The rise and fall of Victoria's Secret, America's biggest lingerie retailer

Tuesday - 05/05/2020 09:05
Model Tyra Banks the Victoria's Secret fashion show Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1999 in New York. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Model Tyra Banks the Victoria's Secret fashion show Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1999 in New York. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Victoria's Secret is the largest lingerie retailer in the US and has been for several decades.

You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the US who hasn't come into contact with Victoria's Secret in one way or another. Since the late 1990s, Victoria's Secret has been one of the best-known and most talked-about brands in the country — increasingly, not in ways that it might hope for. 

But it has had a powerful role in defining what sexy is in the modern day via its racy lingerie and annual runway shows and in its heyday, these enabled the company to achieve blockbuster sales and reach global status.

Increasingly, the tide turned, however. Sales slipped, customers complained that quality had dropped, and analysts became more skeptical about the brand's future if it refuses to adapt in the era of #MeToo.

In February, the company took action, announcing that it was selling a 55% stake in the Victoria's Secret brand to a private equity firm that promised to execute a major turnaround effort. L Brands' longtime CEO and chairman Les Wexner also stepped down from the company at that time after nearly six decades at the helm. 

But in April, the private equity company that was due to acquire a majority stake in the brand filed a lawsuit in which it sought to back away from the deal. And while L Brands said it would "vigorously defend" the lawsuit, just weeks later the company confirmed that the deal had officially fallen through. 

Find out more about how the company achieved success —and stumbled more recently — below:

Victoria's Secret was founded in 1977 by American businessman Roy Raymond.

roy raymond
Roy Raymond (left). 
Wikimedia CommonsCaption

Inspired by an uncomfortable trip to a department store to buy underwear for his wife, Raymond set out to create a place where men would feel comfortable shopping for lingerie. He wanted to create a women's underwear shop that was targeted at men.  

He named the brand after the Victorian era in England, wanting to evoke the refinement of this period in his lingerie.

Victoria Secret vintage catalog 1982
Victoria's Secret

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. He chose the name 'Victoria' to evoke the propriety and respectability associated with the Victorian era; outwardly refined, Victoria's 'secrets' were hidden beneath."

He went on to open a handful of Victoria's Secret stores and launched its famous catalog. 

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