BY PRIYA GULATI AND SPENCYR ARONSON
Victoria Secret Trades Angels For Inclusivity
Since it’s debut show in 1995, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has made waves and immense profit. Countless young girls, us included, looked up to the gorgeous models strutting down the runway in larger-than-life angel wings. The models that walked in the extravagant VS shows were meant to represent the brand in the best way possible– meaning they all fit the stereotypical beauty standard perfectly. These “angels” were a collection of only the tallest, thinnest, and most beautiful models in the industry- the vast majority of whom were, more often than not, white.
The fashion industry as a whole has been no different than VS. Historically, it has been extremely biased toward larger bodies as well as racial and ethnic minorities. Clothing was almost always modeled on size 2s and 4s, and diverse models were rarely present in ecommerce or ad campaigns. It wasn’t until the 2010s that the industry began to reinvent itself from the inside out. Inclusivity came to the forefront, and many brands tried their best to include diverse models with regard to their size and their racial and ethnic backgrounds. Victoria’s Secret, however, remained behind in this movement toward inclusivity. In 2018, Ed Razek, a former executive at L Brands, which is the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, said in an interview with US Vogue: “If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show we have….Lane Bryant [which was our sister division] still sells plus-size lingerie, but it sells a specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world… We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world.” Problematic, closed-minded comments like these were only one of the indicators that significant changes were on the way for Victoria’s Secret. Over time, the brand began to receive more and more backlash, and it became clear that they were in desperate need of a company-wide overhaul.
With limited sizing and a small, redundant pool of models wearing their items in ads, it has always been evident that Victoria’s Secret markets to a certain type of person: the pretty girl in the room. Tall, thin, white- the one with the long legs and perfectly blown-out blonde hair. These were the women showcased in their advertisements and in the iconic fashion show, and therefore matched the clientele whom they intended their garments to be worn by. After years of continuing with this monotonous, outdated marketing strategy, VS decided it was time to make a change.
In 2019, the company made the long-overdue decision to cancel the annual fashion show in hopes of rebranding the event, as well as the brand as a whole. Moving forward, the company is attempting to bring a diverse perspective to the fashion show and their entire marketing strategy. Since then, there have been a significant number of changes implemented that have completely rebranded the company. Beginning with its leadership, Victoria's Secret has taken a new direction by hiring a nearly all-female board of directors. Along with the new board, VS has hired their first plus-size model, Ali Tate, and their first transgender model, Valentina Sampaio. In May of 2021, they also showcased model Grace Elizabeth, who was nine months pregnant at the time, in their Mother’s Day campaign. In an additional effort to retire the famous Victoria's Secret Angels, the brand has introduced the VS Collective, an empowering group of women who are admired for their personal and professional achievements rather than their physical appearance. Representatives for the Collective include soccer star and gender equity campaigner Megan Rapinoe, Indian actress and tech investor Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and LGBTQ model Valentina Sampaio- the first transgender model to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Most recently, the brand has hired their first model with Down Syndrome, Sofía Jirau, a 24-year-old from Puerto Rico.
We believe Victoria’s Secret is taking a great number of steps in the right direction, and their sales reports support our opinion. The company reported net sales of $6.785 billion for the full year 2021, an increase of 25% compared to net sales of $5.413 billion for 2020. As such a large, influential corporation, it is their job to set an example for the rest of the industry, and they have exhibited the ability to turn themselves into a company worth looking up to within the fashion community. While we should not forget that the company was rooted in biases and stereotypes, their recent actions have successfully displayed that they are well on their way to becoming a new, progressive version of the former Victoria’s Secret. The fashion show is expected to make a comeback in 2022 in a more culturally sophisticated sense, and we can’t wait to see how this iconic brand continues to reinvent itself and the lingerie industry. VS may be behind the curve, but their recent changes reflect a greater wave of diversity and inclusion within the stubborn fashion industry.