Leslie Wexner might be signaling the end of a fashion era.
On Friday, the chairman and chief executive officer of L Brands Inc., parent company to Victoria’s Secret, sent an internal employee memo saying he was rethinking the annual fashion show.
“Fashion is a business of change,” Wexner wrote. “We must evolve and change to grow. With that in mind, we have decided to rethink the traditional Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Going forward we don’t believe network television is the right fit.”
Television viewership of the fashion extravaganza, once regarded as one of the industry’s hottest events, has declined in recent years. Even having A-list names like the Hadid sisters, Kendall Jenner and Winnie Harlow in last fall’s show didn’t usher in the same turnout as years past.
Amid the #MeToo movement and push for inclusivity, many shoppers have grown disenchanted with a brand that showcases super skinny, hyper-sexualized models.
Last November, when the Angels returned to the Big Apple for the annual show, many people were wondering if the brand would evolve.
Ed Razek, chief marketing officer of L Brands, was quick to put an end to that hope when he told Vogue magazine in an interview that Victoria’s Secret had no interest using plus-sized or transexual models.
“We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000],” he told Vogue. “No one had any interest in it, still don’t.”
The backlash included rival brand ThirdLove taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times telling Victoria’s Secret that it was catering to a “male fantasy.”
Even so, Victoria’s Secret remains the market share leader in women’s intimates apparel, both in the U.S. and abroad.
The fashion show, which started in 1995, helped Victoria’s Secret stay at the top of the bra and underwear business for years. It also turned many of the Angels into household names.
“The strength and positive perception of the Victoria’s Secret brand is unparalleled, and our fashion show has revolutionized the mix of fashion and entertainment around the world…a key factor in the building of the brand,” Wexner wrote in Friday’s memo.
Still, sales have been declining for the last two years as a number of direct-to-consumer start-ups and brands like Aerie continue to take market share with many of them emphasizing their looks for plus-size women. L Brands stock is also down more than 25 percent year-over-year.
Just what the company’s plans are for the future of the iconic show is unclear. Representatives from the company would not respond to a request for comment.
Wexner said in the memo that “in 2019 and beyond, we’re focusing on developing exciting and dynamic content and a new kind of event — delivered to our customers on platforms that she’s glued to…and in ways that will push the boundaries of fashion in the global digital age.”
Ike Boruchow, retail analyst at Wells Fargo, said the new development, along with Victoria’s Secret recent move back into swimwear and addition of two new board members, are steps in the right direction to making the company a lucrative venture once again.
“We believe that these three recent developments reflect a deep commitment by the board to have the best team in place to guide the company back to profitability and keeping them accountable if they are unable to do so,” Boruchow wrote in a note. “We continue to see reason for optimism.”
He also said the show could have added $10 million to $20 million to the company’s expenses.