New Victoria’s Secret CEO promises ‘significant change’ for the brand

Columbus Business First

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – NOVEMBER 21: Shoppers walk past a Victoria’s Secret store along the Magnificent Mile on November 21, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Victoria’s Secret will become “broadly inclusive” of customers and body types, its new leader says.

The brand will make “significant change” in its presentation, Martin Waters said on an investor call Thursday, his first public comments since being named CEO of the brand this month. And it comes as the lingerie retailer plans to separate from parent L Brands Inc. this year.

That means putting to bed the years-running reputation of the brand as out of touch with modern beauty standards and catering only to svelte bodies. Waters said his objective is to refresh the brand “to make it more relevant, to make it more inclusive, to make it more consistent with the attitude and lifestyle of the modern woman.”

“(W)e’ve listened to her and we’ve carefully decided to make some change,” Waters said on the call. “And that change is summarized by her asking us to move away from telling her what we think is sexy, and what we think she should wear, and how we think she should look. To being there, to help her craft the story that she wants to tell.

“So our job is to support her in whatever way that she needs us to.”

This marks a change in direction from the brand’s controversial stances years ago, when it was the uncontested market leader in lingerie and intimate apparel for women. Under former L Brands CEO Les Wexner the brand cultivated a sexy image but resisted marketing to women of larger body types. Sales flagged as upstarts with a more inclusive message eroded its market share.

Ed Razek, architect of the one-time blockbuster Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, controversially said the show shouldn’t feature transgender models because it is a “fantasy.” (Following Razek’s departure, the brand eventually did so.)

The brand must stay close to its market segments, Waters said, including the high school and college-aged costumers who shop at PINK and the young professionals targeted by Victoria’s Secret. Both segments now have a more practical view on comfort, and are also more socially conscious.

“(W)e know that our messaging around diversity, equity inclusion, sustainability is really resonating with that (Generation Z) consumer. So that’s the most targeted,” he said. 

Waters said the shift will show up in day-to-day changes of social media and promotions, instead of a major brand relaunch. But they’ll be noticeable nonetheless.

“If anything, we’ve been too specific in our target (customer),” Waters said. “We should be appealing to more women, more of the time for more stages of their life.”

“I would expect us to be less focused on a specific demographic target and more focused on being broadly inclusive of all women of all shapes and sizes and colors and ethnicities and genders and areas of interest,” Waters said.

Meanwhile, the company is still thinking about how it separates Victoria’s Secret from L Brands. It’ll either take the form of a spinoff or a sale to another company, but it’s likely the price will be “significantly” above this time last year, when suitor Sycamore Partners LLC valued the business at $1.1 billion, CFO Stuart Burgdoerfer said.

Victoria’s Secret closed 225 under-performing stores in 2020 and plans to close 30 to 50 this year. The brand saw a significant boost in online shoppers, Burgdoerfer said.

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