It comprises a mix of leggings, sports bras, and other clothing in three different fits and fabrics. Victoria’s Secret said each fit is tailored to a specific activity: one for running errands, one for yoga, and one for high-intensity workouts.
Its “sweat” leggings, recommended for high-intensity sports, cost $60, while sports bras across the collection cost between $40 to $50.
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The push into gymwear is a major shift in strategy for the lingerie giant, and is part of its turnaround effort under a new management team.
In recent interviews with Insider, former longtime senior employees said that under the leadership of former L Brands CEO Les Wexner, and CMO Ed Razek, the company had missed key market opportunities – including athletic wear.
“If it wasn’t a push-your-boobs-up-to-your-chin bra, they didn’t want anything to do with it,” one woman who worked in a management role at Victoria’s Secret’s New York office for more than 12 years told Insider.
“To them, sweat is only sexy when you’re having sex,” she said of their refusal to sell sports bras.
This potentially cost the company market share as brands such as Lululemon and American Eagle’s Aerie grew in popularity. Victoria’s Secret’s market share dropped from 33% to 24% between 2016 and 2018.
The founder of Lululemon, Chip Wilson, revealed in his book about the story of Lululemon, “Little Black Stretch Pants,” that Victoria’s Secret once made an offer to buy his brand in the early 2000s.
“We were flattered, but it didn’t take us long to agree that wasn’t a direction we wanted to go,” he wrote in his book.
Victoria’s Secret will continue to work with former Angels even after it abandoned the concept last month, its new creative director has said.
In an interview with The New York Post, Raúl Martinez said: “The word Angel is retired but that doesn’t mean the women we worked with as Angels are retired.”
Martinez told the Post that at least three former Angels will continue to model for the brand, including 25-year-old Taylor Hill, 24-year-old Grace Elisabeth, and 52-year-old Helena Christensen.
Victoria’s Secret announced in June that it was scrapping its Angel brand because it was no longer “culturally relevant.” It said that instead, a group of seven activist and entrepreneurial women – including Indian actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas and the professional soccer player and gender-equality activist Megan Rapinoe – would become spokeswomen for the brand.
Martinez took on the position of creative director at the start of the year and has been tasked with bringing the brand to life visually. He works closely with the design and marketing teams and has the final say over anything from what photographers Victoria’s Secret hires to shoot campaigns, to what fonts it uses in its ads.
The name Angel was first coined in 1999, when models Helena Christensen, Karen Mulder, Daniela Peštová, Stephanie Seymour, and Tyra Banks appeared in an ad to promote the Angels underwear collection.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Angels and the annual Victoria’s Secret runway show had a powerful role in defining “sexy” in the modern day. More recently, it has been criticized as outdated and out-of-touch.
One of the world’s most iconic luxury department stores, Harrods, has joined a growing list of retailers joining the fashion rental market.
London-based Harrods has partnered with a UK fashion rental marketplace My Wardrobe HQ to let customers rent the designer brands sold at its Knightsbridge store.
Prices start at $8 a day for a minimum of four days to rent a designer top. Dresses that would normally cost more than $1,000 to buy can be rented for about $20 a day.
According to Business of Fashion, Harrods will provide the stock and My Wardrobe HQ will handle the logistics and marketing. Customers can rent the clothes via My Wardrobe HQ’s website or in its pop-up location at the Harrods store.
The fashion rental business is booming, spurred by companies such as Rent the Runway launching subscription-based services for customers to rent clothes. Increasingly, retailers have been partnering with clothes-rental sites or launching their own services, such as Urban Outfitters’ Nuuly.
For Harrods, it’s a way of using last season’s inventory that was stuck in stores over the pandemic.
“There have been many spectacular collections and stand-out pieces that haven’t had the chance to be seen or celebrated, so offering these pieces to our customers to rent for their next event is a way of giving these products a new life,” Harrods fashion director Lydia King told WWD.
