Victoria’s Secret was founded in 1977 by US businessman Roy Raymond, who set up a small chain of boudoir lingerie shops when he couldn’t find any man-friendly women’s stores.
In 1982, he sold the company to clothing magnate Les Wexner for $1 million — a fraction of its current value. Raymond later died by suicide after 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 sexy runway show at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1995 that made it a household name.
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
The show was broadcast on network TV in 185 countries, and millions tuned in to see supermodels Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Tyra Banks and Karen Mulder, among others, stripped down to the barest of essentials.
Victoria’s Secret opened its first flagship store on London’s Bond Street in 2012. The brand’s annual fashion show was held at the location in 2014 and featured Ed Sheeran as one of the celebrity performers.
The lingerie company has struggled to stay relevant in recent years. 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 and ended the year with CEO Jan Singer after just two years with the company.
The retailer’s former 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
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 — including 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 glamor 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.
In 2020, 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 February 2020, an explosive New York Times report detailed sexual harassment allegations against Victoria’s Secret executive Ed Razek, who had left the company the previous year.
Among the accusations was that Razek sexually harassed Bella Hadid during her fitting for the 2018 edition of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Three eyewitnesses and one person who heard of the remark secondhand said that Razek ordered: ‘Forget the panties,’ as Hadid was measured for underwear.
Three sources also alleged that he groped a model’s crotch through underwear at the same fitting where Hadid had her measurements.
Razek, who resigned in August 2019, insisted: ‘The accusations in this reporting are categorically untrue, misconstrued or taken out of context.’
Three months later, L Brands announced the closure of 250 stores in the US and Canada in May 2020 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.
In June 2021, Vicoria’s Secret unveiled its new diverse line-up of spokeswomen as part of its rebrand, including LGBT advocate and soccer start Megan Rapinoe and Indian actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
A month later, L Brands split into two separate companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.
In November, Victoria’s Secret forecast fourth quarter 2021 sales to be in the range of flat to up 3% versus last year’s fourth quarter sales of $2.100 billion.