What has happened to Victoria's Secret?
I hesitated posting this tonight because it would technically be the second "rant" of sorts on Go Retro in one week. I hate to sound like I'm complaining or being cranky, especially when I really have been in a super mood lately. But the draft for this post has been sitting in limbo on Blogger for a few weeks now, and with the Victoria's Secret fashion show about to air next week, I might as well get on with it and get it out of my system. (Warning...this is kind of a lengthy post.)
And what I need to get out of my system is...Victoria's Secret sucks. It is so far removed now from the store I was a regular customer of in the '90s. I'm actually going to make a prediction here: I wouldn't be surprised if, five years from now, we hear about the demise of the chain.
I first wrote about the downfall of Victoria's Secret here a good 5 or 6 years ago, but the topic is worth revisiting. A few weeks ago, VS sent me a new "Angel" card in the mail (their cutesy name for their store card) and a $10 birthday gift card. I thought I might be able to use it towards a nice blouse or at least a long-sleeved t-shirt.
Then I started to notice something very weird as I went through their website. Hey, wait a minute. There were no jeans. No dresses. No suits. No blouses. Nada. There were some tops, but they literally looked like rags.
What the bleep
I deferred to Google, and saw a news announcement from last year saying that Victoria's Secret was discontinuing a lot of their clothing line. Apparently, a lot equals everything but the undergarments, swimwear, and cheesy "PINK" line aimed at teens and college students.
WTF, Victoria's Secret? Why? Most baffling about the corporate change is the fact that the clothing assortment made the company a lot of money; between $500 and $750 million annually according to sources.
Now granted, it isn't the end of the world that Victoria's Secret no longer sells a wide variety of clothing; I've always had plenty of other retailers to choose from. But it's disappointing to me that they're choosing to cater to a younger, selfie obsessed demographic and ignoring the spending power of older women. (And by older, I mean women in their 30s and 40s.)
|And she's wearing gloves and earrings!|
Sadly, that means today's image of Victoria's Secret is so drastically different than the one I was a customer of a good 20 years ago. I hate visiting their stores today. I only go just to stock up on cotton bikini panties, one of the few good things they still make. The music is loud, the stores attract girls who look way too young to be perusing sexy lingerie, and the shop itself with its techno modern interior feels cold. This is a stark 180 from what their image used to look like.
Throughout the years the chain has been through so many owners and management that kept changing the brand's focus, and that's part of the problem. In 2000, the new chief executive at that time, Sharen Jester Turney, complained that the catalogs showed too much cleavage and were a dorm room Playboy substitute; I actually think that describes today's incarnation of the catalog more accurately.
I tried to locate a photo online of what the shops originally looked like, with no luck, so I guess I'll just have to briefly paint it with words. Picture, if you will, a store that looked like a French or English boudoir from the 1900s. Pastel shades, cozy waiting chairs outside the changing area, and classical music softly being piped through the walls (in 1991, the company actually hired the London Symphony Orchestra to record a CD that was sold in the stores.) And the clothes were beautiful; sexy yet classy. It definitely wasn't a place that would have appealed to teenagers. You had to be a certain age to enter a Victoria's Secret store with confidence. I think I was 19 or 20 when I first walked into one and began buying their clothing through their catalogs.
Interestingly enough, VS was founded by a man and meant to be a place where a man could comfortably shop for lingerie for the woman in his life. Roy Raymond and his wife started the company in 1977 after Raymond became dissatisfied with the dowdy selection of female undergarments and lingerie being manufactured at the time; push-up bras and other sexy selections during the '70s were considered tacky novelty items and mostly sold by the slightly sleazy Frederick's of Hollywood.
Until Raymond sold the company in 1982, Victoria's Secret was mostly marketed to men. After the new owner, Leslie Wexner, took over he changed the focus to female customers. That included revamping the colors and patterns of the product line as well as the look of the stores and expanding them into malls across the U.S.
Only their sleepwear and undergarments were sold in the stores; the regular clothing line was marketed through their catalogs. Many of the items were credited to a manufacturer called Moda International and some of it was made in Italy and the U.S. When I worked at a hotel during my college years and then secured my first office job about a year after I graduated, much of my wardrobe was comprised of purchases from Victoria's Secret. The quality of their clothing at that time was quite good; I had dresses and suit jackets from them that were lined and tailored.
Recently I dug up the following photos, that were taken about 13 or 14 years ago. (Yes, that's John Mayer with me; a friend at the time won free tickets to his show when he was just starting to make a name for himself and it included a "meet and greet" before the performance. Don't be impressed -- he acted like a douche. And I''m 99.9% sure he was stoned. Ah, memories.)
The reason I'm even including these pictures is because the dress I'm wearing there came from Victoria's Secret. It was lightly lined and had a kind of '60s paisley print and ruffled three quarter sleeves. I miss it -- I donated it when I went up a dress size and now that I've lost the weight, wish I had held onto it.
Victoria's Secret also sold the best jeans, their London Jean collection which was discontinued some time ago. To this day I've tried on and bought many other denim brands, but I've yet to find ones that fit me quite like London Jeans did. And the nice thing about them is they came in a wide variety of styles and cuts...so if you don't like low-cut jeans that teeter on the edge of your hips, VS gave plenty of options!
And the models that were employed by VS back in the day compared to today...well, there's no comparison. Just look at my intro graphic at the top of my post. The models that made it into the catalogs were gorgeous and classy, and included Karen Mulder, Stephanie Seymour, Jill Goodacre (Harry Connick Jr.'s wife), Helena Christensen, Elle Macpherson, Tyra Banks and later, Heidi Klum. What used to be sexy and natural looking has now been replaced by over Photoshopped, underfed girls with no remarkable features in my opinion. Most of them are significantly younger than the models used during the '90s; still clearly in their teens.
On December 8, several of those girls will strut their stuff wearing over-the-top costumes that look like they came from Elton John's yard sale in the annual televised Victoria's Secret fashion show, which is the only thing the company seems to be known for these days, sadly.
Ironically, Frederick's of Hollywood appears to me to have better quality clothing these days, and they still use attractive adult women for their models.
I've done enough grumbling; the brand's old image is gone like the wind and it'll never be back. But my memories of the older catalogs have been saved online; here's some scans I found on a Tumblr page showing what Victoria's Secret used to sell and what the image looked like. Just take a look, and then visit the retailer's website to see what I mean. Talk about a fall from grace.
Stephanie Seymour modeling a top and leggings that I seriously would choose over anything I saw on the Victoria's Secret website the other day.
Claudia Schiffer also modeled for the catalogs.
A beautiful nightgown and robe being modeled by Tatjana Patitz for the catalog. Why they still can't sell clothing like this is beyond me.
Honestly, this suit would still be in style today. I remember that I wanted it -- but $189 was a splurge for an office Christmas party outfit in the '90s!
This is adorable. I would totally wear this sleepwear in the summer.
I had a riding jacket from VS along with one of their turtleneck sweaters and wool skirts.
Like I said, their London Jeans were the best...and that price! Seriously, you couldn't get better quality for the cost at the time.
Heidi Klum modeling winter accessories. I still have (and wear) the white fur headband and gloves.
Those London Jeans again...the best.