Victoria’s Secret is a significant lingerie brand that has maintained its legacy over the years. Its popularity came at the dawn of modernity. It is an American brand that started in the 20th century and became a global sensation years after its inception.
We can trace Victoria’s secret history back to June 4, 1977. Roy Raymond started this company and raised it from obscurity to popularity. Years after its inception, Victoria’s Secret became a household name in America.
They became the largest retailer of underwear in the United States of America. By 2018, they had established over 1000 outlets scattered home and abroad. However, recent research revealed that the company has struggled to stay afloat since 2016. The struggles are due to the shift in consumers’ preferences and controversial leadership.
Nevertheless, Victoria’s Secret history of 44yrs of fame, glamor, and class is definitely compelling. This article explores and exposes you to the history of Victoria’s Secret. So, sit back and enjoy.
- Victoria’s Secret – the foundation
- Becoming a renowned brand
- Marketing strategies over the years
- The growth and sustainability
Victoria’s Secret History – The foundation
Roy Raymond and his wife, Gaye Raymond, started Victoria’s Secret in America on June 12, 1977, in Palo Alto, California. Their first store was in a rental shopping mall called Stanford Shopping Center.
Just like every other successful business person, Ray Raymond had quite an interesting story to back up his decision to open a lingerie store in the heart of California. It happened that he had visited a particular lingerie store years earlier. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. It’s not that. He only visited the underwear store to purchase lingerie for his lovely wife, Gabe Raymond.
Raymond said in an interview that all he saw were racks of ugly floral-print nylon nightgowns and terry-cloth robes. Not just that, he expressed his embarrassment as people in the store saw him as an unwelcome intruder. Raymond has excellent business and solution-providing instincts. So he studied the lingerie market for eight years after the lingerie incident. He finally ventured into it in 1977.
So, now that you know the drive behind Victoria’s Secret let’s get down to business.
The early days
When I tag this section “the early days,” you’re probably thinking of the first five years of Victoria’s Secret. But surprisingly, I did discover that Victoria’s Secret did not take so much time to take off.
Before the inception of Victoria’s Secret, the undergarments market was quite largely myopic and limited by stereotype. The majority considered lingerie, like lacy thongs, push-up bras, etc., to be niche and provocative. The market was dominated by Hanes, Jockey, and Fruit of the Loom items. They sell these pragmatic items in three-in-one packs at department stores. Funny enough, they reserve lingerie for special occasions like going on a honeymoon.
In the undergarments market, specialty stores like Frederick’s of Hollywood were the ones selling lingerie. So, in short, Raymond saw a market full of opportunities. And on June 12, 1977, he started something which later became a global sensation.
The name Victoria’s Secret came from Queen Victoria of the then Victoria era. Roy Raymond, alongside his wife, borrowed a total of $80,000 to establish Victoria’s Secret. He borrowed $40,000 from his family and another $40,000 from a bank.
In Victoria’s Secret’s first year, they made a gross income of $500,000. Yes! That was huge. Since the profit was great, they expanded from headquarters and a warehouse to four new stores in different locations. The fourth store, which operated from 1982 till 1990 at Sutter Street, moved to a larger space in Westin St. Francis.
Raymond sent out his catalog no 12 at the rate of $3. The 12th catalog was a massive success: half of their $7million annual sales. The company was still a minor player in the market during this period.
Barely five (5) years after startup, Victoria’s Secret grew from having just one store to having numerous stores in different locations in America. They, at that time, had a 40-page catalog. That’s not all; by 1982, they recorded an annual gross income of almost $6 million.
The turnaround came in 1983 after Raymond sold the company to Lex Wexner for 1 million dollars. Lex Wexner is the creator of Limited Stores Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. Wexner restructured Victoria’s Secret. Remember that Roy Roland aimed to create a store where men could buy underwear without feeling embarrassed. Wexner’s restructuring, however, shifted the focus of Victoria’s Secret to female customers.
The company transformed into a mainstay. They began to sell generally accepted female underwear with new designs, styles, colors, and patterns. Their products had a reputation of sexiness packaged in class, taste, and glamor.
Wexner retained some things from Raymond’s invention, like the name “Victoria’s Secret” and the catalog format. Like Raymond, they would list their headquarters as a fake London address on the catalog. However, the actual address was in Columbus, Ohio. Wexner redesigned the stores to evoke 19th century England.
New York Times 1982 ascribed the financial success of Victoria’s Secret to the presentations of lingerie as “romantic and sexual, yet tasteful.” In 1982, Victoria’s Secret made Howard Gross the company’s president. By 1986, Victoria’s Secret was the only national store focused on selling lingerie.
