What Happened to Victoria’s Secret – and Why Their Relaunch Misses the Mark

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Victoria’s Secret recently announced its much-anticipated rebrand – but has been met with disappointment and frustration. Previously known as the largest lingerie retailer in the US, it’s surprising to see such a large corporation get it so wrong in recent years.

Let’s take a look at the decline of this once-popular underwear brand.

Lack of Diversity

Victoria’s Secret has always lacked diversity. Take a look at one of their popular runway shows and you will clearly see a lack of colour, ethnicities, sizes and trans models. The a-typical Victoria’s Secret model was tall, white, straight and uncommonly slender; only a small percentage of the world’s population has similar proportions. This lack of inclusivity once made the company feel exclusive and aspirational. But the last decade has seen a huge turnaround for diversity and inclusion – and Victoria’s Secret have failed to keep up.

Tone-Deaf Adverts

Victoria’s Secret are infamous for consistently releasing tone-deaf adverts that are fat-shaming. In 2015, VS launched an advertising campaign with the slogan ‘The Perfect Body’. Naturally, their received heavy criticism for this offensive advert. VS have always been criticised for promoting unhealthy and unrealistic body expectations; their own models frequently speak out about the demands made of them to lose weight.

Victoria’s Secret Models Speak Out

Some models claim VS exacerbated their eating disorders because they were made to lose weight quickly or else be taken off the show. Ex-VS model Bridget Malcolm often discusses her negative experiences with the brand, even posting before and after photos of her healthy weight gain on social media to truly highlight the tiny body she was expected to have whilst with the brand.

Damaging Remarks from the Bosses

The fact that Victoria’s Secret was a predominantly male-led company running a sexy lingerie brand for women is strange in itself. But the questionable and often downright hideous remarks made by these bosses were truly shocking. Misogyny and sexism were rife in the VS offices, with derogatory comments often made about models’ bodies. When asked about considering plus-size or trans models for the VS shows, Ed Razek – former VS boss – said the following:

“Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.”

He resigned from his position at Victoria’s Secret in 2019.

The New York Times published an expose on sexual harassment claims within the company, mentioning Ed Razek. To add to their troubles, it was alleged that former CEO Leslie Wexner penalised anyone who spoke up about the sexual harassment.

Too Little, Too Late

Victoria’s Secret seemingly buried its head and refused to diversify, which led to protests in 2018 demanding more visibility of various body types on the VS runways. Online petitions also started on Instagram, criticising the brand for its lack of body and skin colour diversity. The hashtag #WeAreAllAngels blew up, receiving thousands of shares.

Victoria’s Secret noticed the negativity they were receiving and, in a bid to (finally) keep up to date, in 2019 they hired their first-ever “plus-size” model. VS had never before represented a curvier or more voluptuous figure – but they were soon criticised for doing “too little, too late”. What’s more, the plus-size model they hired – Ali Tate-Cutler – has herself been accused of fat-shaming in the past. Add the act that Ali is only a size 14 – the national dress size average here in the UK – and it’s clear to see why many believed this attempt at inclusivity was a failure.

In November 2019, Victoria’s Secret pulled the plug on their famous runway show following a decline in viewership. Les Wexner, then CEO of parent company L Brands, said of the cancellation that the company “didn’t think network television is the right fit” and that they were “rethinking literally everything” about the business.

The 2022 Rebrand

When Victoria’s Secret was forced to close its stores in China due to poor performance in the Chinese market, they announced their intention to stop selling swimwear and clothing – which ultimately came off as ill-timed and insincere.

New brand ambassadors were soon announced. These 7 high-achieving women – called the VS collective – are to advise the brand and appear in adverts. They include Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, footballer Megan Rapinoe and trans model Valentina Sampaio.

Then, when the brand finally relaunched this year, people were left incredibly underwhelmed. The underwear is staying – but in boring, muted colours. They may now be hiring models with a more diverse look, but they have completely erased what made the brand so iconic – the sex appeal.

It seems as though Victoria’s Secret has, yet again, missed the mark with its newest attempt at relevance. It’s great to see transgender model Valentina Sampaio (the first trans model to appear in a VS campaign), plus-size model Paloma Elsesser and older model Iman in the latest VS advertisements. But it’s almost as if the brand is saying you can’t be sexy, or wear sexy lingerie, if you don’t look like one of the iconic 90s models. Why not keep the incredible runway show and the gorgeous lingerie, and just include a more realistic and inclusive representation of women?   

The VS relaunch feels like a very missed opportunity for the once-iconic brand – and they may have missed their one last shot at redemption.

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