It is hardly clandestine that Victoria’s Secret is not the industry giant that it once was. The lingerie and beauty company has faced economic decline since their chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, made highly offensive comments in an interview with Vogue Runway’s Nicole Phelps in 2018.
When questioned on diversity Razek insisted that the show was a “fantasy”, using plus size or trans women was not coherent with this. After all, he failed to see how these women present as sexual or desirable to the market. A week after the interview went to print the CEO of the company, Jan Singer, resigned citing economic issues as her reason. Ironically, what was used as a smokescreen for the infamous interview, has now turned into very real problems for the company.
In 2018, the company’s market share dropped from 32%, a figure they had sat rather comfortably at since 2013, to 24%. Malls across America witnessed the closure of 53 stores as they learnt the hard way that consumers had grown tired of their vision.
Society had moved on. Customers that were previously isolated were now celebrated as campaigns became more diverse. Soon the blaring truth became too loud for Victoria’s Secret to ignore. Plus size women were not an obscure sub section of society nor a niche market that could justifiably be neglected as they failed to fit in with a business’s USP, they were customers that deserved equal consideration.
This February, investment company Sycamore provided them with a hail Mary when offering to buy the company. However, just as it had seemed that the waters had calmed, the Coronavirus outbreak sent shockwaves right back through them.
The New York Times has reported that the deal between Sycamore and L Brands, owner of the once leading lingerie brand, is in jeopardy. After they had missed April rent payments, furloughed vast amounts of employees and reduced executive salaries the investment firm asked a court in Delaware to allow it to walk away from the deal. While sympathetic to the current circumstances, CEO and founder, Stefan Kalunzy believed it did not excuse L Brands’ inability to meet the obligations of the transaction.
Investors are suggesting Sycamore may be able to escape while L Brands remains hopeful the deal can be preserved at this unprecedented time. Delaware’s state law demands companies to make reasonable efforts to continue ordinary practices until an agreement becomes final. However, with what constitutes normal operating conditions being blown out of the water it is harder to predict in whose favour the court will rule.
If Sycamore are granted freedom, it may indeed prove a lucky escape. Not due to the fact that Victoria’s Secret shares have dropped a further 20% amidst the crisis as reported by the New York Times, but because the outbreak didn't cause the unattractiveness of the deal; society’s changing priorities did. The colloquial phrase in business hints to the fact that the customer is always right. A product is only as good as the demand it receives from its chosen market. Once loyal shoppers have now been turning to brands such as Agent Provocateur and Savage x Fenty that preach a different sentiment.
Written up as a “masterclass for diversity”, Savage x Fenty’s catwalk put on a welcome display to the female market that shattered the illusion previously upheld by Victoria’s Secret. Offering a similar sentiment, Agent Provocateur’s employment of plus size model and author Charli Howard as their campaign girl boldly set to further redefine the path the industry had previously been travelling down.
As part of the company’s Valentines Day body positivity campaign Howard wrote a love letter to herself emotively confessing an apology to her body realising that “the truth is, Body, you were perfect already – I was just blind to it” . It was this sentiment the consumers now wanted to hear; that lingerie brands could empower them rather than giving them a “fantasy" that they can witness, but may never be able to embody.
Razek’s unchanging defence at the time where Victoria’s Secret troubles began was that they had a brand image to stick to. A unique selling point that had allowed them to rise to the top and those making decisions were reluctant to relinquish this. Established in 1977, their message of sexuality presenting as a small category only some consumers match has not altered, developed or shifted, and now the market has moved past this. Investment is by definition determining where the money is going to be in the future. With this old industry leader being left behind, investing in Victoria’s Secret appears to be bad business.
Unless, of course, Sycamore are able to turn the business into a starkly different company, more resembling the likes of their competitors of Agent Provocateur and Savage x Fenty. Even so, the current climate is hardly ideal for such alterations making the investment an impractical undertaking at best and a financial nightmare at worst.
The uncertain market conditions created from the Coronavirus outbreak may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the company, but in reality their fate was sealed long ago. The company appeared to sleepwalk through a changing market, now having awoken too late Victoria’s Secret may have paid the ultimate financial price.