Victoria’s Secret drops televised fashion show; will flagships be next?

A root-and-branch review of the Victoria’s Secret business has spelled the end of its famed televised catwalk shows – and even its giant flagship stores may be under threat.

The world’s most famous lingerie retailer is trying to arrest falling sales and counter competition from the likes of American Eagle Outfitters’ Aerie and Rihanna’s lingerie company Savage X Fenty.

Recognising it needs to reconnect with its core customer base, L Brands founder and chairman Leslie Wexner together with recently hired CEO John Mehas, are “re-birthing the brand” through a strategic review.

“Fashion is a business of change. We must evolve and change to grow,” Wexner said in an internal memo to staff passed on to CBS News. “For the past few months, we’ve said that we are taking a fresh look at every aspect of our business – from merchandising, marketing and brand positioning, to our real estate portfolio, digital business and cost structure … literally everything. We have made enormous progress in a very short time, and are looking forward to a successful fall and holiday with an elevated, fashion-forward assortment.”

An early decision is that the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show will no longer screen on national television in the US.

“Going forward we don’t believe network television is the right fit,” said Wexner in the memo.

“In 2019 and beyond, we’re focusing on developing exciting and dynamic content and a new kind of event — delivered to our customers on platforms that she’s glued to … and in ways that will push the boundaries of fashion in the global digital age.”

The annual show was launched in 1995, debuting on network television in 2001. However last year’s audience on ABC was 3.27 million, the smallest to date and less than half the viewership of two years earlier.

The Victoria’s Secret business has taken some hits in the court of public opinion during recent years. The format of the show, featuring models in scanty costume lingerie has been labelled out of touch in an era where #MeToo movement is reshaping attitudes. Last year, the company was embroiled in controversy after former chief marketing officer Ed Razek said he would not use transgender or plus-sized models in its campaigns.

Institutional shareholders are demanding higher returns, many lobbying for a spin off of the highly profitable Bath & Body Works subsidiary.

Early responses to Victoria’s Secret’s review appear positive. Analyst Lee Peterson, executive VP at Dublin-based retail consultancy WD Partners, said the lingerie giant appeared to be taking the right steps.

“Everything [Wexner] said – albeit a little tardy – is the right thing to do,” he said. “It seems to me they had an epiphany and realised it’s a new age. You can’t do anything in retail for 20 years and not change.

“Don’t forget Victoria’s Secret is still more than 60 per cent of the market. It’s a big ship to turn around,” said Peterson.

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