By Francesca Ionescu
A quick peek into a Victoria’s Secret shop will make you think the retailer’s main audience is women; teens in the PINK section spraying body mist amongst sports bras, silky pyjamas and the big group that giggles around the lace and garter straps. But the origins of the brand are more amongst the line from David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’.
A Stanford MBA named Roy Raymond, wanted to buy his wife some lingerie but he was too embarrassed to shop for it at a department store. Mid 1970s Roy Raymond came up with an idea that was meant to make men feel comfortable in a then female-space, and make women’s lingerie more appealing and modern. The store is “not English Victorian, but brothel Victorian with red velvet sofas” according to Leslie Wexner, CEO of L brands, confirming that men are the target audience of the shop even though the product is meant for women.
Victoria’s Secret never showed women fully nude, making sure the models were sexually desirable without scandalising the industry at the time. Roy Raymond might have had good intentions for the store, but after his suicide in 1993, the company stayed with Wexner.
The first Victoria’s Secret show was inaugurated in 1995, with 2 million people watching the first internet broadcast in 1999. Every year, top celebrities would perform in the show, attracting people not necessarily for the fashion but for the show, the extravaganza and glamour of the concept. So what happened in the past 24 years that led to the cancellation of the show which was announced on the 21st of November? Was it truly for “rebranding” or was the show just socially unaware?
Stuart Burgdoerfer, the chief financial officer of L brands said they “think it’s important to evolve the marketing of Victoria’s Secret.” The 2018 show had the lowest ratings since the first launch, and the company had already suffered a loss in revenue after its decision to leave behind swimwear, which was the top retailer. Their return to swimwear in 2018 was futile, as smaller brands grew in this space and offered a range of swimwear, often at more affordable prices. The rise of Rihanna’s inclusive lingerie brand Fenty also took away a lot of Victoria’s Secrets possible customers, as Fenty’s marketing is a lot more suiting to a 21st century audience.
In 2018, the chief of marketing at the time, Ed Razek referred to transgender women as “transsexuals” and said they wouldn’t be cast in the show as the show is “fantasy”. Razek went on to say plus size models wouldn’t be cast either as there’s no interest in a show including them as they tried one in 2000. Razek didn’t acknowledge the massive difference between early 2000s and 2019, which leaves a gap through which Fenty was able to grow. This was because their marketing includes all type of women, all races, backgrounds and looks.
Rihanna’s brand, Fenty created its own lingerie show which was more than just a catwalk, using futuristic staging and dance on top of the live music.
Rihanna brought a huge breath of fresh air when the models looked a lot more comfortable with themselves; she responded to a fan’s question about casting a transgender model in a classy manner ,saying that she doesn’t want to use trans women as a ‘convenient marketing tool’ and doesn’t make them disclose whether the girls she hires have transitioned. Duckie Thot and Slick Woods are only a few of the models which would have been turned down by a Victoria’s Secret show cast ,which usually has a very standard line up with only one or two women of colour, which often brought the criticism that they’re being used for ‘diversity points ‘.
In the end it will probably be a long time before Victoria’s Secret ever brings their show back, until they come to terms that times have changed and they’re brand will hopefully grow into that. Women don’t want to see objectification used to create a ‘male-fantasy’. Women want to see a show, they want to see themselves in that show and they want to be able to know what lingerie will look like on them, on their body and their skin, and Victoria’s Secret’s failure to deliver that backfired on their entire empire.