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W2W: What to Watch – Victoria’s Secret: Sweet or Sizzle

So what’s Victoria’s Secret’s next move? A platform that offers more of a sexual smorgasbord or a return to the original formula of romantic interludes?<br><br>In a time of a conservative political climate, the lingerie specialist...

So what’s Victoria’s Secret’s next move? A platform that offers more of a sexual smorgasbord or a return to the original formula of romantic interludes?

In a time of a conservative political climate, the lingerie specialist has turned to a “Make Love, Not War,” philosophy. Its product assortments, visual presentation at retail, annual runway shows, and advertising flaunt sexuality through suggestive body language and scantily clad models.

That’s a sharp contrast to the image of the Victoria’s Secret catalogs in the Eighties and Nineties, where fantasies were kinder and gentler and supermodels conveyed the image of a demure-looking woman wearing lingerie in a romantic setting.

In conjunction with this new approach, the $2.4 billion retail unit of Intimate Brands Inc. embarked on a double-tiered marketing and promotional campaign in November, when it opened its largest store to date: a 25,000-square-foot, two-level lingerie playground in Manhattan’s Herald Square. The new lingerie and beauty palace is projected to generate first-year sales of $20 million, according to Victoria’s Secret officials.

While the new megastore format of cream, black and trademark candy pink makes a far more contemporary statement with candid black and white photos of supermodels taken behind the scenes at VS fashion shows, and a “grande hall” area for upscale vintage lingerie that features garters at $24.50 and runs up to $1,800 for a one-of-a-kind long tulle skirt, the boudoir nonetheless remains reminiscent of a setting of questionable virtue.

The year-old addition of high-end vintage merchandise is aimed at capturing a more sophisticated and discerning audience with lots of discretionary income. Then, there’s sub-brand Pink, aimed at 15- to 22-year-olds, another attempt at broadening Victoria’s Secret consumer base.

However, industry observers generally believe it will be difficult to woo the Park Avenue crowd into a Victoria’s Secret store or to order from its catalog or Web site, when they are accustomed to dropping $200 or more for several La Perla bras and thongs at Saks or Neiman Marcus.

As Grace Nichols, chief executive officer of Victoria’s Secret Stores puts it: “The brand has always been about special environments that are residential, feminine and romantic, but every two or three years we’re running with some new version of the design. In lingerie, what’s different or what’s sexy to people continually changes. Our customers are very interested in cleavage that really doesn’t have so much padding, which is what our Very Sexy [bra line] offers.”

The progression has been chronicled throughout a series of fashion shows, beginning in 1996 at the Plaza Hotel, moving to Wall Street in 1998, the Cannes Film Festival in France in 2000 and, most recently, to the New York State Armory, where a circus-like ambience featured Flamenco dancers and the Love Fellowship Tabernacle Choir, plus a fur protest.

The reason explained to the media was that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested because of Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen’s contract to promote Blackgama mink. The protest was cut from the broadcast on ABC.