“Our fashion customers have more weddings, birthdays and other celebrations than ever before, and the joy of event dressing is back,” she said.
However, retail analysts interviewed by Insider said that Gap’s drastic action in Europe this week signaled that even more stores will need to be shuttered across North America. They also said that the company needed to completely rethink what it’s doing in the US.
“I don’t see them closing all their US stores by any means,” said Natalie Berg, an independent retail analyst. “But I think we’re in for some radical right-sizing. The uncomfortable truth is they still have way too many stores.”
Berg said Gap stores were “no longer fit for purpose.”
“They can’t just be about selling clothes any more,” she said. “You need to give shoppers a reason to ditch their screens; give them an experience they can’t get online.”
Insider has approached Gap for comment.
From September, Gap will be online-only in the UK and Ireland. Berg said: “Lots of clothes retailers are doing the same thing, so now you have all this competition online. You have to ask: is online becoming a digital graveyard for failing brands?”
Maureen Hinton, an analyst at GlobalData, agreed that there was “probably more to go” for Gap’s store closure programme in North America.
She said: “Gap is really struggling to find its own identity – and it has been for a long time.”
Hinton said that Gap needed “a much stronger strategy” for the US, focusing on “what its brand identity is all about – who it’s targeting and how it’s going to do it.”
“It’s got Yeezy at one end and it’s doing things with Walmart at the other,” she said. “That sounds like desperation.”
Gap is banking on a collaboration with Yeezy, Kanye West’s fashion brand, to help reinvigorate its fortunes. The first Yeezy Gap product dropped last month: a limited-edition, bright blue, recycled nylon puffer jacket with a price tag of $200.
Gap’s new tie-up with Walmart is less flashy. The new Gap Home line, sold exclusively in Walmart stores, features a $43 stoneware dinner set and a $20 tie-dye shower curtain.
Shoppers in London won’t get to buy any of these things.
Around midday on Thursday, only a few dozen customers were browsing hoodies, jeans, baby clothes, and other apparel on the four floors of Gap’s UK flagship store on Oxford Street, the heart of London’s shopping district.
Amanda, 24, who shops at the store every few weeks for herself and her three-year-old daughter, said she hadn’t heard it was being shut down. “I wore Gap stuff when I was a kid – my mum put me in it,” she said. “She used to come here too. That’s really sad.”
World-famous models including Gisele Bündchen and Adriana Lima, who hold a superior status with the brand, have finished years with multi-million-dollar salaries, per Insider. In 2018, Bündchen earned $30.5 million and Lima $10.5 million, but other Angels, including Taylor Hill and Jasmine Tookes took home $4 million.
But the level of commitment has meant that Victoria’s Secret has lost Angels in the past.
As previously reported by Insider, Doutzen Kroes and Karlie Kloss both pulled out of contracts early to focus on other commitments.
Sources highlighted to Page Six that relatively little pay over time was also a factor in Angels’ decision to depart. “Older contracts like Alessandra Ambrosio used to be in the millions, now they’re like $100,000,” a source told the outlet.
There have been 41 Angels in total since 1997 when Christensen, Mulder, Peštová, Seymour, and Banks were first taken on.
From popular musical acts including Taylor Swift and Kanye West, elaborate costumes and historical venues, to models sporting ornamental Angel “wings,” that can take up to 400 hours of labor, down the runway, the shows became a yearly attraction for many.
Carrying the wings was no easy feat.
One year, Angel Alessandra Ambrosio revealed in an interview on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” that she wore one of the heaviest pairs of wings in history in 2011, weighing around 60 pounds, per Insider.
Some of the world’s top supermodels including Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner were among the catwalk’s line-up but never made it to Angel status.
Victoria’s Secret was founded in 1977 by American businessman Roy Raymond.
Inspired by an uncomfortable trip to a department store to buy underwear for his wife, Raymond set out to create a place where men would feel comfortable shopping for lingerie. He wanted to create a women’s underwear shop that was targeted at men.
