Victoria’s Secret built its empire selling lingerie to women, but it was always a man’s vision that defined its brand. The man was literal in the case of Leslie Wexner, who bought the fledgling company in 1982 for $1 million and grew it into the formidable retail giant it is today. The man was also figurative in the sense that Victoria’s Secret’s image always reflected a male gaze, rendering women into seductive fantasy objects it dubbed “angels.”
The company is trying to change that. Yesterday it announced a new board comprised of six women and one man, as well as the VS Collective, a group of seven women accomplished in their own fields who will advise the company and represent it publicly. They include soccer star Megan Rapinoe, actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Valentina Sampaio, who in 2019 became the first transgender model hired by the company. The company is also in the process of phasing out its angels imagery, it told the New York Times.
Victoria’s Secret may face a long road as it tries to rebrand itself with a message centered on empowering women. It stuck to its old image for decades and may lack credibility in suddenly pushing inclusivity and body positivity.
That’s likely why it’s looking to earn that credibility with new hires such as Rapinoe, who said the old image of the brand was “patriarchal” and “sexist” in an interview with the Times. Now Victoria’s Secret needs to convince shoppers it’s approaching them from a woman’s point of view, not a man’s.
Victoria’s Secret is preparing to be spun off
The moves come as Victoria’s Secret also prepares to spin off into a standalone company after years standing beside Bath & Body Works in the portfolio of parent company L Brands. Wexner retired as CEO in 2020, and this year he left the company’s board. Company sales—$7.5 billion in 2019, before plunging due to the pandemic—suffered a protracted slide as its sex-centric, professionally plucked-and-toned image became a liability, creating opportunities for new rivals that showed a diverse array of women’s bodies.
The women who are leading the way at Victoria’s Secret
The new board includes women such as Donna James, managing director at business advisory firm Lardon & Associates; Jacqueline Hernández, the former chief marketing officer for Hispanic content at NBC Universal; and Lauren Peters, the former chief financial officer of Foot Locker. James will serve as chair. Martin Waters, Victoria’s Secret’s CEO, is the lone man in the group.
Among the other women in the new collective advising and promoting the company are:
- Paloma Elsesser, a British model who works to promote body positivity for all women, not just those who fit Victoria’s Secret’s former skinny mold
- Eileen Gu, a champion freeskier who will compete in the Beijing Olympics next year
- Adut Akech, a model and former child refugee born in South Sudan
- Amanda de Cadenet, a British journalist and equality advocate