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Selling Sexy : Victoria's Secret and the Unraveling of an American Icon - Allyson Ryan

Selling Sexy

Victoria's Secret and the Unraveling of an American Icon

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Available: 8th October 2024

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Available: 8th October 2024

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The story of how Victoria's Secret skyrocketed from a tiny chain of boutiques to a retail juggernaut with more than $8 billion in annual sales at its peak—all while defining an impossible beauty standard for generations of American women—before the brand's tight grip on the industry finally slipped.

Victoria's Secret is one of the most influential and polarizing brands to ever infiltrate the psyche of the American consumer. Almost right at its start in the late 1970s, the company developed a cult following for its glamorous catalogs. Back then, shoppers had few alternatives to the stodgy department stores that sold most of the nation's intimate apparel. By 1982, the founders of Victoria's Secret avoided bankruptcy by selling to Les Wexner, the Columbus billionaire behind the Limited whose empire of mall brands would go on to dominate American retail for 40 years.

A decade after its acquisition, Victoria's Secret had become a billion-dollar business on track to dominate every competitor. As the brand took over underwear drawers, its cultural influence soared through its airbrushed advertisements and annual televised fashion show, which drew millions of viewers each year. Its supermodel spokeswomen, the sweet but sultry Angels, personified a new American beauty standard for generations of consumers.

But as cultural trends changed, and the world became less obsessed with thinness and perfection, Victoria's Secret failed to evolve. Its business reached a crisis point that once seemed inconceivable.

Meanwhile, Wexner became increasingly known for his complicated relationship with sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, his former financial advisor and confidante. In 2020, with his legacy in peril, Wexner finally resigned as CEO of Victoria's Secret and began to step away from the business that once defined him.

Today, Victoria's Secret is trying to repair its reputation and seduce shoppers again. Selling Sexy expertly draws from sources within the company and across the fashion industry to examine: How did such an innovative business stumble, and how can it move forward despite its heavy history?

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