Victoria’s Secret is a brand that needs no introduction. With its iconic lingerie, fragrances, and beauty products, Victoria’s Secret has become a global phenomenon, synonymous with glamour, luxury, and beauty. But the brand’s journey to success was not without its challenges and controversies. In this blog post, we will explore the history of Victoria’s Secret, from its humble beginnings as a small lingerie shop to its current status as a global brand.
The Early Days of Victoria’s Secret
Victoria’s Secret was founded in 1977 by Roy Raymond, a Stanford University graduate who was looking for a comfortable and welcoming place to buy lingerie for his wife. Raymond felt embarrassed and uncomfortable shopping for lingerie in department stores, which he found to be dark, dingy, and not at all customer-friendly. He believed that there was a market for a store that would cater specifically to men who wanted to buy lingerie for their partners.
To bring his vision to life, Raymond raised $80,000 from family and friends and opened the first Victoria’s Secret store in a shopping center in Palo Alto, California. The store featured wood-paneled walls, plush carpeting, and comfortable seating, creating a warm and welcoming environment for male shoppers.
However, the store struggled in its early days. Raymond had underestimated the amount of inventory he needed, and many of the items he stocked were too risqué or inappropriate for his target market. Additionally, the store was located in a relatively low-traffic area and had trouble attracting customers.
Despite these early setbacks, Raymond was convinced that his concept had potential. He decided to pivot his strategy and focus on selling lingerie to women rather than men. He also introduced new product lines, including more conservative styles of lingerie and sleepwear.
The Rise of Victoria’s Secret
In 1982, Victoria’s Secret introduced its first catalog, which featured a wide range of lingerie styles and sizes. The catalog was an immediate success, with sales reaching $6 million in the first year alone. The catalog allowed Victoria’s Secret to reach a much larger audience than its brick-and-mortar stores, and it quickly became the brand’s primary marketing tool.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Victoria’s Secret continued to expand its product offerings and marketing strategies. The brand introduced its first fragrances in 1989, and its first swimsuit line in 1993. In 1995, Victoria’s Secret launched the “Angels” campaign, featuring supermodels such as Tyra Banks and Stephanie Seymour. The campaign was a huge success, and the models became synonymous with the brand.
One of Victoria’s Secret’s most successful marketing campaigns was the “Fantasy Bra,” which was first introduced in 1996. The Fantasy Bra was a bejeweled, one-of-a-kind bra that was worn by a different model each year at the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The bras were often worth millions of dollars, and they helped to create buzz and excitement around the brand.
In 1998, Victoria’s Secret was acquired by Limited Brands, which also owned Bath & Body Works and Express. Under the leadership of CEO Les Wexner, Victoria’s Secret continued to expand its product offerings and marketing strategies. The brand opened its first international stores in 2010 and launched its Pink line of lingerie and loungewear in 2004, targeting younger customers.
Controversies and Challenges
Despite its tremendous success, Victoria’s Secret has also faced a number of controversies and challenges over the years. One of the most frequent criticisms of the brand has been its narrow beauty standards and lack of diversity in its marketing campaigns and fashion shows. For many years, Victoria’s Secret featured only slim, conventionally attractive models in its advertisements, which some critics felt reinforced harmful beauty standards and excluded women who did not fit into the brand’s narrow definition of beauty.
In recent years, Victoria’s Secret has faced additional challenges. The brand’s sales have declined as consumers have shifted away from the hyper-sexualized image that Victoria’s Secret has long cultivated. In 2019, the brand announced that it was canceling its annual fashion show, which had been a cultural institution for over two decades. The decision to cancel the show was seen as a reflection of Victoria’s Secret’s declining relevance and its failure to adapt to changing cultural norms.
In addition to these challenges, Victoria’s Secret has also faced criticism for its treatment of employees and suppliers. In 2019, the New York Times reported that the company had a culture of misogyny and harassment and that it had been complicit in the sexual exploitation of migrant workers in its supply chain. The report prompted calls for boycotts and protests, and it sparked a wider conversation about the responsibility of corporations to ensure that their operations are ethical and sustainable.
Recent Changes and Attempts to Rebrand
In response to these challenges, Victoria’s Secret has made some significant changes in recent years. In 2020, the brand announced that it was ending its relationship with its longtime modeling agency and that it was pivoting away from its hyper-sexualized image. The brand also hired its first transgender model and its first plus-size model, signaling a commitment to greater diversity and inclusion.
In addition to these changes, Victoria’s Secret has also attempted to rebrand itself as a more inclusive and socially conscious company. In 2021, the brand announced that it was partnering with the women’s empowerment organization Girl Up to support programs that empower young women around the world. The brand has also announced that it will no longer airbrush its models in its advertising campaigns and that it will be more transparent about its sustainability and ethical practices.
Victoria’s Secret has come a long way since its founding in 1977. What started as a small lingerie shop in Palo Alto has grown into a global brand with a presence in over 70 countries. Along the way, the brand has faced challenges and controversies, but it has also significantly impacted the fashion industry and popular culture.
As Victoria’s Secret continues to evolve and adapt to changing cultural norms and consumer preferences, it will be interesting to see how the brand’s image and identity continue to evolve. While some may criticize the brand for perpetuating harmful beauty standards and for its past missteps, it is clear that Victoria’s Secret has played an important role in shaping the fashion industry and in creating a space for women to feel confident and beautiful in their own skin.