He named the brand after the Victorian era in England, wanting to evoke the refinement of this period in his lingerie.
His vision was summed up by Slate’s Naomi Barr in 2013: “Raymond imagined a Victorian boudoir, replete with dark wood, oriental rugs, and silk drapery. He chose the name ‘Victoria’ to evoke the propriety and respectability associated with the Victorian era; outwardly refined, Victoria’s ‘secrets’ were hidden beneath.”
He went on to open a handful of Victoria’s Secret stores and launched its famous catalog.
By 1982, the company was making more than $4 million in annual sales, but according to reports, it was nearing bankruptcy at the time. It was at this point that Les Wexner swooped in.
Wexner, who founded L Brands (formerly Limited Brands) was already making a name for himself in the retail world as he gradually built up an impressive empire.
By June 1982, Limited — which had previously acquired Express and Lane Bryant — was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. One month later, under Wexner’s leadership, the company acquired Victoria’s Secret’s six stores and its catalog for $1 million.
Wexner turned Raymond’s vision on its head, creating a store that was focused on women rather than men.
He was closely following the European lingerie market of that time and wanted to bring this aesthetic to the US. So, he set out to create a more affordable version of European upscale brand “La Perla” — lingerie that looked luxurious and expensive but was affordable.
And it worked. By the early 1990s, Victoria’s Secret had become the largest lingerie retailer in the US, with 350 stores nationally and sales topping $1 billion.
The brand began to cement its image over the next few years. In 1995, its famous annual fashion show was born.
The show, which was run by Ed Razek (longtime chief marketing officer of L Brands), became an iconic part of the brand’s image.
Razek and his team were responsible for hand-picking the models to walk the show. Because of this, he became one of the most important people in the modeling world, helping to launch the careers of Gisele Bündchen, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum.
In 1999, the show aired for the first time online. Time described it as the “internet-breaking moment” of this era after 1.5 million viewers tried to tune in and crashed the site.
Meanwhile, the brand was also launching some of its best-known and most successful products, including its heavily padded Miracle Bra and Body by Victoria.
Body by Victoria was a “blockbuster success” and more than doubled the sales volume of any other bra that Victoria’s Secret had previously launched, Michael Silverstein wrote in his book, “Trading Up.”
Around this time (1997), the idea of the Victoria’s Secret “Angel” came into play after a commercial featuring Helena Christensen, Karen Mulder, Daniela Peštová, Stephanie Seymour, and Tyra Banks ran to promote its “Angels” underwear collection.
From then on, the term “Angel” become synonymous with the brand.
Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, its commercials featured heavily made-up and scantily dressed Angels.
The runway shows became more lavish. In 2000, model Gisele Bündchen walked the runway in what was then the most expensive item of lingerie ever created, a $15 million diamond-and-ruby-encrusted ‘Fantasy Bra.’
Its annual fashion show drew criticism for being outdated, and viewership slipped. In November 2018 Razek sent the internet into a frenzy after he made controversial comments about transgender and plus-size models.
Razek said in an interview with Vogue that he didn’t think the show should feature “transsexuals” because the show is a ‘fantasy.” “It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is,” he said in the interview.
Razek made a formal apology online but some of his critics called for him to step down.
Singer was replaced by John Mehas, who took over the role at the start of 2019.
Mehas had his work cut out for him. Same-store sales at Victoria’s Secret were down 3% in 2018, and was gradually losing market share to new companies.
Plus, he had angry shareholders to deal with. In March 2019, activist shareholder Barington Capital sent a letter to Wexner, laying out recommendations to improve growth at Victoria’s Secret in order to “unlock substantial value.”
In the letter, Barington’s CEO, James A. Mitarotonda, called out the company’s brand image as being “outdated.”
