempting a comeback under new leadership while hiring transgender employees and leveraging female entrepreneurs as the face of the brand.

Has it worked? Not really. Too much damage has been done in my opinion.

All, Story of the Week

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March 27, 2022

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