Victoria’s Secret was founded in 1977 by US businessman Roy Raymond, who set up a small chain of boudoir lingerie shops when he could find no man-friendly women’s stores.
In 1982 he sold the company to clothing magnate Les Wexner for $1million – a fraction of its current value. Raymond later committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
He chose the name Victoria after Queen Victoria, thinking it sounded refined, and added Secret to refer to what was hidden under the clothes.
Eventually, hundreds of stores opened coast to coast, but it was the glitzy launch of Victoria’s Secret’s first blatantly sexy catwalk show at the Plaza Hotel, New York in 1995 which made the difference.
Beginning: The first Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was held at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1995 with models such as Angelika Kallio (left) and Leilani (right) walking the runway
Broadcast on network TV to 185 countries, millions tuned in to see supermodels Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Tyra Banks and Karen Mulder – among others – stripped back to the barest of essentials.
Victoria’s Secret opened its first flagship store in London’s Bond Street in 2012, and staged its first catwalk show in 2014, featuring Ed Sheeran as star turn, but recent years have been more challenging.
Aside from a small rise in the first quarter in 2018, the lingerie retailer had falling sales every quarter since the fourth quarter in 2016.
Victoria’s Secret shuttered 20 stores in 2018 amid a poor annual sales performance, ending the year with former CEO Jan Singer resigning last November.
The lingerie giant’s parent company, L Brands, confirmed in November 2019 that its famous show wouldn’t take place. The decision was part of a move to ‘evolve the messaging of [the company],’ Fortune reported at the time.
Famous faces: The show has featured some of the world’s most in-demand models over the years, including Bella Hadid in New York in 2018 (left) and Heidi Klum in Miami in 2008 (right)
Supermodel Tyra Banks displays an outfit during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in New York in 2003 (left)
It came a year after marketing chief Ed Razek said the brand would not cast plus-sized or ‘transexual’ models because the show is a ‘fantasy.’
In 2020, more than 100 models signed an open letter to the then CEO of Victoria’s Secret calling for him to take action on the company’s ‘culture of misogyny and abuse’.
The letter urged John Mehas to end what the group – which included Christy Turlington Burns, Iskra Lawrence, Edie Campbell, Amber Valletta and Felicity Hayward – described as an ‘entrenched culture of misogyny’ at the lingerie chain.
With consumers turning away from glamour towards comfort, plus a huge backlash following reports of Wexner’s historic friendship with disgraced financier Jeffery Epstein, Victoria’s Secret faced an identity crisis.
As well as a shift in public perception of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the brand faced a continued decline in sales.
Last year, the brand tried a new approach, posting photos on its Instagram account that promote neutral underwear in a variety of skin tones and using models from different ethnic backgrounds and showing size diversity.
However, some lingerie fans said the company’s bid to finally become more diverse was ‘too little, too late’ and accused the brand of ‘playing catch-up’.
In May 2020, parent company L Brands announced the closure of 250 stores in the US and Canada, after being impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The closures represented nearly a quarter of Victoria’s Secret’s 1,091 locations in North America.