The Victoria’s Secret empire was built, in part, on the wings of Heidi Klum, Gisele Bundchen, and Tyra Banks. But following a year in marketing purgatory, the famed Angels are officially no more.
After more than two decades, The New York Times reports the company is doing away with its heavenly super-model parade. In its place will be a new promotional campaign called the “VS Collective” that will feature “women famous for their achievements and not their proportions,” like the soccer star and gender equality advocate Megan Rapinoe.
The Angel’s demise has been some time coming. In 2019, CEO Leslie Wexner announced the end of the Angels fashion show broadcast, saying, “Fashion is a business of change. We must evolve and change to grow. With that in mind, we have decided to rethink the traditional Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”
Along with Rapinoe, the Times says the company has hired a number of women it hopes will help it redefine what it means to be sexy, including, “Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier and soon-to-be Olympian; the 29-year-old biracial model and inclusivity advocate Paloma Essler, who was the rare size 14 woman on the cover of Vogue; and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a 38-year-old Indian actor and tech investor.”
Rapinoe told the newspaper that the company’s previous approach to selling lingerie was, “patriarchal, sexist, viewing not just what it meant to be sexy but what the clothes were trying to accomplish through a male lens and through what men desired. And it was very much marketed toward younger women.” She also called the message the Angels sent “really harmful.”
“As a gay woman,” Rapinoe said, “I think a lot about what we think is sexy, and we are afforded the ability to do that, because I don’t have to wear the traditional sexy thing to be sexy and I don’t think the traditional thing is sexy when it comes to my partner or people I’ve dated.”
Despite the disruption of increased online shopping and a rash of bad press that included models alleging a culture of bullying and harassment, as well as charges that the brand is transphobic and not inclusive toward all body types, Victoria’s Secret sales have remained relatively stable compared to other fashion retailers. According to Business Insider, the company has recently begun to recoup some of the 11% market share it lost over the last six years. “Same-store sales were up 9% in the first quarter of the year versus 2019 and operating income, a measure of profitability, increased by $213 million or 665%,” the outlet reported.
But evidently the positive outlook isn’t enough to give the Angels a second lease on life. New CEO Martin Waters implied he’d been waiting to step up to his new role to give that tradition the axe, saying “I’ve known that we needed to change this brand for a long time, we just haven’t had the control of the company to be able to do it.”
Asked specifically about the Angels branding, Waters, told the Times, “Right now, I don’t see it as being culturally relevant.”