“Victoria’s Secret’s brand image is starting to appear to many as being outdated and even a bit ‘tone deaf’ by failing to be aligned with women’s evolving attitudes towards beauty, diversity, and inclusion,” he wrote.
Barington called out the lack of diversity in its board of directors as being an issue for the brand. At the time, of the 11 board members, nine were men.
It seems Victoria’s Secret took this criticism to heart. After acknowledging the letter in a statement, it appointed two new female board directors — Sarah E. Nash and Anne Sheehan — and made steps to address the comments about the brand image being outdated.
It hired a more body-inclusive model.
While she is not a plus-size model, fans praised the company for its decision to take on Hungarian model Barbara Palvin as one of its newest Angels.
“We will be communicating to customers, but nothing similar in magnitude to the fashion show,” he said.
Wexner previously told employees in May that Victoria’s Secret was “rethinking” the show. And Victoria’s Secret model Shanina Shaik — who has walked in several of its fashion shows — told The Daily Telegraph in Australia in July 2019 that the annual show was off this year.
While these were potentially positive changes, the brand found itself caught up in a new challenge in the summer of 2019: its CEO and the company being linked to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Epstein managed Wexner’s money for several years, and former company executives told the Wall Street Journal that he tried to meddle in Victoria’s Secret’s business, offering input on which women should be models.
“At some point in your life we are all betrayed by friends,” Wexner said. “Being taken advantage of by someone who was so sick, so cunning, so depraved, is something that I’m embarrassed I was even close to. But that is in the past.”
In February 2020, the company announced that Wexner would be stepping down as chairman and CEO of L Brands but would stay on as chairman emeritus and sit on the board of directors. At the same time, it announced that it was selling a 55% stake in Victoria’s Secret to private equity firm Sycamore Partners.
In a statement to the press announcing the news, Wexner said that Sycamore has “deep experience in the retail industry and a superior track record of success,” and that it “will bring a fresh perspective and greater focus to the business.”
In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic swept across the US and Victoria’s Secret was forced to shutter its stores.
L Brands immediately issued a statement saying that a termination of the agreement is “invalid,” and that it would “vigorously defend” the lawsuit and “pursue all legal remedies to enforce its contractual rights.”
On May 4, 2020, L Brands announced that the deal with Sycamore had officially fallen apart.
Victoria’s Secret is cutting back on deals and raising prices, and Wall Street is on board.
In a note to clients this week, UBS analysts Jay Sole and Mauricio Serna reiterated their recommendation to buy L Brands stock (the parent company behind Victoria’s Secret) and shared data that showed the level of promotions in Victoria’s Secret stores – which includes its Pink brand – was “declining at a surprisingly fast rate.”
UBS said the average price of an item listed on Victoria’s Secret’s website in May 2021 was $44, a huge 83% increase from May 2019.
It also found that a quarter of the products on its site were on sale in May 2021. This is still a substantial number but a notable improvement on the level of promotions over the past four years, which floated around the 40% to 60% mark.
“This boosts our confidence that the Victoria’s Secret turnaround is real,” these analysts said.
Victoria’s Secret has been strongly criticized by Wall Street in the past for constant promotions in stores. Analysts said these not only erode profit margins but also dampen the brand image and make it almost impossible to encourage customers to pay full price.
It wasn’t uncommon to see 40%-off sale signs littered around its stores between 2018 and 2019, and underwear deals such as five pairs of panties for $28. And major discounts of this kind are usually a sign that retailers are looking to clear unwanted inventory.
In 2019, the company promised to cut back on these promotions and tighten inventory levels but shortly after, discounts began to creep back in. At the time, UBS analysts said that price increases could be putting off customers, causing Victoria’s Secret to go back on its progress.
Victoria’s Secret’s price points have been a contentious subject as some shoppers previously said they felt the brand was still overpriced despite all the deals and discounts. And others said the quality of the clothing didn’t match these price points.
