Victoria’s Secret blames “network TV” for its failing fashion show

Image: Mike Segar
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Lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret is “rethinking” its annual fashion show, according to a note sent by L Brands CEO Les Wexner to employees today. The company will focus on creating a “new kind of event” and has found that network television is no longer the “right fit” for its PR extravaganza, which has run on ABC and CBS for nearly 20 years.

The surprise move comes after a long list of unfortunate events that have sent Victoria’s Secret into the red. Its fashion show has seen shrinking viewership for years—December’s show had the worst ratings ever—and its CEO Jan Singer stepped down in November. Her departure capped a year of record low prices, dozens of store closures, and a share slump for VS’s parent company. So far in 2019, L Brands has shuttered luxury retailer Henri Bendel (including 23 physical stores) and announced another 50 VS store closures. Moody’s downgraded its outlook from “stable” to “negative” in early April.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret has spent 2019 relaunching swimwear and hiring more supermodels, including its first “plus-sized” model (who isn’t plus-sized). VS execs also participated in a train-wreck of a Vogue interview, where they doubled down on the brand’s dated image and managed to offend the plus-size community and transgender people in one sitting.

In spite of all that, Victoria’s Secret is still the market leader in lingerie. But even there its dominance is under threat from body-positive intimates brands like ThirdLove, Fenty X Savage, and Aerie. Banking on inclusive marketing and expanded sizes long eschewed by VS, these labels are slowly but surely gobbling up the company’s imperiled market share.

In his memo, Wexner said “the strength and positive perception of the Victoria’s Secret brand is unparalleled” but also said VS would be “taking a fresh look at every aspect of our business—from merchandising, marketing and brand positioning, to our real estate portfolio, digital business and cost structure … literally everything.”

What exactly he means by that remains to be seen, as does this “new kind of event.” But Victoria’s Secret’s problem isn’t just its porny runway show. To stay relevant, the company will need to change its DNA and start listening to and serving a wider variety of women.