Victoria's Secret From Men's Dream to Women's Nightmare

Categories: Fashion


A vital component of business existence is demand, which is driven by its customers. However, customers tend to change over time, as well as other stakeholders and external influences of said business.

The Business Environment is a broad and all-embracing term that encompasses any and all influences which are external to the organization in question. ( Brooks & Weatherston, 1997, p. 4)

Abercrombie & Fitch, JCPenny, and the Banana Republic do these firms ring a bell? Once popular, but now forgotten. These companies are the perfect examples of failing to understand a changing environment and poor adaptation to it.

As the old maxim goes, success is hard to achieve and even harder to maintain. Therefore, for companies to remain successful and profitable, comprehension of the business environment and further actions are vital.

To facilitate the analysis of the market, industries have developed various business models.

One of the tools used by marketers to analyze and monitor the macro-environmental factors is PESTEL analysis. Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal factors are considered while applying PESTEL analysis.

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In this report, I will focus on the importance of social changes, or more specifically, change in customer bases and their preferences.

To get a full picture of the external factors the next step would be to evaluate the competitive market, using Porter’s Five Forces model. This tool allows companies to take their competitors’ activities into account regarding Competitive Rivalry, Threats of New Entrants, the Threat of Substitutes, Supplier’s & Buyers Power.

Victoria’s Secret started as a store for men and later switched to female customers.

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The brand has revolutionized the lingerie market, by completely switching women’s perception of bras, once considered merely a functional item now transformed into a way of expressing your personality. However, nowadays the brand is struggling to keep up with changing social attitudes and fast-growing market competition.

This essay will start with an outline of Victoria’s Secret history and success, followed by a transition into the nature of the dynamic environment around it, which will be exhibited through PESTEL and Porter’s Five Forces, and concluded with how well the brand has adapted to those changes to stay afloat.

Brand’s History

Victoria Secret’s founder Roy Raymond after an unpleasant visit to a department store in the hope to buy his wife lingerie, but instead faced with “ floral, unappealing nightdresses”, sparked with an idea to create a place where men would feel comfortable shopping for lingerie. Therefore, the brand was initially targeted at men. The name Victoria was chosen to be associated with the Victorian era in England and to evoke respectability and propriety. 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.”

Raymond opened the first store in Palo Alto, California in 1977. Victoria’s Secret was born. The undergarment market was revolutionized: lingerie wasn’t only about special occasions anymore. A catalog featuring sexy underwear reached customers across the country. The business was flourishing. By 1982 Raymond’s company was earning 4 million dollars annually.

Despite this fact, Victoria’s Secret was on the edge of bankruptcy. It was till Leslie Wexner came into the store and saw the sexiest lingerie he had ever seen in the US. Wexner, the founder of L Brands ( formerly Limited Brands), was booming at the time and looking for new brands to venture. In July 1982, Limited acquired Victoria’s Secret’s six stores and its catalog for $1 million.

Wexner found out the flaw in Raymond’s approach: by pursuing a male audience, Victoria’s Secret was failing to attract a significant amount of female customers. Leslie studied European lingerie boutiques, where female customers perceive lingerie as an everyday essential, and anticipated a huge potential market for sexy and affordable lingerie to exist between luxury and cheap.

The chief of L Brands saw a capability to broader customer range and seized it. Renewed Victoria’s Secret entered the market in the 1980’s right when women raised with many revolutionary ideas were entering the workforce. The sexual revolution encouraged them to embrace their own sexiness, while the workplace revolution meant the millions more of them had disposable income. And they didn’t want to spend that income on old-fashioned choices they were trying to delay. So they spent it on bras. Women flocked to the stores while men continued to ogle the catalog. By the early 1990s, Victoria’s Secret had become the largest lingerie retailer in the US, with 350 stores and sales topping at 1 billion dollars. In 1995, the famous Victoria’s Secret show was born, later becoming an integral part of the brand’s image.

At present Victoria’s Secret is still remaining one of the largest retailers of underwear. However, lately, it seems to be losing some of its magic. Fashion shows ratings have steadily fallen since 2011, reaching a historic low in 2018. Same-store sales have fallen three years in a row and the stock value of L Brands fell by 55% in 2018. This brings us to possible reasons that might have influenced such declines.

Social Changes

The main reason for such a downturn is social changes.

Firstly, in recent years society started increasingly prioritize comfort and a more natural look. The whole attitude of sexiness is very different today than it was 5 years ago. Comfort in the new black, as it said. Victoria’s Secret was slow to adjust to a shift from padded and push-up bras toward bralettes and sports bras, missing out on a major fashion trend. By the time VS introduced barrettes in 2016, the market was already crowded with brands like Aerie, ThridLove, and Soma. Same story with the athleisure products, which value market grew by over 40% from 2013 to 2018. Therefore, when the brand introduced its athleisure line in 2016, it had to compete against existing giants like Lululemon and Nike.

Secondly, the company is failing to adjust to a growing movement to represent all types of people and bodies. While their competitors increasingly emphasize racial, body and gender inclusivity in their messaging. Victoria’s Secret still claims to their Angels, who externalize the slim yet busty looks that consumers increasingly shun as unrealistic and demeaning. Giving all said, Ed Razek, the chief marketing officer, still managed to deteriorate the situation even worse when in Vogue interview 2018 stated that neither plus-size nor transgender model will be featured in the show, because “the show is a fantasy”. This caused huge indignation from society, claiming the retailer is transphobic and outdated. The company’s competitor ThirdLove called out the brand in The New York Times, saying: “You market to men and sell a male fantasy to women. Haven’t we moved beyond outdated ideas of feminity and gender roles?”

