American retailer Victoria’s Secret and its heavenly, winged Angels have long been lauded for presenting and marketing lingerie in a unique way, particularly through its annual televised Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show on CBS.
Since the first show in 1995, the network television extravaganza featured models strutting down a runway scantily clad in metamorphized underwear, accompanied by big names in music. The likes of Shawn Mendes, Harry Styles, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, The Weeknd, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift have provided the soundtrack to the show in the recent past.
It’s undeniable that Victoria’s Secret’s Angels of the past — think Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Adriana Lima and Gisele Bündchen — and present are beautiful women. Unfortunately for the brand, in modern times where ideals of women’s body standards are shifting toward a more diverse narrative, Victoria’s Secret’s traditional marketing strategy is no longer relevant with consumers.
Through its lack of size inclusivity, the brand has been pushing an unhealthy ideal of the tall, skinny, toned, clear-skinned and hairless model onto the contemporary consumer.
A Victoria’s Secret storefront, physical or digital, can often be “sexy” in an intimidating way for a regular person. The Angels plastered on the walls are far from inviting, and may only play into the insecurities of today’s women and girls.
Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty brand reinvented and embraced the evolving ideal of sexy utilizing body positivity in its runway shows and on its website. The Savage X Fenty 2018 show shook up the fashion industry with its diverse and inclusive model line-up, and even featured two pregnant models showing off their beautiful bellies to the audience. Rihanna’s makeup and lingerie brands have been praised for bringing in and normalizing greater diversity in the beauty and fashion industries.
Victoria’s Secret’s parent company L Brands cited the reason for the show’s cancellation as quite something different from popular thought. The company didn’t believe that “network television is the right fit for the show” and is currently “rethinking literally everything” when it comes to recreating the event in magnitude, said CEO Les Wexner.
This is an oversimplification of the broader problem with Victoria’s Secret as a brand. It was revealed earlier this year that Les Wexner was connected to and a long-time friend of convicted sex offender and disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
In a contentious 2018 interview with Vogue magazine, Ed Razek, former chief marketing officer at L Brands, sparked public outrage when he said that “transsexuals” and plus-size women weren’t featured in the show because “the show is a fantasy.”
His comments received appropriate backlash. Celebrities like Halsey, who performed at the 2018 show and critiqued it for a lack of diversity among the models, and Karlie Kloss, who gave up her wings in 2015 to study at New York University and distance herself from the brand’s archaic “fantasy,” criticized Razek in support of transgender and plus-size communities.
Last year’s show received a record low viewership of 3.3 million people as people boycotted the event, and thus, Razek finally retired in August this year.
L Brands has since tried to undo some of the damage to its image, hiring its first transgender model, Valentina Sampaio, for Victoria’s Secret athletic wear line, Pink. It also hired an apparently more size-inclusive Angel in the form of Barbara Palvin, who is a great and deserving woman, but many would argue that she is hardly a departure from the show’s current marketing strategy.
Victoria’s Secret is losing its footing in the fashion industry of the 21st century, as other brands stride forward and progress toward encompassing more holistic narratives and forms of representation in their marketing.