Earlier this week, Victoria’s Secret’s contentious chief marketing officer Ed Razek announced his retirement. It came as a shock given only two days prior, the lingerie brand presented its first transgender model - despite Razek telling Vogue last November that this would never happen.
Amid falling sales, closing stores and competition from start-ups and big retailers, Victoria’s Secret is grappling to find a place in a world where diversity and authenticity matter more to consumers than highly sexualised branding.
With the recent cancellation of its infamous Fashion Show for the business to “evolve and change to grow” The Drum looks back on a year of Victoria’s Secrets struggles and high-profile mess-ups, as the brand looks to reposition itself in a #MeToo era.
November 2018 – board-level issues
Victoria Secret’s chief marketing officer, and driving force behind the fashion show, Ed Razek tells Vogue in his now-infamous interview that the brand would not be using transgender or plus-size models on its runway show. His remarks came in response to criticism that the brand was out of touch and only propagated monolithic beauty ideals. His approach was widely condemned for its out of touch attitude.
In the week following, Victoria Secret’s chief exec Jan Singer resigned after just two years in the role. Singer’s departure followed declining sales for the lingerie giant, with reports that the stock price was down about 39%.
Her departure was one in a string of leadership turnovers at the retailer. In August, the company announced the retirement of Denise Landman, chief exec of its Pink brand, after nearly 20 years in the role.
December 2018 – fashion show TV ratings plummet
Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show’s viewing figures experienced its lowest TV ratings ever in December 2018. Despite arguments that the figure didn’t include YouTube or streaming numbers, the show brought in a mere 3.3 million viewers across America.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal its Shanghai show the year before, which pulled in 4.89m viewers, was widely condemned for being out of touch for its sexually provocative style.
February 2019 - sales continue to fall
At the beginning of February, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company L Brands said the decision to significantly increase the lingerie brand's January promotions fell flat and actually makes things worse.
The company reported that the heavy promotions deteriorated its total sales numbers and led to an even lower profit with same-store sales down 1%, compared with an increase of 4% during January 2018.
The report is no surprise, as Victoria’s Secret has been facing an extended string of sales declines since 2016. Despite its declining sales, the brand retained number one position in the lingerie category.
1 March – closes 53 of its 1,143 stores
Citing a “decline in performance” L Brands announced that 53 out of its 1,143 stores were to close, across America.
May 11 – fashion show taken off air
After 2018 marked its worst TV figures yet, the brand announced it would no longer air the infamous Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show on network television.
L Brand's chief exec Les Wexner informed the company of the decision via a memo, saying that the brand would be “taking a fresh look at every aspect” of the business that needed to “evolve and change to grow.”
1 July – Karlie Kloss hits out
In an interview to Vogue magazine, high-profile former Victoria Secret model Karlie Kloss spoke out on why she left one of her most lucrative contacts back in 2015, denting the brand's public image even more.
“The reason I decided to stop working with Victoria’s Secret was I didn’t feel it was an image that was truly reflective of who I am and the kind of message I want to send to young women around the world about what it means to be beautiful,” Kloss told Vogue.
“I think that was a pivotal moment in me stepping into my power as a feminist, being able to make my own choices and my own narrative, whether through the companies I choose to work with, or through the image I put out to the world.”
6 July – Jeffrey Esptein arrested for trafficking
In July, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was indicted on charges related to alleged sex trafficking crimes committed between 2002 and 2005, involving victims as young as 14.
Although the financier never worked for the lingerie retailer, he had a close relationship with L Brands chief exec Wexner and it's been speciulated that Epstein exploited his proximity to Victoria’s Secret to facilitate his alleged crimes.
Epstein reportedly told women and young girls that he was a modeling scout for Victoria’s Secret. It is claimed that two executives discovered what Epstein was up to in the mid-1990s and alerted Wexner, who decided to take no action.
Epstein’s arrest left L Brands to hire outside counsel to review the company’s relationship with the accused sex trafficker. Following the arrest, L Brands shares went down 10% to $25, the lowest they’ve been since 2010.
24 July – models leak predatory messages from Victoria’s Secret photographer
Just weeks after Epstein's arrest, a number of models spoke out about the sexual abuse they allegedly received at the hands of Victoria Secret’s photographer Timur Emek, with one accusing him of rape.
Emek is just one of a number of photographers employed by the brand who have been accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards’ female models.
In February 2018, two women accused the photographer Greg Kadel of making unwanted advances. During this time, David Bellemere repeatedly denied accusations that he forcibly kissed a Victoria’s Secret model and propositioned a Lord & Taylor one by sending a bondage image via Instagram after a shoot.
30 July – The show will not go on
In the same month, model Shanina Shaik leaked to the Australian Daily Telegraph that the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show would not be taking place.
5 August – chief marketing officer Ed Razek departs
After joining Victoria’s Secret in 1983, the lingerie brand’s chief marketing officer Ed Razek announced he was to retire.
6 August – Models Alliance stands together against the lingerie brand
Earlier this week, over 100 models, including Christy Turlington Burns, Edie Campbell, Karen Elson, Milla Jovovich, Doutzen Kroes, and Gemma Ward, signed an open letter addressed directly to Victoria’s Secret.
The letter, drafted by the Models Alliance, petitioned the lingerie brand to take concrete actions in protecting models against sexual misconduct.
It pointed to the connection between Victoria’s Secret and Epstein. It also addressed the allegations of misconduct directed at photographers Emek, Bellemere, and Kadel.
The letter read: “We are writing today to express our concern for the safety and wellbeing of the models and young women who aspire to model for Victoria’s Secret. In the past few weeks, we have heard numerous allegations of sexual assault, alleged rape, and sex trafficking of models and aspiring models. While these allegations may not have been aimed at Victoria's Secret directly, it is clear that your company has a crucial role to play in remedying the situation. From the headlines about L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner’s close friend and associate, Jeffrey Epstein, to the allegations of sexual misconduct by photographers.