Can Victoria’s Secret still be saved?
A time when Victoria’s Secret store opening was done with great fanfare but also a time when the annual parade of the American brand was an event not to be missed. But that time (not so long ago) is finally over. Suffering from a tarnished image and a competition that has captured the spirit of the times before it, the lingerie giant is now trying to redeem its conduct and the popularity that goes with it. But can he really do it?
In turmoil since 2018, Victoria’s Secret brand could finally have found its savior in the person of Raul Martinez. Presented at the beginning of December as the new creative director of the American label, he has worked in this capacity for a long time at Vogue US, as well as Vanity Fair and GQ. But even more than his experience in the press, he also founded in 1995 the creative agency AR New York, which notably counted among its clients luxury fashion houses such as Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and Valentino, before being sold to Publicis in 2012.
Engaged to enhance the image of VS, he expressed, in an internal memo taken up by the press a few days ago, his intention to imagine with his teams “an offer that celebrates all women … and which be both aspirational and inclusive ”. A sizeable mission gave the brand’s shortcomings in this area in recent years. Based on the early 90s on an aesthetic promoting a unique beauty (waist and thin limbs, buttocks, and plump breasts), her model has not only failed to represent women with morphologies that do not suit her ideal but also those who do not. weren’t interested in her bestseller: the push-up bra. Because if it has been able to adapt rather quickly to new technologies as they evolve,
In November 2018, while his competitors were gradually positioning themselves in a more inclusive segment, Ed Razek, at the time the brand’s marketing director, expressed his lack of enthusiasm at the idea of revising his strategy. While sales have already been declining for nearly three years, he gave an interview to the Vogue magazine website in which he said: “I think we are constantly adapting to changes in the market. If you want to know if we’ve given any thought to scrolling a transgender model or a plus-size model, yes we have. We invented the plus-size runway, with our sister brand, Lane Bryant.
Lane Bryant still sells plus-size lingerie, but it’s a specific segment, just like other specialty brands around the world. Just like what Victoria’s Secret does. We have a marketing strategy that targets our customers, not the whole world. We tried to set up a special TV show, focused on plus-size fashion (in 2000). It didn’t interest anyone and it still is. And to continue: “People ask me: Why don’t you do this? Shouldn’t you be scrolling through transsexual models? No. No, I do not think so. Why? Because this parade is a fantasy. It is a 42-minute entertainment program. That’s all. ” Why don’t you do this? Shouldn’t you be scrolling through transsexual models? No. No, I do not think so. Why? Because this parade is a fantasy. It is a 42-minute entertainment program. That’s all. ” Why don’t you do this? Shouldn’t you be scrolling through transsexual models? No. No, I do not think so. Why? Because this parade is a fantasy. It is a 42-minute entertainment program. That’s all. “
Highly relayed, the interview goes around the world and helps to further damage the image of the brand, already undermined by the capacity of certain other players in the lingerie market, such as Aerie or Savage Fenty, to capture the spirit of the times faster than she. The first has not retouched its ads since 2014 and has posed various models since the launch of its #aeriereal campaign. As for the second, launched in 2018 only, it has already distinguished itself by showing models of all sizes and morphologies as well as transgender models. Broadcast on Amazon Prime, the show already seems to have supplanted that of Victoria’s Secret in the hearts of the public. Realizing her mistakes, the latter recruited two new muses in 2019: Barbara Palvin (with whom the brand has already collaborated since 2012) and Valentina Sampaio. The first, very subtly pulpier than its peers, and the second, transgender, embody the new path taken by the brand.
A CAPACITY FOR REINVENTION THAT HAS ALREADY PROVEN ITSELF
But to be able to find a solid clientele and sustainably improve its image, the brand will have to reinvent itself in depth. If the bralettes and bras without underwire are now well established in its collections, it is on the bottom that it will have to prove itself. The challenge? Show sincerity in new approaches and demonstrate that they are not just the sum of a well-orchestrated marketing strategy. For this, she announced in particular last year her desire to become a band created “by women for women”. A few days ago, it took its first concrete action in this area by appointing Martha Pease as Marketing Director. The Boston Consulting Group, the Lifetime television channel, and the Neutrogena brand feature prominently on his CV. Temporarily attached to Victoria’s Secret since last February, she will officially take up her new duties next January. His challenge: to modernize the brand and its offer in order to help it regain its position as a market leader.
A sizeable mission but one that does not scare the brand. Because Victoria’s Secret is a house used to reframing. Created in 1977 by Roy Raymond, an American scalded by a visit to the lingerie section of a department store where he had gone to buy underwear for his wife, the label was initially aimed … at men. The idea: to offer them the possibility of wandering quietly on the shelves of a specialized store without being watched out of the corner of their eye by saleswomen puzzled by their mere presence. But also the desire to offer a less functional aesthetic, an alternative to the plain and practical models that were the norm of the time. And it was in 1982 that the first refocusing of the brand took place: acquired by Les Wexner, which brought it into the L Brands group, Victoria’s Secret copy is revised to target primarily women, its core customers. The style is also changing, tending towards something more sophisticated, inspired by the creations of European brands such as La Perla.
The second change of course will take place almost twenty years later. In charge of the brand’s famous catalog, Sharen Jester Turney begins by reviewing the genre. More chic, simpler, the image of the label changes for the first time. So much so that this former Neiman Marcus Direct was given the role of CEO of the brand in 2006. Her intention? Rediscover imagery more “Vogue” than “Playboy” and offer a spirit more girl next door than Victorian boudoir. Under his aegis, sales take off. In sixteen years, the latter will indeed have increased by 70%.
A MORE DIGITAL FUTURE
Martha Pease’s other focus will also be to focus on the brand’s business on the internet. If Victoria’s Secret has been present on the web since 1998, the year in which it unveiled its e-commerce site, it has a lot to gain from further developing its digital activities. A finding reinforced by the COVID-19 crisis and the temporary closure of many physical stores which has forced brands to rely on their digital infrastructures. At the same time, VS had announced in May its intention to close 250 stores (or a quarter of its commercial park) in North America as well as its Hong Kong flagship. A way of cleaning up its finances but also of refocusing the business and addressing a more connected clientele. A definite step towards a dematerialized future,
More digital and more inclusive, if completed, the strategy could well pay off. Last November, parent group L Brands announced that sales of the lingerie brand were finally on the rise again. But for how long?