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Victoria’s Secret Finally Features Plus-Size Model

In an attempt to draw consumer attention back to its pink and black-striped storefronts, Victoria’s Secret has launched a new partnership with ultra-modern, London-based lingerie label Bluebella.

The capsule collection was announced last week, and will be available at the company’s stores across the U.S. and online, as well as in select stores in the U.K.,  beginning Oct. 11.

Bluebella’s founder, Emily Bendell, said in a statement that her line of bras, panties and lingerie sets is “designed to inspire the spirited lifestyle,” along with promoting self-acceptance and individuality.

That message appears to have been incorporated into the collaboration’s branding. Victoria’s Secret introduced the Bluebella line with a campaign that centered on size 14 model Ali Tate Cutler. Cutler represents the first plus-size model to ever be featured in a Victoria’s Secret marketing effort.

“The Bluebella woman does not see lingerie as a functional or traditionally sexy purchase. She sees it as a fashion crossover style and a personal self-indulgence,” Bendell explained. “No one should leave gorgeous lingerie languishing in the drawer, waiting for that ‘special occasion’—our highly wearable fashion-led collection can make every day feel just that little bit more exciting,” she added.

The line’s launch is clearly a show of effort by Victoria’s Secret, which has faced falling earnings for over a year and rumors of scandal in recent months. But a niche brand collaboration and the inclusion of one plus-size model may be more of a whisper than the bang needed to revive flagging sales and dwindling consumer interest.

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Recent statements from L Brands Inc.’s chairman and CEO Les Wexner suggest the company has recognized the need for a redirect. In September, Wexner told attendees at an Investor Day presentation, “What happened at Victoria’s Secret and Pink, I would say, is a lack of curiosity at the leader level and [then] going back and repeating things that have worked.”

He insisted that “the fashion business has to have leaders that are curious,” and willing to challenge the status quo, instead of returning to the well time and time again, as Victoria’s Secret has done to lackluster results.

Wexner’s remarks, meant to show insight into the changing market, may have been less revelatory than intended. Shifting consumer attitudes aren’t just the product of boredom with the brand—they signify a much larger cultural awakening, especially within female shoppers.

Consumers aren’t just bored with the store’s offerings—they’re questioning the need for Victoria’s Secret’s brand of sexy altogether.

The once dominant brand’s market share is now being snatched up by direct-to-consumer startups that prize practicality, personalization and fit over racy designs. Bras, underwear and shapewear from brands like ThirdLove, Lively, Harper Wilde, Nudea, and even Kim Kardashian West’s Skims offer wearable silhouettes in a diverse array of of nude colorways.

Size inclusivity—perhaps the prevailing pain point for Victoria’s Secret—was the dominant focus of Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty fashion show in New York last month, which featured a diverse, star-studded cast of models and performers including Laverne Cox, Gigi Hadid and Halsey (who expressed regret at her participation in Victoria’s Secret’s fashion show in 2018). The brand’s second Fashion Week debut drew a massive crowd, and even more watchers on Amazon Prime Video, where the show was streamed exclusively.

In May, Wexner decided to pull Victoria’s Secret’s annual fashion show from the airwaves, telling staff in an email that it was “time to rethink” the format of the iconic annual event and the brand’s strategy moving forward. “Fashion is a business of change. We must evolve and change to grow,” he said.