The story of Victoria’s Secret is well-known among those interested in fashion and business. It serves as a prime example of how a pragmatic business approach can overshadow a romantic notion. Unfortunately, for the founder of this global brand, the story had a tragic ending. Fashion Illiteracy has decided to shed light on the origins of Victoria’s Secret and the transformation of a chain of stores into a full-fledged empire.
The History of the Foundation of Victoria’s Secret
It all began when a Stanford graduate named Roy Raymond set out to buy lingerie as a gift for his wife. However, he encountered a real problem at the department store. The women’s lingerie section was extremely uncomfortable for a man. He wandered the aisles for a long time, feeling awkward, and the saleswomen couldn’t help him because their work was exclusively focused on serving women.
Raymond left the store without making a purchase. Instead, he was determined to realize his new idea – to open a lingerie store with an atmosphere and environment where even men would feel comfortable shopping. He opened his first store in the suburbs of San Francisco in 1977 and named it ‘Victoria’s Secret.’ To do this, he took a $40,000 loan and borrowed the same amount from relatives, believing in success.
The idea turned out to be successful. Sales were growing. In the first year, the store generated $500,000, and thanks to its unique approach, it was distinctive. By 1982, the owner of the expanding brand had opened six stores. Raymond also launched catalog sales, which was a form of mail-order sales long before online stores became popular. The annual income reached $6 million.
Development of Victoria’s Secret and Global Expansion
However, not everything went smoothly. Despite the company’s growth and its revenues, Roy faced financial difficulties, which led him to sell his brand. The buyer was Leslie Wexner, the owner of The Limited stores specializing in women’s clothing. The sale was completed for $4 million (according to another version, for $1 million).
Unlike Roy Raymond, who aimed to realize an unconventional idea, Wexner was a strictly business-oriented person. Seeing potential in the brand, he acquired it, but he immediately deviated from the original concept, focusing on the female audience. The European-style of the store that Raymond had followed was reinforced, even to the extent of claiming it was registered in London, although it was actually in Ohio, USA.
Wexner emphasized the atmosphere and exclusivity, changing the perception of lingerie itself. Victoria’s Secret products began to be positioned as something special, a luxury distinct from the uniformity of supermarkets. By hiring an experienced manager, Finkelmann, Wexner transformed the company into a true brand.
In the following years, Victoria’s Secret rapidly expanded. Market capitalization and the number of stores worldwide grew. Catalog sales continued. In 1998, the brand introduced a concept we mentioned earlier – the ‘angels’ of Victoria’s Secret. Their regular fashion shows became incredibly popular, and everyone became familiar with Victoria’s Secret. It was no longer just about lingerie.
The brand became a fashion influencer, and the ‘angels’ became the epitome of modeling success. In recent years, the company has faced difficulties, even canceling its annual fashion show. However, given its name and authority in the world of fashion and business, Victoria’s Secret remains at the top. Leslie Wexner, at the age of 83, is a billionaire with a net worth of $6.1 billion as of 2021.
The Further Fate of Roy Raymond
The life of the brand’s founder took a far from fortunate turn. By the beginning of the 1990s, his creation was valued at billions, and Raymond, who had sold the chain of stores for much less, saw this. Even before these events, in 1984, he attempted to establish a new brand, My Child’s Destiny, specializing in children’s products. Roy had two of them. However, two years later, in 1986, the business went bankrupt.
The founder of Victoria’s Secret also went through a divorce, faced financial ruin, and in 1993, he took his own life. Never achieving success, he leaped from the Golden Gate Bridge.