The lingerie maker, which has held the lavish fashion event every year but one since 1995, has “decided to rethink” the show, Les Wexner, founder of parent company L Brands Inc., said in an email to staff.
“Fashion is a business of change. We must evolve and change to grow,” he said. “Going forward we don’t believe network television is the right fit. In 2019 and beyond, we’re focusing on developing exciting and dynamic content and a new kind of event.”
Wexner said the reimagined content would be delivered to customers on the platforms they’re already “glued to,” and in ways that will “push the boundaries of fashion in the global digital age.” The company declined to comment further on the planned changes or on what platforms the event might air.
The annual fashion show has been a major marketing event for Victoria’s Secret for more than two decades. It held the first version at New York’s Plaza Hotel, with models gliding down the runway in slips and cardigans. Over the years, it grew into a lingerie extravaganza, with musical performances from pop stars, plus vibrant costumes and diamond-encrusted bras. The brand’s top models, called Angels, often donned wings for the event.
But the event also brought its share of criticism. It was seen as promoting models of a certain body type at a time of shifting consumer demands, especially involving themes of female empowerment and diversity.
Ed Razek, L Brands chief marketing officer of creative services, said in an interview with Vogue in November that the company has “considered” putting a transgender model or plus-size model in the show. It tried putting on a TV special for plus-size models in 2000, but “no one had any interest in it, still don’t.”
Its reticence to change has been made even more pronounced with the emergence of competitors like Rihanna’s lingerie company Savage X Fenty, American Eagle Outfitters Inc.’s Aerie and ThirdLove, which aim to be more inclusive of women of different shapes, sizes and backgrounds.
Ratings for the show have fallen in recent years. The 2018 edition, which aired on ABC after years under contract with CBS, drew its smallest-ever audience of just 3.3 million viewers, down from 5 million the year prior.
As the chain has struggled to resonate with younger buyers, it announced plans to close about 53 Victoria’s Secrets in North America this year, more than three times the 15 it has historically closed down in an average year. It also relaunched its swim collection in a bid to diversify its lineup.
By moving to a new platform, the reimagined fashion show could serve as a reset button for an event that’s faced controversy for not being more reflective of a wide diversity of women.
“It’s still very clear it’s still about just sexy, plain old sexy,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Poonam Goyal. “You’ve got to be almost perfect to be a model for that fashion show. Does that broaden out?”
If a transition like this is made, it can’t just be with the fashion show, Goyal said. It would also have to encompass the marketing and what’s inside the stores.
Victoria’s Secret has traveled the world with its fashion show in an effort to attract more attention in international markets including Paris, London and Cannes. Its latest trip in 2017 took the show to Shanghai to court China’s lingerie shoppers, though it ran into several issues regarding visas for models and attendees. The show returned to New York last year.
Reporting by Jordyn Holman and Kim Bhasin.