But Victoria’s Secret’s growth over the past few quarters – same-store sales were up 9% in the first quarter of the year versus 2019 and operating income, a measure of profitability, increased by $213 million or 665% – indicates that consumers are becoming comfortable paying more for its apparel and lingerie and that it has a better handle on its inventory levels.
Gabriella Santaniello, analyst and founder of retail research firm A-Line Partners, told Insider that the pandemic enabled Victoria’s Secret to have a “reset,” and cut back on its inventory, which has facilitated more full-price sales, she said.
More inclusive marketing pays off
The company has made considerable changes to its marketing in the past year. And experts say efforts to update its brand image, which critics previously said was out-of-date and oversexualized, have also helped to boost sales.
The marketing is “more subtle and appropriate,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, told Insider. It has “fewer sexual overtones and focuses more on more on celebrating women. That has resonated and has pulled some shoppers back to the brand,” he said.
And it matches up to what’s shown in stores, Santaniello said: “For example, they recently brought in plus-sized mannequins, which reflects their use of plus-sized models in their advertising.”
Still, the company needs to keep this “360 focus” long-term, she said. “They need to make sure they do not waiver because it will come across as inauthentic and that’s why they haven’t really been successful with the turnaround over these past few years.”
West and Adidas announced the two would partner in 2013, in a deal reportedly worth $10 million at the time. Bloomberg reported Yeezy has a valuation of $3.2 billion to $4.7 billion, per investment bank UBS, due to the lucrative partnerships with Gap and Adidas. The partnership with Adidas, Bloomberg notes, runs through 2026.
Social media users pointed out the Nike shoes, and speculated whether he was in breach of the Adidas contract or announcing an end to the partnership.
West has ownership over the Yeezy brand, but Adidas operates the website his shoes are sold on. Yeezy x Adidas sneaker sales amounted to $1.7 billion in 2020, according to Bloomberg, netting West with $191 million in royalties.
West’s first sneaker, the $245 limited-edition Air Yeezy, was released in collaboration with Nike in 2009. The shoe later sold on the resale market for thousands of dollars, and a prototype of the shoe with a value of more than $1 million could become the priciest sneakers ever sold.
Some analysts and insiders consider Yeezy one of the most influential sneaker brands ever, reportedly inspiring the now-popular shoe brand Allbirds, Insider’s Mary Hanbury reported.
Nike, Adidas, and a representative for Kanye West did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gwyneth Paltrow, actress and founder of lifestyle brand Goop, is joining the board of directors at Rent the Runway, the clothes-rental service. The news was first reported by The New York Times.
Paltrow told The Times that she’s never actually used Rent the Runway.
Rent the Runway started in 2009 as a way to rent one-off items for special events. It’s grown into a platform for people to rent everyday clothes instead of buying new ones. It has also added kids’ clothing and homeware rentals, via a partnership with West Elm.
“What’s fascinating is that, in my own way, I’ve been renting the runway for years,” she told The Times. “Borrowing a dress from a designer for a single moment at a premiere or an awards show, then giving it back afterward. Now I guess everyone is doing it. But I’ve got my welcome code in my inbox, so I’ll soon be trying it out.”
“Gwyneth’s keen understanding of consumer psychology and unparalleled ability to tap into and define the cultural zeitgeist will play a key role in propelling Rent the Runway forward in a post-pandemic world,” Hyman said in a LinkedIn post this week, adding that the two have known each other for longer than a decade.
Rent the Runway started in 2009 as a way to rent one-off items for special events, and it’s grown to become a platform for renting everyday items as an alternative to buying new clothes. It has also added kids’ clothing and homeware rentals, via a partnership with West Elm.
Pre-pandemic, CEO Jennifer Hyman was prepping it to become the “Amazon Prime of rental” by diversifying into new areas. But when the pandemic hit, people went off the idea of renting clothes. It wiped $250 million from the company’s valuation, and Hyman was forced to close its stores and lay off or furlough half of its staff.