Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — The power of Victoria’s Secret is no secret. It’s now a $2 billion brand, ringing up sales last year of $1.45 billion in its 1,609 stores and another $684 million in its catalog.
The sales include brand extensions into such areas as bath and fragrance products and hosiery in its stores and apparel in the catalogs. Still, intimate apparel continues to be the mainstay of its business, and as the latest annual report of parent company Intimate Brands Inc. points out, bras account for almost 20 percent of sales in the stores and are “a major factor in the all-important repeat purchase area.”
Developing and marketing new products is a key strategy to capitalize on this business. “At least one major new bra launch is planned for every year,” says the report. Last year, the seamless Perfect Silhouette was the new bra on the block, and this spring, it’s the Angels bra that’s getting the Victoria’s Secret star treatment, complete with a colorful TV commercial featuring singer Tom Jones.
A recent visit to the Victoria’s Secret unit in Lenox Square mall demonstrated more of the marketing push behind the new product — the window display filled with life-sized gold-framed portraits of supermodels in the Angels glossy, sheer bra and panty sets, along with the videos and visuals within the store.
The visit took place on a Friday afternoon, in the midst of Freaknik, the annual spring break festival that draws thousands of African-American college students from around the country to the Atlanta area. And even with the store packed with co-ed browsers, a store manager, positioned near the door, was ready to greet a shopper.
“We have a whole bunch of new stuff on the floor,” said the manager. The shopper said she wanted to know more about the Angels product, having seen the TV ads.
“Oh good. The Angels bra is a sheer, seamless bra,” she said seemingly excited, as she picked one from a nearby display. “It has a Lycra spandex content, a front closure, no back hooks — or anything else. It’s like running wear or exercise wear. When you get it situated on your body, it doesn’t move. I have it on today, and it’s very, very comfortable.”
All Angels bras retail for $24, and panties are $12. The shopper asked how many styles the bra and panties came in. “The bras are all the same, the panties come in a thong, a bikini and a brief,” she replied, noting that the color range included 10 shades.
She interrupted her explanation to keep a male student, armed with a video camera, from entering. “You can come in to shop, but not to videotape,” she admonished. “I just wanted to see if I could get some phone numbers,” said the student, before walking away, dejected.
With an exasperated look, the manager turned her attention back to the shopper. “We had a male security guard who just went on break. I told him to get back soon,” she said. “The girls want to shop and the guys come in taking pictures and trying to get phone numbers. It’s a big hassle.”
The manager directed the shopper to the Angels collection, which was merchandised at the back of the store, saying, “There’ll be more sales people to help you there.”
In the back were more large photographs of supermodels and headless, winged mannequins — all wearing Angels bras and panties. A TV ran the Tom Jones commercial, and a short feature that included models laughing and cavorting around looking beautiful. In the crowd of young browsers, the shopper stood around for at least eight minutes, before flagging down a salesperson for help. And it was then the shopper realized that the promotional push behind Angels may have been even more powerful than expected. When asked about various panty styles, the salesperson said that the bikini was the only one in stock. She also said that certain colors, such as blue and orange, were not in stock.
“We’re running low right now, but we have a shipment each Monday and Wednesday, and we should be getting more styles,” she said. “Angels is our best-selling item, probably because of the commercial.”
Meanwhile, the Victoria’s Secret juggernaut rolls on. Plans call for 65 store openings in 1997, including 15 bath and fragrance shops, according to the Intimate Brands annual report. With 25 existing stores to be remodeled and another 30 to be enlarged, the plans represent “a net addition of 9 percent or about 290,000 square feet,” the report said.

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