Thirdly, Victoria’s Secret could face a backlash from consumers who increasingly care about the company’s ethics. A 2018 Mintel report notes that 97% of U.S. consumers think it is at least somewhat important that the company behaves ethically. Victoria’s Secret consistently rates poorly on the annual Ethical Fashion report and has faced a slew of accusations during the years, including reports of child and slave labor.

Competitors Market

Talking about competitors, the Threat of Substitutes is extremely high as, Third Love, Aerie and other up-and-coming women’s underwear brands are becoming more popular as they add more size options for women, provide tools that help to find the perfect size, and promote messages of “body positivity.” The lingerie industry itself looks newly inclusive, with a wave of newcomers embracing body positivity—not airbrushed perfection. Upstarts like Universal Standard’s Polina Veksler and Alex Waldman, who put a trans woman in their Foundation campaign and whose pieces sell in sizes from 00 to 40.

Perhaps the most mortal competitor to Victoria’s Secret dominance is none other than Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty, which made all of the headlines when pregnant model Slick Woods walked the runway in pasties, a strappy teddy, and stilettos.

The Threat of New Entrants is also rising as new brands are cropping up, realizing there is a lot of opportunities in the market when sending the right message and promoting inclusivity.

Competitive Rivalry for Victoria’s Secret is great, as the brand’s loyalty is decreasing giving the changes in priorities, the amount of well-established competitors is high and continues growing and the differentiation between products is not significant. Which makes the Power of Buyers high as well. There are a lot of customers and a lot of other brands, the switching costs are relatively low, messages sent by competitors are more customer orientated and the brand’s loyalty continues to diminish.


The question left is: was the brand’s adaptations to those changes successful or not?

Firstly, considering the scandal with Ed Razek’s statement, the chief officer later apologized, stating: “To be clear, we would absolutely cast a transgender model for the show”. In August 2019, Victoria’s Secret has reportedly hired its first openly transgender model. The Brazilian transgender model Valentina Sampaio shared a photo of herself on Instagram and tagged Victoria’s Secret Pink brand.

In March 2018, L Brands’ shareholders stepped in by writing a fiery letter to Wexner, urging him to update the brand’s image and switch up its predominantly male board of directors. Razek was also called out as well.

‘In our view, Mr. Razek has done a poor job of stewarding Victoria’s Secret’s brand by failing to communicate a compelling, up-to-date image that resonates with today’s consumers,’ Barrington Group CEO James A. Mitarotonda wrote.

He added: ‘While we recognize that Victoria’s Secret cannot be all things to all people, we believe that the Company should be delivering a more inclusive marketing message that promotes a more expansive view of beauty.” In August company declared that Ed Razhek is stepping down.

The company is now trying a few tactics to turn the trend around. First, they plan to reenter the swim suite category. Second, they pursue collaborations with brands like Ugg boots and fashion designers like Balmain and Mary Katranzou. Finally, the company is looking at paring back its real estate, as analysts have argued it has far too many stores across the country. L brand announced that they will be closing 53 stores this year, which follows up to 30 in 2018.

VS has harnessed the power of social media, as well. When Kim Kardashian West’s stylist approached the company with an idea for Halloween costumes, Victoria’s Secret lent lingerie and Angel wings from past shows. (Kendall Jenner walks the VS runway, but not her curvier sisters.) The resulting photos were seen by nearly 500 million of the family members’ cumulative followers. Those are sexy numbers, although a June report indicated that comparable sales at Victoria’s Secret are down, as is the company’s market share.

In May L Brands announced the show has been canceled for 2019. Earlier this year, Wexner said to employees in an internal memo that the company didn’t think ‘network television is the right fit’ for the show.

Most people are critical of VS’s marketing, so if the brand was to readdress its fashion show, they should consider to roll out more sizes and be more inclusive.

L Brands admitting its Victoria’s Secret marketing needs change marks a key shift for a company. But the company doesn’t seem to be trying to change its products or messaging to keep up with shifting consumers’ priorities. At least, not as fast or successfully as its competition.


Victoria’s Secret – a brand initially orientated to attract men, later adapted to the female customers and revolutionized the lingerie market, has been dominant in the industry for over two decades. Success can be explained by elaborate marketing to the women at the time by appealing to their self-embracement wishes and disposable income. Although, for the past few years Victoria’s Secret seems to lose its hinge for understanding what customers desire. Social changes have taken place and now comfort is the new sexy. Moreover, the brand neglects the power of inclusivity. In hope that their message of “ Angel Fantasy” will stay unchanged and undoubted forever, they keep promoting perfect body with their 90-60-90 models. However, customers do not appreciate such an approach and flee away to more competent and body-positive brands. The competitive market keeps growing with brands such as Aerie, ThirdLove and Savage x Fenty taking over customers’ affection and loyalty.

The brand’s ‘arrogance’ towards the adaption to the changing environment in hope that their brand image and message are so strong that they will go through an era of tolerance, equality and self-acceptance have led them to the falling sales and the loss of customers’ loyalty. Better later then never, Victoria’s Secret has finally started to take steps towards readjusting to the dynamic environment around it. Hiring their first transgender model, closing stores and canceling the annual show to rethink the brand’s marketing – all of these are so much needed changes. But the question is: isn’t it too late? So far, we can say that taken measures did not give desirable results. In the upcoming year, we will have a chance of observing the consequences of VS’s changed policy toward their marketing. Time will show. Will Victoria’s Secret be able to return to its pedestal or the days of slim models wearing laced undergarments are over?

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Victoria's Secret From Men's Dream to Women's Nightmare. (2021, Aug 16). Retrieved from

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