From l-r: Stella Maxwell, Lily Aldridge, Lais Ribeiro, Jasmine Tookes, Sara Sampaio and Elsa Hosk pose backstage during 2017 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show In Shanghai at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on November 20, 2017 in Shanghai, China.
(Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Victoria’s Secret)
Supermodel Lais Ribeiro strutted her lithesome 6-foot across the stage last November at the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, her 31-23-33 figure barely contained in the company’s Fantasy Bra.
As she did her thing, Harry Styles gyrated on the stage and belted out his hit single “Only Angel.”
The crowd went crazy, and it was difficult to know if they were cheering the $2 million bejeweled bra Ribeiro was wearing or the Brazilian beauty itself.
By most measures, the Nov. 20 extravaganza in Shanghai, China, was a success. Ribeiro and a dozen of her supermodel pals were at their sexy best in a estimated $12 million of production that managers arranged to have broadcast around the world.
But the world yawned.
Number of viewers of the show fell from 32 per cent compared to the previous year in the coveted demographic — for a mere 5 million. The company insists it is still the most watched fashion event in the world and that there are more people tuning in online.
That may be true, but the 41-year-old brand that sells sleek and sexy is clearly tired in the middle age, the critics say.
#New Angels during the shooting VS Holiday ❤
Once among the hottest and most buzzed about brands in the world, Victoria’s Secret has posted declining same-store sales in the brick-and-mortar locations in the U.S. for seven straight quarters, while the profit margins have been squeezed and inventories bloated.
Investors in L Brands, the lingerie maker’s parent company, taking a beating, as shares are down over 45 percent this year, making it one of the worst performing stocks in the S&P 500.
In the hope of turning things around, company executives have cut prices and extended the sale longer. Neither has worked as sales per square foot, down in the last two years, continued to erode in the first quarter.
Perhaps even more disturbing, younger and more aggressive rivals are now at Victoria’s Secret as a bunch of hungry sharks, each with a marketing pitch that will resonate with young women.
“Victoria’s Secret is an example of a company that thought it was too big to fail,” Lingerie Addict editor and founder, Cora Harrington told The Post. “I don’t think they ever thought that the American consumer would go somewhere else.”
Walk in almost any of the 1,124 Victoria’s Secret stores in the U.S., and you can immediately see the problem. Where are the buyers?
There is looping video footage of Angels walking the runway, alluring framed photos hang above the lingerie, and pounding music. But a recent afternoon at the chain’s Midtown Manhattan flagship — the bras and panties on display, carefully stacked and seemingly untouched — spoke volumes about the store traffic, or the lack of it.
#New Yasmin for the US ❤ @yasminwijnaldum #yasminwijnaldum
The company has admitted in regulatory filings its customer traffic in the stores is alarming.
A sale 5 panties for $ 28.50 — stretched longer than normal, but there was no clear advantage.
Sales at the brick-and-mortar stores were down 5 percent in the first quarter after a decline of 6 percent in 2017 and 1 percent in 2016.
Its teen-oriented Pink brand, which has led to most of the lingerie-company profits over the last five years started to cool down at the end of last year and has not rebounded. Operating income for Victoria’s Secret has dropped 33 percent since 2015.
What went wrong? How could a well-known retailer who is the bearer of all things sexy, with oodles of pricing power and a stable of super models, fall so hard?
Self-inflicted wounds, say experts from the industry.
Victoria’s Secret’s once-effective marketing strategy of super models Heidi Klum, Gisele Bundchen and Gigi Hadid are Angel alums —has for the most part beat on the Columbus (Ohio) company.
“It had the same positioning for decades, the link with super sexy models, and it just doesn’t work anymore,” said Konik.
The #MeToo movement that exploded on the public consciousness in October of last year did not help. The brand is the image beat up since then, according to a recent survey by YouGov.
“The Angels are unrelatable, while the stores look too much like a stale boudoir,” observed retail consultant Gabriella Santaniello of An Line ners.
