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How Victoria’s Secret Lost it’s Sparkle

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kent State chapter.

Victoria’s Secret has long been synonymous with sexy lingerie and sultry campaigns. The company’s brand centered around the imagery of beautiful women in front of elegant backdrops, adorned with tasteful lingerie that was typically decorated in lace as well as small details like embellishments and glitter. Though this branding may seem to be common for that of a lingerie company, VS’s particular approach pushed a carefully crafted fantasy out to its consumers.

The company’s golden age began in the 1990s and only really began to die down in the mid-late 2010s. For Victoria’s Secret, the 1990s introduced an exponential rise in success. Most notably, the first-ever VS Fashion Show was held in 1995. This event offered VS an opportunity to emphasize the brand’s tasteful designs in the setting of a high fashion showcase. It wasn’t until 1999 that the company first live streamed the event (and even suffered a website crash due to an unexpected amount of user traffic). By that year, Victoria’s Secret had built a powerful reputation in the lingerie world. Their brand was solidified by the annual show and the introduction of the infamous Victoria’s Secret Angels.

The VS Angels stemmed from a 1997 commercial with the angel theme. Quickly, the title of a VS Angel was allocated to model ambassadors of the brand; not every Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show model was a VS Angel, and the title was highly sought after. One could imagine becoming a VS Angel would be the brand’s highest honor, but the Fantasy Bra was the crowning jewel. The Fantasy Bra was a specially designed bra for the annual fashion shows, often made with an exorbitant amount of extremely expensive crystals and jewels, and awarded to one of the Angels to be worn as the night’s show-stopping piece.

Now, there is a lot of background information, but it is necessary to consider when we take a look at the company’s 2021 rebrand. In 2019, Victoria’s Secret was no longer appealing to its demographic the way it once did, resulting in the cancellation of the annual show that year. 

Many of the company’s consumers were unhappy with the company’s lack of diversification. VS only featured very thin models in their shows and campaigns and only offered a bra size range of 30A-40DDD (that’s only 7/19 and 6/10 available cup and band sizes respectively). The company’s chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, even went so far as to publicly state that VS had no intention of diversifying because they were trying to sell a fantasy to the public. Razek inevitably resigned in August of 2019.

Jumping forward to 2021, the company revamps its brand with new ownership and management behind the scenes. In wake of the rebrand, VS scraps the idea of Angels and replaces the group with the new VS Collective, a group of activists who are both models and not to act as brand associates. They also began releasing campaigns that featured a wider variety of body types.

These changes definitely come off as steps in the right direction, but when you take a closer look at the company’s current brand, it feels like they have lost some of the allure they once had. 

The biggest part of VS’s allure was the balance of sexy and sophisticated in their designs as well as their campaigns. As Razek said, VS was about the fantasy, and he argued that the fantasy could not be fulfilled if plus-size or trans models were part of it. Though the brand does not seem to be intentionally pushing this idea anymore, it still feels like they are rejecting the idea that anything other than a 23-inch waist can be the center of a whimsical, sexy fantasy as their new designs and campaigns lack the luster and drama they once had.

As a young woman who grew up in a world where Victoria’s Secret was so present, I had an astonishment associated with the VS Fashion Shows and the Angels. I loved the energy that surrounded those particular aspects of VS and how it made the brand feel so special and luxurious. Of course, I was roped into their stores under the influence of these models in this lingerie and the allure they possessed as women to me. I was a perfect victim to their marketing tactics. I remember being devastated at the 2019 show’s cancellation because I wasn’t going to experience the performances, clothes and appearances of my favorite models. I remember being so disappointed in the abandonment of the VS Angels and the power that title held. And if we’re being honest, I’m still upset. 

Quite frankly, now I’m more upset because it feels like a slap in the face to the body positivity and inclusivity movements. The VS models of today with curvier bodies are being paid dust compared to those that came before them. It’s as if they were looked directly in the eyes and told they couldn’t be VS Angels because of their size, and given the consumer demand for larger models, the VS Angels must no longer exist. They are not being treated as the centers of a lustful, sultry fantasy but rather as plus-size tokens to save face for the company. Victoria’s Secret has extended their size range, but not nearly enough to compete adequately in the market and they have yet to put an exclusively plus-size line together. This only further contributes to the assumption that Victoria’s Secret is tokenizing their plus size models to appease their demographic instead of putting in the work and effort to highlight them as the beautiful and seductive figures they are as women. 

In a world where Savage x Fenty exists in the lingerie space, Victoria’s Secret doesn’t have an excuse to be delivering what they are. The former has done what I would have hoped VS to do. They have created a fantastical and sexy space for a variety of body types, addressing this in their lingerie designs, their campaigns and even their fashion show (which ironically debuted in 2019, when the VS show was officially canceled). Savage x Fenty recognizes the inherent connection between sex and body positivity, while VS seems to be lost on why the two would connect at all. 

The new, subdued look and feel to VS has been described as the brand’s shift from the male fantasy to the female fantasy, but, as a female, I don’t feel any type of fantasy being portrayed and I wish there was. Not only are the campaigns not the theatrical productions they once were, but even the designs of the lingerie seem to fall on the safe side, which makes them far more boring in comparison to their glowing past. Because of this, the lingerie is much less desirable to wear and, with the lack of campaigns of a show or even Angels to create a catalyst, there really is nothing special, sexy or fantastical about VS the way there once was.

I think it was important to have that fantastical female imagery as I grew up, and it would have only been more impactful if that imagery was delivered to me with a wider variety of body representations. Victoria’s Secret introduced women to feeling sexy and embracing themselves in that way. To think that the women of today want less glitz and glamor because we want inclusivity is ridiculous because the two factors are not in any way mutually exclusive. The gain of one does not mean the loss of another and Victoria’s Secret needs to reach that realization. Women of larger sizes want to feel sexy, sultry and desired, and a for a company whose brand was sex, lust and fantasy, this is something they should be aware of and catering to instead of suddenly subduing their entire reputation to accommodate bigger bodies.

erin gaulin

Kent State '25

Erin is a sophomore at Kent State double majoring in Fashion Design and Merchandising. She's originally from the Metro Detroit area in Michigan and misses her pets (whom she couldn't haul with her to school) every day. Erin's always had a particular interest in pop culture when it comes to fashion, music, and tv/film. She hopes to pursue a career within the fashion industry to encourage diversity, sustainability, and overall inclusivity!