The history of Victoria's Secret is fragmented all over the Internet, and I have attempted to write a brief history from various sources, because I think it's just fascinating.
There are rumors and controversies, sexuality and mystery aligned with the brand.
Founded by Roy Raymond and his Gaye on June 12, 1977, Victoria's Secret was born out of a taboo of the times. Underwear was something bought nearly exclusively in packs of 3 and bras, only a basic necessity. Anything out of the ordinary was not easy to find, and was only reserved for special moments, like honeymoons. Undergarments were dowdy and pragmatic, nothing more.
Raymond had went to purchase something nice for his wife, but was met with rows of nylon housecoats, gowns and terrycloth abound. He also said that the saleswomen made his feel uncomfortable, as a outsider in a place he did not belong.
Borrowing a total of $80,000 dollars from his parents and from the bank, Raymond studied the market for 8 years, then opened the first store that men could feel comfortable buying lingerie - Victoria's Secret in Palo Alto, California in a shopping mall that would eventually hold the first mini Apple Retail Store.
The idea took off, grossing $500,000 in the first year. $500,000.00 in 1977 had the same buying power as $2,017,285.22 in 2015. Annual inflation over this period was 3.74%. (1) Growth happened quickly, opening four new stores, warehouse operations and a mail-order catalog, all by 1982. Remember the times here still - not every husband or every wife was still comfortable with going into a store like this. Mail-order sales account for 55% of the annual sales numbers, $7 million annually. (2) $7,000,000.00 in 1980 had the same buying power as $21,430,039.11 in 2015. Annual inflation over this period was 3.25%. (3)
|Original Victoria's Secret logo|
As much money as this was for the era, it was having a hard time being profitable. Raymond's philosophy and focus of selling to men was sending the company towards bankruptcy. In 1982, Raymond sells the company to Leslie Wexner of The Limited. The figure was not disclosed until much later, but the number is almost shocking and sad - Raymond sells for a paltry $1 million dollars. (4) This number is disputed in various other sources as being close to $4 million dollars.
Not much is known about Raymond's personal life after this, but in 1984, he invests in a children's clothing boutique called My Child's Destiny, a far cry from the lingerie business, to the tune of approximately $1 million dollars. The brand went bankrupt in 1986. Between '86 and '93, Raymond's life takes a turn somehow and on August 26th, 1993 the original founder of what would become the world's largest lingerie empire takes his own life by leaping from the Golden Gate Bridge. He was 47.
Wexner does what probably should have been done before: he eliminates the model of marketing to men to instead, market to women. The model changed to sell lingerie and underwear in "new colors, patterns and styles that promised sexiness packaged in a tasteful, glamorous way and with the snob appeal of European luxury." (5) Mail order catalogs even utilized a fake address in London for their headquarters, which were actually based out of Columbus, Ohio. Each store was redesigned to invoke 19th century England.
Not 5 years after the purchase, the boutiques exploded into a 346 stores retailer, moving into malls across America. By 1986, it is reported that Victoria's Secret is the only national chain of lingerie stores. While there are still Fredrick's of Hollywood, Vanity Fair and the like, Victoria's Secret had surged ahead to become a chain.
The news of Victoria's Secret market takeover prompts brands like Playtex, Wacoal, and more to add new features to their once basic underthings, such as lace and "WOW" - Playtex's "new" "without wire" bra. Even Fredrick's of Hollywood, the only real player at the time in the more sexual, sensual outfits feels the pressure and launches a more demure line "Soft as Silk," featuring camisoles and chemises in soft, muted pastel colors. (6)
In 1991, Victoria's Secret releases their first line of fragrances under a line called Victoria's Secret Beauty, a slow reach into yet another profitable product. From here on out, Victoria's Secret begins digging their heels into every woman's wants and needs. And it works!
But the early 90's were not all roses. From the fast growth, among many other things, comes quality problems. The problems could be attributed to a growing/aging population as well that were looking for a better product to spend their money on as they aged.
"Its stores and catalogs - long on glitz and image--have sold apparel short on quality. That was fine during The Limited's boom days, when it ran circles around department stores with flashy, up-to-date mall shops. But Gross admits that as his core "twenty-something" customer moved into her 30s, she balked at pants with no linings and plastic buttons that popped off." (7)As the company worked to resolve the quality problems, the profit margins tightened as a result, as higher quality production, fabrics and more had to be used to satisfy the customer. In 1995, Victoria's Secret begins to build it's very first foray into the Internet - an e-commerce site. Remember, this is the early days of (public) Internet, where the Internet is not rife with free coding or plug-ins for simple e-commerce. After 3 years of development, it launches at 6:00 pm on December 4, 1998, using the domain VictoriasSecret.com. It didn't take long for the website to catch on - in fact, it only took 20 minutes. At 6:20 pm, the first order was placed from Littleton, Colorado, for $39. (8)
In an effort to drive a higher margin, Victoria's Secret entered the billion dollar + cosmetics industry in 1998, another line under Victoria's Secret Beauty.
In 1999, the Victoria's Secret Fashion show, which was notoriously hard to get tickets for, and certainly was not the television behemoth it is today, was to be streamed on the website. This lead to major hype and major advertising dollars spent to promote the stream. Print ads, TV spots and early banner ads boasted this feat and interest was incredible. A teaser ad for the fashion show was even shown during the first quarter of the 1999 Superbowl, which lead to 1 million+ web hits in 30 minutes after it was shown. This would be the first dot com commercial ever during the Superbowl. Unfortunately, when it came down to the final event, the website couldn't handle the mounds of traffic and it crashed networks all over the United States. Long story short, millions of dollars were invested into the infrastructure behind the servers and successfully handled 2 million viewers of the next year's Victoria's Secret fashion show. (8)
Victoria's Secret did something different than what many companies were doing (and some still do) at the time, when it came to their online division. Many companies were separating their companies from brick & mortar to a nearly completely different company online. Because of the continued success of the mail-order catalog, Victoria's Secret kept matching lines, styles and promotions from channel to channel to promote a consistent UX (user-experience.)
Victoria's Secret continues to grow through the 2000's - leading to store design overhauls, from less Victorian to more streamlined - think Vogue. Sexy, but elegant in a modern way. By 2006, there is over 1,000 Victoria's Secret stores across the United States that account for over 1/3 of all of the United States' intimates purchases, a $10 billion dollar industry. (9)
Victoria's Secret celebrates their 38th anniversary in a little less than a month from today. Yet, the brand doesn't "feel" old. Constantly reinventing themselves, the brand still feels fresh, youthful and sexy to every generation it touches, quite literally.
And there you have it - a brief overview of the brand behemoth that is Victoria's Secret. There are many mini brands in there too that I would love to cover too - but until then, I have some bras to sell. ;)
You can see what Victoria's Secret bras I have to sell in my store right now here!
1), 3) http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm
5) Anna Tomasino (2007). Discovering popular culture. Pearson Longman. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-321-35596-6. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
8) Durbin, Theodore (2002). "Victoria's Secret" (PDF). Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth—Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies (6–0014). Retrieved December 16, 2012.