Victoria’s Secret watched on the sidelines as a growing number of rivals seized on the fashion trends of bralettes and large sizes — and flourished.
It is also not responding to new competitors, such as American Eagle’s Aerie brand, and undercut the prices by as much as half.
Aerie reported a 38 percent spike in comparable store sales in the first quarter of this year, strong in the strength of the #AerieREAL campaign that featured unretouched photos of professional models and ordinary customers.
Last month, Aerie unveiled a marketing campaign with women with various medical conditions and diseases, including a young woman with an insulin pump out of her belly and the other with the pigmentation of the skin disease, vitiligo.
AerieREAL grew out of a no-retouching campaign in 2014 to a body positivity and empowerment campaign, a spokesman told The Post.
“Victoria’s Secret has always been about self-confidence,” a spokeswoman for the brand said via e-mail approach of the body positivity movement, adding: “If your bra fits, you stand a little taller, your clothes fit a little better, and make you feel more comfortable and confident and that is sexy.”
Victoria’s Secret also hurt when it is really out of the swimsuit business. The shoppers had one less reason to go to the shops, say experts. Top brass revealed in a transcription is that it Can dive back in swimwear.
Nobody in the management seems capable of breathing new life into the company, including old chief Les Wexner, who bought a small five-store of Victoria’s Secret company in 1982 with $1 million and a dream.
The 80-year-old billionaire has been described as a retail-genius — and rightly so. Wexner took a sleepy, family-owned brand, The Limited, and made it to the mall brand for young women in the Eighties.
Wexner, worth about $6.7 billion, according to Bloomberg, has kept close tabs on Victoria’s Secret, take the helm of the chain in 2016, when the CEO of a decade, Sharen Jester a version, abruptly to the left. Her successor, Jan the Singer, was declared three months later, but Wexner is never disappeared in the corporate board room.
“Les is remarkably involved,” noted Instinet analyst Simeon Siegel. “We have seen a number of the founder/Ceo’s to step aside in the last decade, but he is one of the most involved in the company that he started.”
Others say Wexner is part of the problem.
“At the end of the day, he is out of touch with the reality of today,” said Jefferies analyst Randal Konik.
The company, through a spokesman, declined to Wexner available.
Recent interviews with the legendary retailer drew attention to his apparent lack of understanding of the #MeToo movement and the impact that technology has on retail.
When asked by the Financial Times, or the fashion industry’s objectification of women has encouraged man’s bad behavior, Wexner said, “I think that is just complete nonsense.”
Victoria’s Secret, so he claimed, could not take advantage of women, because it is performed by women.
“The company was led by a woman. The marketing director is a woman. These are not women who are exploitative,” he told the FT.
In 2016, as a plus-size model Ashley Graham on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time, you will be prompted for the leading plus – size manufacturer — Only Nine Apparel — pitch Victoria’s Secret on a line in the larger sizes.
“Unfortunately at this time we are not looking to expand our focus in larger sizes”, a senior executive replied via e-mail on March 2, 2016.
“My company has tried numerous times to sell them, plus, but the answer was always” not at this time,’ “said Only Nine founder Jamie Gorman.
Now a bevy of new lingerie competitors from Adore Me, Third Love have launched plus-size lines and are nipping at the heels of Victoria’s Secret — both, ironically, with the help of former Victoria’s Secret executives.
“Our business started to take off in 2016,” said Heidi Zak, founder of the Third Love, an e-commerce retailer, whereby the number of sizes, it offers from 50 to 70 in June, nearly double that of Victoria’s Secret’s 39 sizes.
Although it is always dangerous to underestimate a retail guru as Wexner, the picture is not getting brighter for Victoria’s Secret.
Next week, L Brands is expected to report that the chain in the same case, brick-and-mortar OUR revenue in the second quarter fell 5 percent — its eighth straight quarter of decline.
That is better than the 11 percent decline a year ago, but still a sign that the angels wings are in need of a refresh.
This article originally appeared in the New York Post.