On June 17, plans were announced for a total Victoria's Secret rebrand. Per their statement, the company plans to ditch their traditional “Angels” model and adopt new “diverse” representatives, which so far includes actress Priyanka Chopra, athlete Megan Rapinoe, and transgender model Valtenina Sampaio. “VS Collective,” the name of this new initiative, is said to represent all women – a total 180 from the brand who refused to let curve models walk its runway. And you know what? I’m not buying it – literally and figuratively.
As a brand, Victoria's Secret has been tanking for years now, which is unsurprising given the company's resistance to change over the last decade, resulting in falling out of touch with the times. While competing intimate-apparel brands like Savage X Fenty, Aerie, Parade, and ThirdLove champion inclusivity, Victoria’s Secret doubled down on their predominately white and thin Angels. Even as the brand began to receive criticism from consumers and demanded better representation, former Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek said, in a statement to Vogue, that the company would "never hire transgender or plus-sized models for their fashion shows."
That was 2018. Three years, the brand is ready to overhaul its business model in the name of inclusion. But how are we supposed to believe that Victoria’s Secret has changed its outlook when the company is clearly thinking about its profit margins, not its customers? Years late, the rebrand feels much more reactive than proactive—in other words, damage control. This is a brand that prided itself on excluding any model that wasn’t a size 0 (super skinny Barbara Palvin even made headlines as Victoria's Secret first supposed "plus-sized model") and produced bras that rarely catered to anyone beyond a C-cup. What's to suggest its investors aren't trying to profit from the body positivity movement now that it's "on trend"? Additionally, Victoria's Secret faced multiple employee harassment allegations and the fashion shows have a history of cultural appropriation. Is this really the same brand that now wants to champion "all bodies"? Do they expect their customer base to forgive and forget?
"They just want to earn back the customers they’ve lost."
While other competitors championed inclusivity from conception to production, Victoria’s Secret is joining the fray too late in the game for it to actually feel authentic. Now, they just want to earn back the customers they’ve lost — but the brand is totally behind the curb. What Victoria's Secret is doing can't even be considered revolutionary anymore. If they cared so much about diversity, why not incorporate it from the beginning? Or, at the very least, when asked to take accountability in 2018?
The root of Victoria’s Secret's problem is that it can't separate their product from its relationship to the male gaze. Victoria’s Secret was founded to be a place where men would feel comfortable buying undergarments for women; the male gaze is built into its ethos. Undergarments are made to provide the wearer with comfort and support, but Victoria’s Secret made male sex appeal — not female sexual empowerment — their first priority. For a company supposedly for women, they took pride in marketing to men, and that feels insidious to me. Their new focus reflects the shifting times market, but not necessarily the company’s values.
For a long time, it felt like Victoria’s Secret was the only place you could buy affordable bras and underwear — but that's no longer the case. In 2021, there are many ethical intimate-apparel retailers on the market who actually do celebrate women and are inclusive of all bodies. Give them your money instead. The brand has shown its true colors time and time again. Their end-game is no longer a secret.