We headed to Victoria’s Secret’s flagship store in London on a sunny afternoon.
It’s located on New Bond Street, one of the more upscale shopping areas in London.
The most immediate difference we noticed was the marketing in its store windows.
In the past, these would have shown racy images of its Angels. But with the Angels brand behind them, these were swapped out for more body-positive campaigns where the focus is on a day-to-day, toned-down look of underwear.
The store seemed radically different when we walked in. Previously, the lights were dimmed, music was booming, and images of its Angels (that have been described as borderline pornographic by some shoppers) covered the walls.
On this visit, it instantly felt more modern and light inside.
But as we headed deeper inside the ground floor area, it felt a lot more similar to the old Victoria’s Secret than we had first thought.
The lights may have been turned up but its signature pink, black, and white interior remained…
A spokesperson for Victoria’s Secret told Insider that it plans to completely redo all its stores eventually. For the moment, some stores will only have more minor aesthetic changes.
…as did its boudoir-like fitting rooms.
While we weren’t expecting the interior to be completely redone, we were expecting to see the more toned-down lingerie that appeared in the windows to be front and center of the store.
Instead, it put its most risque lingerie near the entrance, including its “Very Sexy,” “Luxe,” and “Dream Angels” collections.
It might have abandoned the Angels and its racy marketing but it felt like it’s not quite ready for the product to match that.
Its signature push-up bras were in prime position but plus-size mannequins, maternity bras, and more casual underwear were nowhere to be seen.
As we headed to the staircase at the back of the store we noticed a major change.
In the past, videos of its Angels walking its annual runway show would have run on a loop on the screens behind the staircase. When we visited, these videos had been swapped out for shots featuring curvier women.
As we headed up to the next floor, we were immediately greeted by a stand showcasing one of its partnerships with a British lingerie brand.
The brand on display, Bluebella, was outspoken about the lack of inclusivity in the lingerie world before it partnered up with Victoria’s Secret. The tagline of its new collection for Victoria’s Secret is: “Lingerie designed for women who buy lingerie to please themselves.”
This was our first glimpse of its swimwear collection.
Victoria’s Secret scrapped swimwear along with some of its apparel offerings in order to focus on underwear in April 2016. It brought this back in 2018.
This area of the store was dedicated to its more laid-back styles, including athleisurewear.
We were surprised to see that there wasn’t a bigger focus on these casual styles at the entrance of the store.
We found a mix of sports bras and casual T-shirt bra styles here.
Next, we headed down to the bottom, and final, floor of the store.
This sprawling section is devoted it its Pink brand, which is targeted at college-age and teen customers.
This was the first time we spotted its new fuller-sized, mannequins. Victoria’s Secret is promising to bring these to all of its stores.
While analysts have praised the mannequins as a more inclusive move, some shoppers say it’s still falling short by not offering enough extended sizes.
“If I’m a size 14, which is on the smaller end of the plus-size range, and the largest panties Victoria’s Secret makes are uncomfortably tight on me, I think about the 50% or more of women who are still unable to wear the brand,” writer Mandy Shunnarah said after visiting Victoria’s Secret’s pilot store in Columbus.
Victoria’s Secret said it offers up to a size 20, though not in all styles.
The Pink brand was once the strongest part of Victoria’s Secret’s portfolio from a sales perspective. But around 2018, sales slipped at the brand and it was forced to lean on heavy discounting to shift stock.
While we still spotted a discount section at Pink, there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of product on sale.
At that time, other teen-focused brands such as American Eagle’s Aerie started to take market share with more inclusive marketing and body-positive campaigns that resonated with young shoppers.
Pink is clearly doubling down on this now. Videos promoting its campaigns around diversity and inclusion were playing in the background of the cash register for customers to watch while they check out their shopping.
Pink is known for being a logo-heavy brand, something that analysts have said can be detrimental. If a brand stops being seen as trendy, shoppers no longer see the value in their logos and they spend elsewhere, for example.
Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands said Friday it will spend $90 million beefing up the process to report and investigate sexual harassment cases and improve diversity and inclusion governance.
The news comes after shareholders sued longtime execs over its alleged “entrenched culture of misogyny, bullying, and harassment.”
Two shareholders filed lawsuits after a New York Times investigation in 2020 found a culture “of misogyny, bullying, and harassment” at the brand, which former longtime L Brands marketing chief Ed Razek and former CEO Les Wexner were accused of creating.
L Brands was named as a nominal defendant in these lawsuits.
