‘The true spectrum’: Victoria’s Secret ditches Angels to push empowerment
The American lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret, known for peddling all manner of lacy, strappy underwear often designed more for allure than practicality, is doing away with its Angels models in a radical revamp of its commercial approach.
The Angels – a corps of notably thin catwalkers who would strut in heavy wings and sky-high stilettos during Victoria’s Secret’s televised fashion shows – will be replaced by seven new figureheads described as “accomplished women who share a common passion to drive positive change.”
These women, comprising The VS Collective, lean prominently towards sporty and activist types in a fundamental re-angling for the company.
The new group includes the champion US soccer player, women’s pay equity advocate and prominent anti-Donald Trump voice Megan Rapinoe, actor-entrepreneur Priyanka Chopra Jonas, LGBTQ+ activist and model Valentina Sampaio, model and South Sudanese refugee Adut Akech, British journalist and equality advocate Amanda de Cadenet, champion Chinese-American freestyle skier Eileen Gu, as well as model and body-positivity advocate Paloma Elsesser.
“I am humbled to join this group of incredible women to drive change within the Victoria’s Secret brand and beyond. So often I felt myself on the outside looking in with brands in the beauty and fashion industry, and I’m thrilled to be creating a space that sees the true spectrum of ALL women,” Rapinoe said in a press release.
She added: “I believe in the power of authenticity and community and am excited to show what can be done through The VS Collective.”
Sampaio, who has become a transgender change-maker in the fashion industry, said she believed in the power of the new group of women representing the brand.
Victoria’s Secret has long been known for a marketing portrayal of femininity regarded by many as perpetuating sexist stereotypes.
Sampaio said: “Together we can raise our vibration and catalyze positive change throughout the world. Being a trans woman often means facing closed doors to people’s hearts. As a powerful global platform, Victoria’s Secret is committed to opening these doors for trans women like me, by celebrating, uplifting and advocating for ALL women.”
The man at the top of the company, chief executive Martin Waters, pointed to an “incredible journey” for the brand, though adding a perhaps improbable goal.
“At Victoria’s Secret, we are on an incredible journey to become the world’s leading advocate for women,” Waters said in a press release.
He added: “This is a dramatic shift for our brand, and it’s a shift that we embrace from our core. These new initiatives are just the beginning. We are energized and humbled by the work ahead of us.”
The chief financial officer, Martha Pease, noted a mission to “transform how we connect with and show up for women”.
The underwear titan announced a new podcast series and a new fund to boost research into cancers that affect women, especially funding female scientists in the field.
Of course, this rebranding did not occur in a vacuum. Victoria’s Secret’s stake in the US women’s undergarment market dipped to 21% in 2020, down from 32% in 2015, the New York Times reported. (The next most popular brand is Hanesbrands, which holds 16% of this market.)
Slumping sales stemmed from a variety of factors. For years, competing brands who cast themselves as “the anti-Victoria’s Secret, complete with more typical women’s bodies and a focus on inclusivity and diversity” grew more popular.
“In the old days, the Victoria brand had a single lens, which was called ‘sexy’,” Waters told the newspaper. That included eschewing products such as maternity and post-mastectomy bras, which were perceived as un-sexy.
Victoria’s Secret, launched in 1977 as a “store where men could feel comfortable shopping for lingerie”, with advertising catering to straight males, was increasingly perceived as outdated, the New York Times article mentioned.
In 2019, Victoria’s Secret did respond to long-term criticism that it propped up homogeneous beauty standards, spurned trans women and allegedly failed to protect models. It canceled its runway show and teamed up with lingerie company Bluebella, promising to “encourage self-love, self-respect and self-worth. Because everybody is worth celebrating.”
While the so-called Angels won’t be part of Victoria’s Secret, the stores will continue to sell items such as thongs and lacy intimates but will expand its offerings, particularly with sportswear. And Victoria’s Secret will soon start offering nursing bras for sale.
But the company was also dogged by controversy surrounding Leslie Wexner, who founded its parent company, L Brands. Wexner had links with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. More, reports had revealed “a misogynistic corporate culture that trafficked in sexism, sizeism and ageism”.
It seems that Victoria’s Secret is also trying to address this baggage as part of its rebranding. L Brands announced that Victoria’s Secret would be separated from L Brands and be its own publicly traded company.
Victoria’s Secret’s new board is expected to consist of seven directors, “six of whom are independent and six of whom are women”, including the chair, L Brands made sure to point out. Wexner, who stepped down from L Brands last year, will not be involved with the new, spun off company.