After notoriously stating that the retailer had no interest in working with transgender models — or plus-size models, for that matter — in 2018 (comments made by L Brands then chief marketing officer Ed Razek during an interview with Vogue), Victoria’s Secret has done a complete about-face.
On Tuesday, TikTok beauty queen and beauty director at Paper magazine Emira D’Spain posted a video to her TikTok account for all of her 10 million-plus followers to see of her styling various Victoria’s Secret lingerie and sleepwear pieces into her outfit during a series she titled, “Valentine’s Day Single Girl Edition.”
“I’m obsessed,” D’Spain says of the pink sleepwear set with red hearts she’s donning during the video. “P.S., this robe from Victoria’s Secret is so cute.”
Also on Tuesday, D’Spain wrote in an Instagram post that she was “honored to be the first Black trans girl working with @victoriassecret. As a kid I dreamed of being part of Victoria’s Secret. @valentts paved the way and it’s such an honor to continue that legacy on the first day of Black History Month. Go watch my TikTok to see and stay tuned for more to come.”
D’Spain is referring to Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio, the first transgender woman hired by Victoria’s Secret in August 2019. Razek resigned from his post with the lingerie retailer, which was then part of L Brands, the same month, after his comments about the marginalized communities the year earlier sparked a backlash. He later apologized with a statement on Twitter.
But the damage was done. Victoria’s Secret’s revenues — which includes the Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, Beauty and Pink divisions — had already been declining since 2017. Now the brand was facing hostile public criticism and rapidly losing market share as many consumers opted for innerwear brands that promoted diversity, offered comfort and were easily accessible online.
Meanwhile, other high-profile names, such as Black transgender model and actress Leyna Bloom were publicly revealing their ambitions to work with the lingerie giant — and promptly being shut down.
In an effort to shift the tide, Victoria’s Secret hired Ali Tate Cutler, its first plus-size model, in fall 2019. The Victoria’s Secret x Bluebella campaign that Tate Cutler was a part of also included a transgender model.
Since then, the company, which spun off of Bath & Body Works last August to become its own stand-alone firm on the pubic market, has embarked on the ultimate makeover, trying to rebrand itself as “the world’s biggest and best advocate for women,” according to Victoria’s Secret Lingerie chief executive officer Martin Waters.
Victoria’s Secret has since used pregnant women, such as nine-month pregnant Grace Elizabeth for its Mother’s Day campaign, in its marketing materials, in addition to models of various shapes, sizes and ages.
Then in the summer of 2021, Victoria’s Secret unveiled the VS Collective.
The initiative includes a group of women from diverse backgrounds — including mental health advocate Adut Akech; World Champion freestyle skier Eileen Gu; professional soccer player and LGBTQ activist Megan Rapinoe; actress and entrepreneur Priyanka Chopra Jonas; media personality and Girlgaze Founder Amanda de Cadenet; plus-size model Paloma Elsesser, Bella Hadid, tennis champion Naomi Osaka, and Victoria’s Secret’s own Valentina Sampaio — who will share their stories by way of collaborations, partnerships and social media.
Victoria’s Secret also posted about Black History Month on its Instagram on Tuesday, saying the company “is excited to recognize February as a time to acknowledge Black women. Throughout the month, we’ll spotlight associates, business leaders, advocates and industry trendsetters who motivate us each and every day #VSCelebratesBHM.”
“We’re moving from what men want to what women want,” Waters has said. “We’re moving from sexy for a few to sexy for all. We’re moving from a look to a feeling. It’s about including most women rather than excluding most women and being grounded in real life rather than mostly unattainable.”