- Victoria’s Secret is doing a major rebrand.
- Four former execs and senior-level employees told Insider they pushed for these changes for years.
- Insiders said women in management were ignored by former top execs Ed Razek and Les Wexner.
Victoria’s Secret is deep into a rebrand under new management, but former execs and senior-level employees say they pushed for these changes for years, and some say it’s too little, too late.
Gone are its iconic Angels, racy marketing images, and flashy runway shows. In their place: more inclusive campaigns featuring plus-size models, a group of activists and entrepreneurs acting as the new spokeswomen for the brand, and a new, toned-down look for its stores.
While Wall Street is applauding the retailer’s new look, former executives and senior-management employees of Victoria’s Secret said the rebrand looks very familiar — because they recommended the same changes before leaving the company.
Four former execs and senior-level employees, who asked for anonymity in order to speak freely but whose identities are known to Insider, depicted a culture in which women in management were unable to make their mark under former CEO Les Wexner and former marketing chief Ed Razek, who have both since departed the company.
Those two men held a tight grip over the brand image and were reluctant to change it, which meant that the company missed out on key trends and alienated customers, ultimately hurting sales numbers, they said.
In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for the company said the new leadership team is committed to transforming the brand and to creating an inclusive environment for both its customers and employees “to celebrate, uplift and champion all women.”
The spokesperson also referred Insider to a comment made by CEO Martin Waters in an interview with The New York Times, in which Waters said that he has known change was needed for a long time. “We just haven’t had the control of the company to be able to do it,” he said.
A male CEO who said he was the only one who understands what women want
When Sharen Turney, the longtime CEO of Victoria’s Secret, abruptly left in 2016, Wexner, the founder and former CEO of Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, L Brands, became more involved in the day-to-day operation of the business, the former employees said.
After a four-year run of record sales, growth stalled in the back end of 2016, and the business was under pressure. But, as previously reported by Insider, former employees said Wexner shut down suggestions to kill the brand’s annual fashion show and give it a new voice.
People said Wexner would say: “I am the only one in this room who really understands what women want.” And if he had doubts, he’d ask Razek.
Razek was L Brands’ longtime marketing chief and the brains behind its annual fashion show. He stepped down in 2019, several months after critics called for his resignation following an interview he did with Vogue in which he said he didn’t think the fashion show should feature “transsexuals” because “the show is a fantasy.”
While women were ignored, Victoria’s Secret missed major trends
While the company hired women for management roles, these former employees said that their ideas weren’t considered.
One woman who worked in a management role at Victoria’s Secret’s New York office for more than 12 years told Insider that employees would push to modernize the brand image and feature more relatable women in campaigns, but management rejected the ideas.
She said management also ignored suggestions to launch a maternity bra. (Victoria’s Secret said it would sell maternity bras for the first time this year.)
“If it wasn’t a push-your-boobs-up-to-your-chin bra, they didn’t want anything to do with it,” she said, adding that Wexner would say: “It’s not who we are: We sell hope, not help.”
Wexner and Razek “patted themselves on the back for putting women at the helm of the company but didn’t listen to them,” a former merchandising director who was at Victoria’s Secret’s New York office for over a decade said, calling the promotion of women an “empty promise.”
“Everything was about sexy and never about women wanting to feel good about themselves.”
The company missed out on major trends because of this, she said, pointing to bralettes and sports bras.
“They weren’t interested because it wasn’t pushing your boobs up to create cleavage,” she said. “To them, sweat is only sexy when you’re having sex.”
The company later made a U-turn on this, launching a collection of bralettes in 2016 and giving sports bras a more prominent place in stores. New marketing images ran on social media, captioned with: “No padding is sexy now!”
But by that point, body-positive brands such as American Eagle’s Aerie were gaining ground by focusing on more comfortable styles. As a result, Victoria’s Secret’s market share dropped from 33% to 24% between 2016 and 2018.
—Victoria’s Secret (@VictoriasSecret) April 12, 2016
Since Wexner and Razek stepped down, Victoria’s Secret’s management team has undergone a major overhaul. In November, CEO Waters, who headed up its international business for 12 years, took over, alongside a new marketing chief and a creative director who are promising to shake up the brand image as it splits off as a standalone company.
But some former employees are skeptical that the brand revamp isn’t just a “glossy” marketing campaign.
“To me, it’s just too late to the game,” the former merchandising director said. “It was like they were dragged with a gun to their head to do the right thing.”
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