Downward Cycle of Popularity
Not every brand makes it to the next generation and some are currently holding on for dear life as I type. A downward cycle in fashion means that the brand is spiraling downwards and losing its popularity and base. There are so many stores I adored as a little girl and as a teenager that are either closed, or on their way out. Henri Bendel, Juicy Couture, Macy’s, Abercrombie, and Forever 21 are just a few examples. One store that’s currently on a downward cycle is Victoria’s Secret.
In the ’90s Victoria’s Secret danced into the fashion scene and defined the word “sexy”. The company made its mark as the go-to destination for fantasy and luxury intimates, became the largest and most popular lingerie retailer in the country, and solidified its place in the market by smart advertising campaigns and a sexy in-store experience. The company also branched out into activewear, creating the PINK label, which became famous among middle school and high school girls who wore nothing but their leggings, sweatshirts, and logo. PINK stores began to open separate from Victoria’s Secret and were supposed to be where the daughters of the younger, trendier moms who shop at VS could go shopping for their activewear and underwear. PINK isn’t as provocative and is more connected to comfort and daily activities, opposed to sex and fantasy. VS stood out among the competition and invented a new way to get women (and men) to shop the brand when they hired elite “Angels”, beautiful, famous supermodels to be their top marketing strategy, strutting down the runway during the famous Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in feathered angel wings and the brand’s latest lingerie, and promoting the intimates on social media, but over the years VS has embarked on a downward spiral in sales and popularity.
When VS entered into the retail scene it was a different world and young women, in particular, viewed themselves and beauty much differently than young women do today. Even older women have redefined what it truly means to be beautiful and sexy. Brands have reinvented themselves and newer brands burst onto the runway right off the bat with real women as models, from normal college girls and young moms to transgenders and plus size models. As hard as VS has tried to be an inclusive brand, especially with their signature PINK collection, geared towards young women between the ages of thirteen and twenty, they will always be the overtly sexy brand that used supermodels and stereotypes from the very beginning to gain sales and growth. Very few women relate to those supermodels and what they’re trying to sell and it has literally deteriorated the brand’s popularity and base over the years. Society’s definition of beauty has been redefined and we’ll never go back to the idea that only a size 00 model can be sexy and sell clothing.
VS has been most popular among Millennials and Generation Z (ages 13-34 years), with many of these customers using social media as their number one engagement tool. They love to follow influencers and models who promote the brand and the image they carry through selfies and glamour. The younger generations don’t look at catalogs or even frequent malls, which has been a huge change to the fashion world as a whole. Although Millennials grew up going to the mall every weekend, (I am guilty of this…just ask my poor father who went with me every Saturday) Generation Z and Y are living a very different lifestyle. They mainly shop online and stare at Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook for outfit inspiration before purchasing through the store’s website or app. on their smartphone. VS has always been more popular among a certain life-stage group, such as single, young women who aren’t necessarily settled down just yet. Although there are moms with daughters who shop the brand, the majority of women who shop at VS and PINK are single and without children. Most moms and married women have moved on to other brands that are more comfortable, inclusive, and less expensive. Moms, even those who are trendy, are looking for affordability and practicality. Of course, the brand’s demographic is mostly women, but over the years a lot of men have started shopping at VS & PINK for their daughters, girlfriends, and wives. My dad shopped at PINK for years with me and when I worked at PINK very briefly before getting pregnant (I was literally only there for a month and a half before I had to leave due to medical reasons), many boyfriends came in to buy bras, leggings, and underwear for their girlfriends. VS has always been expensive and is geared more towards families with a slightly higher income level, which is why you’re able to find the stores within upscale shopping centers and malls, next to Coach, Michael Kors, and Abercrombie. The VS I used to shop at was wedged between Apple and Michael Kors.
L Brands, which owns VS sold much of its stake in the brand to a private equity firm named Sycamore in February of last year (2020), right before COVID-19 threatened our daily lives, decreasing the value of the lingerie brand substantially. During COVID-19, VS decided to close some of its stores without permission from Sycamore and breached the contract they made during the initial deal, but VS argues that they had every right to protect their company during the pandemic. Many of the once beloved VS stores have closed post-pandemic, including one in an upscale shopping area near me that I used to shop at in high school. The VS Fashion Show was cancelled due to a steep decline in views, which damaged the brand’s marketing and image. The brand suffered after society’s views on beauty changed. VS has also been criticized for exploiting women’s bodies to create sales, for being too provocative (especially by parent’s of young girls), and for refusing to embrace real women and real bodies. The brand also struggled with embracing new fashion trends such as offering more comfortable styles (bralettes and sports bras) which are more popular among the younger generations, which other brands like Aerie (owned by American Eagle) and Lively have pushed fully. Finally, the brand suffered tremendously after the founder, Lex Wexner’s relationship with the now infamous, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was made public. The ties between the two were splashed across magazines and websites and their relationship was even discussed in detail on Netflix’s documentary series, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich. On the series, L Brands and Victoria’s Secret were both mentioned, along with Lex Wexner’s background and connection to VS, which looked beyond awful for the brand that was already struggling to remain above water. The company was also bashed by its own models for how they were treated, for inappropriate behavior towards models (including by Jeffrey Epstein on a few occasions), for refusing to hire and support transgender models in our ever-changing world, and for bullying and misogyny within the company.
In 2019, after 123 years of business, Henri Bendel, a store I cherished as a teenager, that was owned by L Brands went dark and closed all of their stores for good. I was a Bendel Girl and loved their fun, luxury items and was crushed when they closed. I still miss their brown and white striped bags, pretty displays, and fun merchandise. When VS began to struggle with sales and other issues within the company (as I discussed above), L Brands decided to close all of their Henri Bendel locations, including my favorite on Fifth Avenue in New York City and focus on VS and Bath and Body Works. The closing of Henri Bendel was a way for L Brands to hopefully increase shareholder value and was one of the first signs to me and to many others that L Brands and VS were in serious trouble, spiraling downwards. Of course, closing Henri Bendel hasn’t helped VS or L Brands and sales continue to decline, but it’s certainly interesting how a brand once worshipped can permanently fall from its pedestal.