Victoria's Secret is finally giving up on its famous Angels: is it too late?

July 12, 2021

ast month, Victoria's Secret announced that it will organize a group of inspiring women, including activists and entrepreneurs, to promote a new brand image and design a turnaround. These women — who include Priyanka Chopra Jonas and soccer player Megan Rapinoe — will become the faces and voices of the company.

The Rise and Fall of Victoria's Secret Angels

Victoria's Secret's Angels — or just Angels, as they were known internationally — have represented the brand since the late 1990s. Among them were some of the most famous top models in the history of the fashion industry, such as Gisele Bundchen, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum. Real stars, beautiful, sexy, and skinny women who participated infamous VS's fashion shows, but also in countless marketing campaigns. It was the dream of any aspiring model at the time to become an Angel and sign huge contracts of millions of dollars a year.

Adriana Lima, Gisele Bundchen, Karolina Kurkova, Alessandra Ambrosio, Izabel Goulart. The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2006

Between 2010 and 2015, 10 million people a year watched the popular Victoria's Secret fashion show and annual sales exceeded $7 billion. However, everything started to change from 2016 onwards and the brand started to lose its dominant position in the market.

Fashion became more inclusive and took more into account not only the different body shapes but also the representation that brands gave to the LGBTQIA+ community and other cultures. Victoria's Secret diversity was never a strength, with the “perfect figure” standard that its models presented, the brand was out of date.

The #MeToo movement has also weakened the brand. Criticism of the company's toxic, homophobic, and harassment culture began to surface in the mainstream media, and the link between the owner, Les Wexner, and Jeffrey Epstein, who was arrested for several crimes of sexual abuse, revealed a company that was not adapted to a new era.

Ed Razek, the company's marketing director for several years, who invented the show, was considered one of the most influential people in fashion, helping to launch the careers of some of the world's best-known top models. He left Victoria's Secret in August 2019. The annual show was canceled in November of that same year, after the controversial comments made by Razek about hiring transgender and plus-size models. For him, those models could not "sell the fantasy" of VS.

The Comeback

With stagnation in sales and a decrease in profits, the brand had losses of 800 million dollars in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic left the company in an even more fragile position and forced Victoria's Secret to make a choice: follow what women want or what men want.

The company's leadership, which had been accumulating criticism, was removed and replaced by someone who could lead the company in this new era, Martin Waters.

When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond. We needed to stop caring about what men want and focus on what women want, said Martin Waters, the brand's CEO, in a press release.

In a recent interview with "The New York Times", Waters said that the Angels are no longer "culturally relevant". For him, this turning point should have happened a long time ago. “In the old days, Victoria's Secret brand had a single lens, which they called 'sexy',” he commented. "I knew for a long time that we had to change this brand, but we still didn't have control over the company to do so."

Abandon the Angels is the first step for this new VS brand image, which was now replaced by VS Collective, a seven-group of women (not all models) famous, successful, and fleeing the old brand standard.

This “committee” of diversity is now responsible for defining the best marketing, communication, and inclusion strategies for the brand. The idea here is to focus less on women's bodies and more on their trajectories, personalities, and social role.

Among the members of the group, is the two-time world soccer champion Megan Rapinoe, who is an activist for women's rights and the LGBTQIA+ group. Besides journalist Amanda de Cadenet, Chinese skier Eileen Gu, actress Priyanka Chopra, models Adut Akech, Paloma Elsesser, and Valentina Sampaio.

The announcement of the VS Collective and the brand's new faces is the culmination of this transition period which, for now, is having good results for the company. In the first quarter of 2021, sales rose 9% over the same period in 2019 and profits grew 665%.

However the road is still long for Victoria’s Secret, the truth of this new positioning will be put to test and we will see if this will be enough for the brand to win back

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