In one lawsuit filed in June 2020, shareholder Milton Rudi sued Wexner and Razek, alleging that they had “allowed and enabled L Brands to develop a hostile abusive environment rife with sexual harassment” which ultimately, “irreparably harmed” the company.
In another suit, filed in a Delaware court in January this year, shareholder Nancy Lambrecht sued Wexner, Razek, and other senior-level employees for Victoria’s Secret’s “entrenched culture of misogyny, bullying, and harassment, as well as ties to Jeffrey Epstein and other egregious mismanagement.”
Insider reached out to the plaintiff’s lawyers but did not immediately hear back.
L Brands did not confirm whether the case against Wexner, Razek, and other execs had been settled. However, it said that its move to strengthen corporate governance is the “full and final resolution” from the company’s perspective.
“This global resolution, with its commitment to industry-leading governance policies, is an overwhelmingly positive result for the Company and its stockholders,” Sarah Nash, chair of the board, said Friday.
L Brands has committed to spending $45 million over five years at each Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works to fund its governance policies. L Brands will be split in two next month; Victoria’s Secret will become its own public company.
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.
A post shared by Victoria’s Secret (@victoriassecret)
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 plans to revive its annual runway show in the future – only without its Angels this time.
Victoria’s Secret canceled its runway show in November 2019, 24 years after it launched in 1995. Les Wexner, then CEO of parent company L Brands, said at the time that the company didn’t think “network television is the right fit” for the show and that it was rethinking “literally everything” about the business.
In its heyday in the late 90s and early to mid-2000s, the event attracted millions of viewers. The show, and the costumes, became more elaborate as the years went on.
Ed Razek, the brains behind the show and L Brands’ marketing chief, was considered one of the most influential people in modeling throughout the early 2000s, and helped launch the careers of household names such as Gisele Bündchen, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum.
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.
Wexner, who stepped down as CEO of its parent company L Brands in February 2020 and from its board in March, has been selling large chunks of stock over the past few months – most recently, $745 million-worth.
Wexner and his wife Abigail are among the company’s largest shareholders. According to Bloomberg, this latest sale would leave them with around a 10% stake in the company.
Up until he stepped down last year, Wexner was the longest-serving CEO of any Fortune 500 company. He was credited with transforming Victoria’s Secret into a global powerhouse.
“At some point in your life we are all betrayed by friends,” Wexner said in a statement at the time. “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.”
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.
Burberry came clean about burning clothes and said it “used specialist incinerators that harness energy from the process.” The destroyed goods totaled about $37 million, compared to Burberry’s revenue of $3.8 billion that year.
“Burberry has insisted it’s recycling the clothing into energy, except the energy that is recouped from burning clothing doesn’t come anywhere near the energy that was used to create the garments,” Timo Rissanen, an associate dean at Parsons School of Design and a professor of fashion design and sustainability told Vox in a 2018 interview.
Chanel and Louis Vuitton have also participated in the burning of merchandise. Richemont, the Swiss company behind brands like Cartier and Montblanc, said in 2018 it had destroyed more than $500 million worth of watches to keep them out of the hands of resellers.
In response to ITV’s reporting, an Amazon spokesperson told Insider that no clothes were sent to landfills, but “as a last resort,” some may be sent to “energy recovery.”
“We’re working hard to drive the number of times this happens down to zero,” Amazon said.
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.
The lingerie giant said Wednesday that it was partnering with a group of inspirational women – including gender-rights activists and entrepreneurs – to promote a new brand image and shape its turnaround.
These women, who include Indian actor and entrepreneur Priyanka Chopra Jonas and pro soccer player and gender rights activist Megan Rapinoe, will effectively take on the role of the Victoria’s Secret Angels by becoming the face and voice of the brand.
Victoria’s Secret’s Angels have been synonymous with the brand since the late 1990s. These women, who have included some of the world’s most famous models over the years – Gisele Bündchen, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum to name a few – were the face of the brand through its marketing campaigns and infamous annual runway shows.
In an interview with The New York Times, Victoria’s Secret CEO Martin Waters said that Angels were not “culturally relevant.”
In its heyday, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Victoria’s Secret runway show had a powerful role defining what “sexy” was in the modern day. In more recent times, it has been criticized for being outdated.
Ed Razek, former longtime marketing chief at the brand’s parent company, L Brands, was the brains behind the fashion show. Razek was considered one of the most influential people in modeling throughout the early 2000s, helping to launch the careers of some of the world’s most famous models.