It wasn’t so long ago that a very public backlash against a tone-deaf Victoria’s Secret clipped the company of its angel’s wings. The bedazzled and out-of-sync lingerie company lost its standing in an era of inclusivity where winged venus goddesses, cloaked rhinestone fantasy bras and limited representation of the female body no longer resonated.
So, in a pivot of the greatest possible degree, Victoria’s Secret unabashedly fired its former sexy angel ambassadors, and replaced them with a board of ‘real’ women. In business, like in life, desperate times call for desperate measures. In this most drastic rebrand, VS went from female stereotype to female empowerment overnight, and not everyone is believing the hype.
Goodbye fallen angels, hello VS Collective
The new ambassadorships represent the company’s updated marketing strategy called the VS Collective, which also sees a change in management and women added to its board. In a bid to turn the page, VS is making every effort to change the public’s perception by altering its narrative around sensuality and becoming an ‘advocate for all women.’ Its new ambassadors include Megan Rapinoe, an American athlete and gender equity campaigner, Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier, actress and entrepreneur Priyanka Chopra Jonas and transgender model Valentina Sampaio. The barbie avatar, as dubbed by the New York Times, is no longer in the remit.
“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” Martin Waters, former head of Victoria’s Secret’s international business who was appointed CEO of the brand in February, said in an interview to New York Times. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”
Where once the positive body movement was considered niche, today the question of authentic body representation is mainstream and companies are called out to answer for their choices. The final show that signalled VS’s extraordinary discord with public perception was in 2019, when a lashing wave of criticism prompted the lingerie giant to cancel its show. The paradigm shift that came after a few timid attempts to embrace a path of inclusiveness proved insufficient without the implementation of structural change.
So how inclusive is Victoria’s Secret today?
When it comes to embracing all body types, Victoria’s Secret hasn’t shifted the dial when it comes to inclusive sizing. While the company says it is ‘leaning’ towards larger sizes it is still a long way off from catering to the average American body. It is only recently that its wired, push-up bra, those reminiscent of its former angel campaigns, were expanded with lounge bras and wireless sporty options. In a change.org petition called “Add Plus Sizes to Your Product Lines,” its 2019 author wrote: “Every year I watch the Angel fashion show and would love to purchase the items I see on my screen but can’t because Victoria’s Secret doesn’t sell plus sizes.” It is only this year that VS launched its first mother’s day campaign. Previously motherhood was considered unsexy. A nursing bra and maternity lingerie are next on the list.
While it might take more than a quick rebrand to rid Victoria’s Secret of its roots in ageism, sizeism, sexism and even its connections to the disgraced and diseased Jeffrey Epstein, it is better late than never. Forced to pivot, there are also opportunities to make genuine, meaningful changes. There are 32,000 jobs, a global retail network of 1,400 stores and over 5 billion dollars of annual sales at stake.