Victoria’s Secret is the brand name synonymous with glitz and glamour. It’s one of the most iconic names in the fashion industry. This company is an American designer, manufacturer, and marketer of women’s lingerie, womenswear, and beauty products.
It was founded by Roy Raymond, and his wife Gaye Raymond, in San Francisco, California, on June 12, 1977, as a response to packaged underwear, which the company’s founder considered to be “ugly, floral-print nylon nightgowns”.
VS is now the largest American retailer of women’s lingerie and is worth a whopping $6 billion.
Today this may seem hard to believe, but not too long ago women’s unmentionables were, well, literally unmentioned. Back in the day, there were limited cuts to bras and panties, and often what was found in the department stores was girlish with frills, floral print, or plain. Underwear was utilitarian — it covered all the bits that needed to be covered without much fuss. But Victoria’s Secret changed all that.
VS was born out of an awkward moment. It’s true that we probably wouldn’t have Victoria’s Secret if not for one dedicated husband. Roy Raymond, a California-based entrepreneur with an MBA from Stanford University, came up with the idea because he felt extremely uncomfortable trying to buy lingerie for his wife at a department store.
According to Roy’s former wife, Gaye Raymond:
“Our original idea was to have a store where men felt comfortable shopping for lingerie. It all began when Roy went shopping for me, and felt out of place in a lingerie store. Victoria’s Secret tried to change that.”
Roy was bothered by the dowdy, floral print nightgowns, the fluorescent lights, and especially by the judgmental stares of the saleswomen. So that day he got an idea: a sensual store where men can buy lingerie for the women in their lives and do not get judgmental stares.
And soon he had started a store based on his idea. He settled on the name Victoria’s Secret — the reason behind the name was that even the respectable women of the Victorian era (1837-1901) had their secrets underneath. To ensure the subtle hint of sexuality wasn’t missed, he made sure the store would look like a Victorian era boudoir — with dark wood, oriental rugs, and silk drapery.
VS store was founded to be an upscale, sophisticated lingerie store designed to look like a Victorian drawing room, complete with Oriental rugs and antique armoires displaying the wares. Velvet curtains were used for the changing rooms. A lot of uber quality silk and natural fibers were used in making lingerie.
When the original store opened its doors in 1977, it was obviously an automatic hit. But its decor left much to be desired.
According to Les Wexner, a very successful Ohio businessman and the eventual owner of Victoria’s Secret: “It was a small store, and it was Victorian — not English Victorian, but brothel Victorian with red velvet sofas.”
Despite the less than tasteful decor, Wexner saw huge potential in the burgeoning business.
Roy Raymond met Les Wexner during the ’70s when Wexner was visiting some of his other retail locations on the west coast. During that time the two became friends, or at least friendly enough that when Victoria’s Secret began to flounder in 1982, Roy called in Wexner to help. Though VS was making more than $4 million in annual sales, the business was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Wexner saw the opportunity to aquire Victoria’s Secret and he eventually got the company for $1 million. He bought the business, including several stores and a mail-order catalog.
Wexner revolutionized the company and it is courtesy to his leadership that VS became such a massive brand. The main reason behind his success was that he figured out what was missing in Raymond’s formula: because Victoria’s Secret focused on male customers, the brand failed to attract a significant following from female customers.
Wexner observed that women were as uncomfortable in Victoria’s Secret as Raymond had been in that fluorescent-lit department store. He began by studying European lingerie boutiques, whose large following of female customers perceive lingerie as an everyday essential and not an ornament is worn only during special occasions.
Wexner was convinced that American women would gladly welcome the kind of sexy and affordable lingerie that the European women had access to. He envisioned this and a market that would exist between the luxury and the cheap brands.
Wexner was spot on and his brand of the company was an instant hit as women flocked to the stores while men continued to ogle the steamy catalogs. Wexner’s plan was indeed, working.
The company that Les Wexner bought with $1 million, now has become one of the most popular apparel brands in the world, having a net income of nearly $5 billion annually.
The founder and former owner of the company Roy didn’t take such a success of his company too well. As he squandered his $1 million on setting up a sophisticated children’s retail and catalog company based in San Francisco. The business never took off and to make things worse his marriage fell apart.
The loss was too much for him to cope with and on one fateful day in the year of 1993, Roy Raymond jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge, leaving behind his two teenage children.
The store has changed drastically over time. The same year Roy committed suicide, Victoria’s Secret was becoming the number one lingerie retailer in America. Despite its monumental success, Roy and Gaye felt the brand had strayed from their original intentions but they admired the way Wexner was able to make it a commercial hit.