Victoria's Secret's Empowerment Rebrand Won't Save Itself

Rebrand or not, the panty emporium's relevancy is no longer

Victoria's Secret's Empowerment Rebrand Won't Save Itself
Image:TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP (Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Victoria’s Secret announced a change in direction that is a clear attempt to salvage its reputation. The Angels are no more and in their stead, the company debuted the VS Collective, “an ever-growing group of accomplished women who share a common passion to drive positive change,” per a press release. These women, which include Megan Rapinoe, Paloma Elsesser, and Amanda de Cadenet, are now the face of the brand’s quick turnaround: an attempt to prove to consumers that they are listening to criticism about its marketing, its image, and its general irrelevance, and that they are committed to change. The women in question will share their stories on a podcast hosted by de Cadenet, where they will ostensibly discuss “their unique backgrounds, interests and passions” in an attempt to communicate both relatability and inclusivity—two valuable tenets for retailers looking to telegraph their ability to keep up with the changing times.

News of this rebrand was met with much skepticism, considering the brand’s history, and like many other initiatives launched by brands that try to maintain relevance in a quickly changing world, the directives are unclear. Casting aside the Angels in favor of a hastily-assembled group of women who just happen to look different from one another can’t unwrite the brand’s history of promoting unattainable body standards and perpetuating the false notion that their brassieres or their underpants will make the average American woman look like a Barbie doll—tits hoisted to the chin as if held by invisible hands, with a pert ass and no cellulite. This is nothing more than an empty gesture towards the notion of inclusivity, something that Cora Harrington of the Lingerie Addict pointed out succinctly on Twitter.

Assuming that the American consumer’s memory is short enough to forget just how bad Victoria’s Secret was in the past is the thing that will ultimately cause this to fail. What Victoria’s Secret needs to reckon with is not only its myriad problems with regards to body image and outdated notions of what is or is not attractive, but its cultural irrelevance as a retailer, no matter how much revenue it still generates.

What Harrington points out on Twitter is that despite the brand’s much-ballyhooed death, they are still an enormous retailer with no real sign of disappearing from the market overall. Furthermore, assuming that a quick change of heart such as this rebrand will immediately turn the page on their past indiscretions is foolish. Consumers are not nearly as stupid or as accepting as they might think. They’re an enormous company with a longstanding reputation and the sheer work of refiguring their entire identity under the gaze of a critical public primed to root for their demise is not an easy task. The rise of accessible and inclusive direct-to-consumer brands that have already recognized the hole in the market that Victoria and her many secrets are incapable of filling are moving fast, seizing the opportunity to provide choices that the brand simply refuses to do. The truth is, what Victoria’s Secret sold was always a mediocre product disguised as something high-end, ostensibly marketed to women but actually for the fantasies of men. Times change, and retailers are rapidly changing with them—but Victoria’s Secret isn’t moving anywhere near fast enough.

The dimly-lit and odiferous interior of a Victoria’s Secret store in any mall merely suggests the kind of sex that other retailers revel in. Frederick’s of Hollywood and Agent Provocateur are similar to Victoria’s Secret aesthetically, but the former sells underwear for fucking and the latter is what Victoria’s Secret always wanted to be: sexy underwear that functions as set dressing more than anything else. Unfortunately, both brands miss the mark of what women actually need or want; for example, Savage x Fenty, Rihanna’s lingerie line, exists, and is inclusive in its sizing, understanding that women with large breasts or a big ass want to also wear crotchless panties and not feel bad about their bodies.

For undergarments that are actually functional, Victoria’s Secret was never the place to go. A bra shop staffed by stern women with a measuring tape around their necks and the years of experience required to size breasts by sight or a hearty squeeze is still perhaps the place to buy a bra that actually works. Online direct-to-consumer brands like Cuup, Third Love, and Lively all try to mimic the experience of a traditional bra shop by offering extensive fit quizzes, the chance to consult with a professional, and, crucially, an expansive range of sizes that take into account breasts of many more sizes and shapes. What a relief to have options, especially for women whose breasts are larger than a handful who would also like to feel attractive in their underpinnings.

Anyone looking for underwear that isn’t a Hanes 3-pack purchased at Rite-Aid has more and more options: Parade, the direct-to-consumer brand favored by Instagram’s avant-basic influencers and regular people alike, makes the kind of meshy, silky, and comfortable underwear that Victoria’s Secret tried and failed to do in its past, with inclusive sizing straight out of the gate. No one wants to go through the experience of pawing through bins of polyester lace when it’s much easier to find what you need or want on the internet and have it delivered to your home.

Victoria’s Secret’s rebrand is paying lip service to inclusivity by featuring a collective of women with diverse body types, but so far, the brand has said nothing about actually expanding their sizing to be inclusive. While other brands have stepped in after listening to what consumers actually want, Victoria’s Secret and the women attached to their new collective are using the language of empowerment feminism to suggest that they, too, have listened, and will eventually change, maybe. It’s worth noting that of the women in the collective, Rapinoe is a professional athlete with a body that many would kill for and Elsesser, while beautiful and larger than sample size, is still just a size 14. There could still be time to save themselves if anyone behind the brand actually understood the issues at hand, but this new initiative feels too little, too late.

Setting aside their myriad faults, the fact of the matter is that shopping is different now and brands have evolved to match the demands of their consumers. For Victoria’s Secret’s rebrand to be anything other than an empty gesture or a Hail Mary at saving itself from utter failure, they’d have to actually do the work.

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