The company L Brands continues leading the market of intimate in the United States, but has distanced from a customer that does not want its angels, its fashion shows, nor its push-ups anymore.
For years, the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show was one of the largest media events in the world. Millions of people in their homes watched those thin models dressed in exaggerated lingerie sets that represented the epitome of what was considered sexy.
Until it stopped being it. While it was still opening stores inspired by Victorian brothels and undressing the better paid models in the world, Victoria’s Secret distances from a customer who no longer thinks of its angels, fashion shows, or push-ups as sexy.
Victoria’s Secret continues leading the market of intimate in the United States, which amounts to 12.4 billion dollars: almost one out of four dollars spent in underwear in the country go to the company. However, its sales already register two consecutive years decreasing, something that affects its parent company, L Brands, which generates 60% of its revenue from Victoria’s Secret.
Last year, Jan Singer, its chief executive officer, left the group only two years after taking office coming from Spanx. The executive was responsible for the strategic decisions, such as eliminating the beachwear line, which now has been relaunched in order to try to compensate for the fall of the brand in underwear.
Victoria’s Secret distances from its customers but continues leading the US underwear market
Victoria’s Secret closed fiscal year 2018 (ended on February), with a revenue of 7.37 billion dollars, flat compared to the previous year. In 2017, the chain’s business had dropped by 5%. The comparable sales, meanwhile, fell by 8% in 2017 and 2% in 2018.
L Brands does not divide the profit by brands, but the Victoria’s Secret crisis is one of the main responsible for the profitability fall of the group, which shrunk its profit by 7% in 2016, by 15% in 2017 and by 35% in 2018.
The figures of the show are not any better: in 2017, the audience of the event reached historically low rates since it was first organized in 1995, with only five million attendees, and last year fell back to 3.3 million.
What are the reasons for this? Brand, product and overcapacity of stores. First, the hyper-sexualized, white and thin image of Victoria’s Secret conceived in 1977 by Roy Raymond is no longer the ideal for women in 2019, which opt for brands with more inclusive messages. On the other hand, the product has become meaningless in the athleisure and casual segments.
The group has also arrived late to the retail transformation: until just a few years ago, it only sold online in the United States and the United Kingdom, and its more than 1,500 stores around the world have become a burden. The company has been reorganizing its network of stores for two years: this year the group plans to close 53 stores of the chain.
The crisis of Victoria’s Secret has even attracted the attention of some investors of the group, such as Barington, who asked L Brands to consider splitting off Bath&Body Works, which continues rising, from the intimate chain, and underlined the need to improve branding and merchandising.
The new generation
Meanwhile, brands such as Aerie, Savage X Fenty, Third Love or True&Co., in the antipodes of the US company, grow through messages of diversity, a broader size range and omnichannel strategy.
American Eagle Outfitters launched Aerie in 2006, but it was not until a decade later when it decided to ban the use of Photoshop in their models. The measure was widely accepted and other brands followed afterwards. Of course, Victoria’s Secret was not among them.
The chain has a market share of only 3% in the United States, according to Euromonitor, but grows by leaps and bounds. Aerie has recorded seventeen consecutive quarters of double-digit growth, and closed 2018 with a comparable sales increase of 29%. It is expected that this year the company will maintain that rate and exceed one billion dollars in sales. The company operates 115 stores, as well as many spaces within American Eagle stores, although generates 50% of its online business.
Brands such as Aerie or Savage X Fenty have gained ground through a discourse of diversity
Diversity and omnichannelity are common in all the underwear brands that grow the most. One of those with the greatest media impact is Savage X Fenty, driven by Rihanna, which shows models of different sizes and ethnicities in their advertising and website and has made diversity the key of its discourse.
ThirdLove, another start up, offers more than seventy sizes of bras; Harper Wilde or True&Co (owned by PVH) offer the option to test several bras at home before paying; Trunude offers nude colors for all ethnic groups.
Many of these brands use their differentiation of Victoria’s Secret as one of the keys of their speech, as Lane Bryant, specialized in plus size underwear, which has launched campaigns under the motto I’m No Angel.
And how about the historic ones?
Among the European giants, the evolution is uneven. The French Etam, which was excluded from the stock market in June 2017, has accumulated several years of decline, mainly due to its business in China, where it also operates with an external fashion chain.
The company, which has a revenue of around 1.3 billion euros, is focusing its efforts on its Undiz chain, aimed at a younger audience and with a product mix consisting more of sports and cotton garments than the traditional lace of its partner company.
The other European titan, Calzedonia, continues to grow, boosted by the international market. In 2017, the latest fiscal year for which data is available, the company rose its sales by 8.7%, to 2.31 billion euros.
After launching a cost containment plan that same year, the group increased its net profit by 19.7%, until 249 million euros. The bulk of its business does not come from the intimate, but from the main chain specialized in hosiery, Calzedonia, which registered 802 million euros. Meanwhile, Intimissimi, registered 691 million euros and Tezenis, with a similar approach to Undiz, 609 million.