The least sexy thing about Victoria's Secret is its insensitivity

The Victoria’s Secret televised runway show has been the biggest and most successful event the company has put on since it began in 1995 — with people watching it for the star-studded performances, spectacle of supermodels dressed as “angels”, or for the small intimates being strutted down the runway.

However, industry professionals are predicting that the fashion show will do little to help the subpar expectations expected for L Brands (the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, La Senza and more), which is facing slumping sales and resorting to cheaper intimates with little luck. The company is struggling under pressure from millennial-oriented brands like ThirdLove and American Eagle’s Aerie division and in July, announced that due to weak sales, it would have to extend its semi-annual sale by two weeks and offer higher discounts. It’s also closing 20 stores that are suffering from poor sales and has seen its stock drop from an all-time high of $99.41 on December 4, 2015 to an average of $30.

The plummeting stock of L Brands, owner of Victoria's Secret

While the company’s fashion show had the worst ratings on record in 2017, averaging a 1.5 rating among adults 18-49, a 30 percent drop from the previous low one year prior. But while the fashion show’s ratings are a big issue, there’s much deeper ones running through Victoria’s Secret.

This month the company announced the sudden departure of Jan Singer, CEO of the L Brands unit which included Victoria’s Secret, only joining the brand in September 2016. Her departure — only one week after the VS show in NYC, is only the latest in a streak of bad publicity for the company over the last few weeks.

Just prior to this event, the chief architects of the show — CMO of L Brands Ed Razek and VP of PR Monica Mitro — sat down with Vogue to share details about the upcoming show. The interview was going fine, but when the duo was asked about the shifting trends and needs from consumers, Razek got ugly:

“So it’s like, why don’t you do 50? Why don’t you do 60? Why don’t you do 24? It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is. It is the only one of its kind in the world, and any other fashion brand in the world would take it in a minute, including the competitors that are carping at us. And they carp at us because we’re the leader. They don’t talk about each other. I accept that. I actually respect it. Cool. But we’re nobody’s third love. We’re their first love. And Victoria’s Secret has been women’s first love from the beginning.”

Then days later an insincere apology was sent out via the Victoria’s Secret Twitter account but the message that “transsexuals” do not fit in the idea of “fantasy” that VS wants to represent. Thousands of people have since voiced their disapproval of the brand on social media, vowing to boycott the chain, including executives from other lingerie brands.

Becca McCharen-Tran, founder of Chromat, penned a response to the remarks in Out:

“Chromat’s success — commercially and among the press — is a direct result of our point of difference in the very crowded swim and lingerie space. As a women at the helm of a swim or lingerie brand, I’ve refused to compromise on inclusivity as a pillar of our business model. That means Chromat has always designed for a wide range of sizes (we currently offer sizes 00 — 30 at chromat.co), and for all different bodies, ages, abilities and places on the gender spectrum. As a queer woman, I do not focus on designing clothes to make the wearer more appealing to men. Rather, I want our clothes to empower anyone who wears them to harness the strength and beauty within themselves.”

The co-founder and co-CEO of ThirdLove, Heidi Zak, responded to the interview at first on Instagram, but then took out a full-page ad in The New York Times to spotlight more publicity on the matter:

“You market to men and sell a male fantasy to women. But at ThirdLove, we think beyond, as you said, a “42-minute entertainment special.” Your show may be a “fantasy” but we live in reality. Our reality is that women wear bras in real life as they go to work, breastfeed their children, play sports, care for ailing parents, and serve their country. Haven’t we moved beyond outdated ideas of femininity and gender roles? It’s time to stop telling women what makes them sexy — let us decide. We’re done with pretending certain sizes don’t exist or aren’t important enough to serve. And please stop insisting that inclusivity is a trend.”

When Singer joined VS from her previous role at Spanx, it was said that she wanted to seek out new, young customers with new products and better understanding of the consumer. “It’s not a one size fits all,” she said in a conference call, which is clearly not the case, as evident from the recent remarks by company staff.

Furthermore, recent data from YouGov shows that female’s perception of VS has declined since 2013, according to the research firm’s “buzz score” which tracks how customers feel about brands, based on what they see and hear.

To make a comeback from this most recent mess, the company needs to really double down on being in tune with current cultural trends and what is deemed acceptable by the public — clearly the company is failing to do this so far — because today’s consumers aren’t overly forgiving and customers voices carry an immense amount of weight.

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