Victoria’s Secret achieved what many would call the impossible just 9yrs after its inception. They became famous for their sexy high fashion photography, which they used to sell lingerie. By 1986, Victoria’s Secret had swiftly expanded to a hundred (100) stores. An article in 1987 describes them as “an obvious leader.”
The addition of clothing, shoes, and swimwear aided the expansion of sales and profits from the catalog.
According to an analyst in 1990, Victoria’s Secret lingerie sales had quadrupled from 1986 to 1990. It became one of the significant fastest-growing businesses.
Victoria’s Secret became one of the bestselling catalogs in 1987. The company’s total revenues increased to almost $1billion under Cynthia Fedus-Fields. She oversaw Victoria’s Secret’s direct business from 1985-2000.
The company experienced some significant problems regarding its products in the 1990s. In the beginning, they assigned Howard Gross to fix the L Brands subsidiary limited stores. In 1993, Grace Nicholas succeeded Howard Gross. She tried her best to improve the product quality. However, the challenge left an indelible mark on the company’s returns. There was slower profit growth because the company’s margin tightened.
Victoria’s Secret made a significant expansion in 1991. They went beyond apparel to make their line of fragrances. After the launch of their fragrance in 1991, they further expanded into the world of cosmetics in 1998. They are what we can term “limitless.”
Furthermore, they introduced a bra design tagged “Miracle Bra” in 1993. The “Miracle Bra” was a massive success. They sold over two million the first year they introduced the product. That introduction was challenged by Sara Lee’s Wonderbra in 1994, but Victoria’s Secret had already gained ground then.
Building a renowned brand
In 1998, Victoria’s Secret launched an e-commerce website they had been building since 1995. After their popular show in 1999, the website experienced high traffic. Online visitors flooded the website to watch their first online show. With 1.5 million viewers, that show remains one of the most prominent online streaming events.
The Fashion show
In 1994, Lex Wexner created a fashion event for Victoria’s Secret. The idea became a reality in 1995. Victoria’s Secret held its first fashion show in New York. The show was so massive that it became a global affair. The show boosted the company’s image for the next 23 years.
L Brands hires supermodels for fashion shows and advertising. The Fashion show was an effective marketing strategy of Victoria’s Secret. It was held from 1995 to 2005.
Popular models like Stephanie Seymour, Yasmeen Ghauri, Karen Mulder, etc., also helped in the company’s publicity.
Victoria’s Secret History – Marketing strategies over the years
Aside from its signature products, they also have secondary products like swimwear, activewear, fragrances, and cosmetics.
They introduced swimwear in 2002 but didn’t make it available to the market until 2006. The management removed it from the need for a while and later relaunched it in November 2018.
Victoria’s Secret, in 2010, launched a new product that they called “Incredible Bra.” In 2012, they released their designer collection, their first high-end lingerie line.
They further decided to eliminate swimwear, shoes, apparel, and accessories in 2017. They started focusing on bralettes and sports bras. Bralettes are bras without an underwire. They made this decision so that their products can appeal more to younger generation customers.
As a marketing strategy to boost their dwindling market, they relaunched their footwear and eyewear product line in 2019. Also, Pink relaunched its line of reusable period panties in October 2021.
The company’s Brand has three (3) divisions:
- The Victoria’s Secret stores: deals with physical store locations
- Victoria’s Secret Direct: deals with online and catalog operation
- Victoria’s Secret Beauty: deals with bath and cosmetics
The three divisions have their individual Chief Executive Officers. Lex Wexner made these changes in 2016 in a bid to refocus on Victoria’s Secret core business.
The growth and sustainability of the Victoria’s Secret Brand
The expansion reached Canada in 2010. Victoria’s Secret opened the first store in Canada in Edmonton, Alberta. They went ahead in 2012 to open another store in Quebec. As of 2020, Victoria’s Secret had Canadian stores in all the cities in Canada’s ten provinces. The total number of stores in Canada is 38.
They further opened the first store in the United Kingdom in July 2012. In August, they followed that with their flagship store on New Bond Street, London. And subsequently, they opened stores in cities like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow, etc. As of June 2020, they had 25 stores in different locations in the United Kingdom.
They had Franchise stores in China, which they purchased back from their Franchise partners in 2016. According to a report from Reuters, Victoria’s Secret, as of 2020, had twenty-four stores in Greater China.
Victoria’s Secret history is one that we cannot exhaust. They’ve had quite a journey over the past 44years. One thing about them is that they pursue their brand’s relevance relentlessly. From lingerie to beauty, to Angels, to Pink; they proved to be focused as well as creative.
With a long line of leadership and thousands of stores worldwide, Victoria’s Secret became a global sensation. However, due to some setbacks, their stores reduced from 1070 to 775 globally in 2021. In that same year, they made a net income of US$844 million and total assets of US$11.57 billion.