Commentary

A Victoria's Secret CEO Departs As Company Reels From CMO's Remarks

Victoria’s Secret Lingerie and its CEO -- Jan Singer, the former Spanx CEO and Nike executive who came in to run the L Brands division two years ago -- reportedly are parting ways.

The company is expected to share more details about Singer’s departure on Monday when L Brands releases its quarterly earnings, a source tells CNBC’s Lauren Thomas, who reports it’s not immediately clear who will replace her.

“That person will be tasked with improving the brand’s appearance to consumers. Female shoppers today are increasingly turned away by Victoria’s Secret overtly sexy image, which is reinforced by its annual fashion show. The brand was made famous for its brightly colored push-up bras, but more women now are searching for comfort and fit. A handful of bra and underwear upstarts, like ThirdLove and Adore Me, are gaining ground by being more inclusive,” Thomas writes.

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L Brands founder, chairman and CEO Leslie Wexner “took charge of Victoria’s Secret more than two years ago and made big changes aimed at ensuring it doesn’t suffer the same fate as many other specialty brands. He changed leadership, shifted away from catalog mailings, exited the swimsuit business and doubled down on sports bras to address the rise of the so-called athleisure trend. He later hired Ms. Singer to help execute the strategy,” Khadeeja Safdar writes for the Wall Street Journal.

“Singer’s departure comes just a week after its witheringly reviewed annual runway extravaganza, and after a slew of store closures, rock-bottom price cuts, and a stock drop of over 40% for VS’s parent company in just the past year. Then there was the recent train-wreck of a Vogue interview with VS executives, who -- in defending the the brand’s decision to double down on its dated brand image -- managed to be offensive about transgender people and the plus-size industry, among others,” writes Sangeet a Singh-Kurtz for Quartz.

That interview was with Victoria Secret’s CMO, Ed Razek, and Monica Mitro, its executive vp, public relations. Razek later tweeted an apology for his remark “regarding the inclusion of transgender models.” 

“Despite Razek's apology, notable LGBTQ and plus-size models -- including Gigi Gorgeous, Carmen Carrera and Tess Holliday, among others -- continue to publicly condemn Victoria's Secret,” Evan Real report s for the Hollywood Reporter.

“On Monday morning, internet personality Gorgeous shared a YouTube video titled ‘SHAME ON YOU Victoria's Secret,’ in which she describes how much the brand meant to her in the initial stages of her transition when she first started shopping for lingerie,” Real continues. “‘I just wanted to say that this is the last time that I'm going to be wearing a Victoria's Secret bra,’ she says in the video after removing her pink bra. ‘They definitely lost a customer in me.’”

But the brand has more fundamental problems than misguided comments. 

“While Victoria’s Secret may be a brand worn by women, it’s always been designed for men,” Hazel Cills reminds us  in Jezebel, recounting the story of founder Roy Raymond looking for lingerie for his wife in the late 1970s and finding nothing but “racks of terry-cloth robes and ugly floral-print nylon nightgowns” in department stores.

“Like so many retail brands in 2018, the brand has shuttered stores and reported falling sales over the past few years. But beyond the shoddily produced merchandise, Victoria’s Secret feels dated, with its inherent and unavoidable male gaze; the retro sense that their products are not really made for women,” Cills continues.

“It’s this gaze that primarily defined many other crumbling mall brands that once soared in the 1990s and 2000s. While a male-centric approach to fashion once made some brands cool and aspirational for customers, in 2018 it’s exclusionary to a fault.”

When the company reorganized two years ago amid fading relevance and slumping sales, Wexner split it into three parts: Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, Victoria’s Secret Pink and Victoria’s Secret Beauty. “The chain had previously been divided into two units, one focused on stores and the other on online sales,” Tim Feran writes for the Columbus Dispatch.

In August, the company revealed that Amy Hauk, who has been president of merchandising and product development at L Brands' prospering Bath & Body Works, would replace Denise Landman as CEO of Victoria’s Secret Pink at the end of the year, Feran reports. “Greg Unis, who joined L Brands in 2016 from Coach, continues to run Victoria’s Secret Beauty,” he writes.

“Wall Street analysts have questioned how the company can adapt to changing consumer tastes,” the WSJ’s Safdar points out, citing a recent Wells Fargo research note: ‘We are concerned that the fashion show is no longer resonating with consumers whose attitude has shifted toward more natural looks and relatable beauty.’”

Real life, IOW.

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