Victoria’s Secret is on a “journey.”
America’s most-searched fashion brand rolled out a new collective of famous faces Wednesday, shining a spotlight on advocates known for far more than just their cover-girl looks.
CEO Martin Waters described the unveiling of VS Collective—promoting stars like refugee and model Adet Akuch, “Quantico” actor Priyanka Chopras Jonas, transgender model Valentina Sampaio and queer soccer icon Megan Rapinoe—as the first steps on an “incredible journey” for the lingerie giant, which parent L Brands announced last month it’s decoupling from Bath & Body Works, “to become the world’s leading advocate for women.”
It’s a marked reversal from the “sex sells” image Victoria’s Secret carefully constructed over the past several decades, leaning on scantily clad, seductively gazing models to move piles of barely there bras and provocative panties and hosting a runway spectacle whose must-see-TV status came to an unceremonious end in 2019. The company’s flesh-first approach to selling product is likely why Victoria’s Secret remains men’s 11th-favorite brand but ranks a distant 25th with women, according to YouGov, which says it’s the 19th-most-popular clothing brand overall as well as the fifth-most famous.
Victoria’s Secret, dogged by sexual harassment accusations and beset by upstarts from Mindd to Harper Wilde to ThirdLove and American Eagle’s rising superpower Aerie, seemingly acknowledged the about-face it’s undergoing with VS Collective, which is launching with seven members, including journalist Amanda de Cadenet, world champion free skier Eileen Gu, and body-positive model Paloma Elsesser—whose 37-inch waist would once be unwelcome at the label more closely associated with taut-and-toned types.
The new collective marks a “dramatic shift for our brand,” Waters said, “and it’s a shift that we embrace from our core.”
According to VS chief marketing officer Martha Pease, the company believes the collective platform can forge “new, deeper relationships with all women,” through partnerships, collaborations and cause-focused efforts bringing “new dimensions” to how consumers experience the Victoria’s Secret brand.
“In marrying our new partners’ energy, creativity and perspectives with our network and scale, we can transform how we connect with and show up for women,” she added.
The collective’s luminaries are tasked with leveraging their “unique backgrounds, interests and passions” to build new programs for company associates, conceive of “revolutionary” new products, brainstorm relevant messaging and content, and drum up support for the causes women care about. Chopras Jonas said she’s “most excited for new customers and for those who have always been a customer of Victoria’s Secret to feel represented and like they belong.”
Victoria’s Secret has been searching for its way forward since Leslie Wexner stepped down early last year as chairman and CEO of L Brands, whose planned sale of the struggling intimates giant to Sycamore quickly collapsed in Covid’s wake. Wexner’s cozy ties to late billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who reportedly committed suicide while jailed on charges of sex trafficking women and minors, brought intense scrutiny to Victoria’s Secret, which has seen sluggish sales as consumers discover brands whose values better match their own.
The company hopes shoppers will engage with the collective’s inaugural efforts by tuning into a new de Cadenet-hosted podcast bringing members’ stories to life. “I believe true change comes from the inside out and that a group of aligned people can shift culture,” the award-winning broadcaster said in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity to be a part of this incredible collective of women and to utilize my creative and professional abilities to prioritize authentic representation of women and support Victoria’s Secret senior leadership in their mission to drive systemic change.”
In addition to recruiting fresh faces to front its brand, Victoria’s Secret is marshaling cancer research specialist and longtime partner Pelotonia to launch The VS Global Fund for Women’s Cancers, awarding “at least $5 million” each year to “examine and address racial and gender inequities and unlock new innovations that improve cancer outcomes for all women,” it said.
As part of its cancer-fighting focus, the lingerie brand will link up during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month with sustainable designer Stella McCartney, who said she’s “hopeful this initiative will provide easier access to information, support and services to a huge community of women around the world.”
The developments mark a massive and much-needed restart for Victoria’s Secret, which has hemorrhaged market share in recent years after once virtually cornering the intimates market. Embracing inclusion by partnering with celebrities like Rapinoe, who felt “on the outside looking in with brands in the beauty and fashion industry,” could give the label a shot in the arm. The Nike-sponsored star said she’s “thrilled to be creating a space that sees the true spectrum of ALL women.”
Victoria’s Secret will likely have more to come as it undertakes the hard work of leaving a legacy of airbrushed, unrealistic and largely unattainable perfection in the rearview mirror.
“These new initiatives are just the beginning,” Waters said. “We are energized and humbled by the work ahead of us.”