The head of marketing for Victoria’s Secret‘s parent company, L Brands’ Ed Razek, stepped in it last week when he commented on the brand’s model casting policies in an interview with Vogue. The interview was published the morning before the brand’s November 8, 2018 presentation.
Both Razek and Victoria’s Secret head of marketing, Monica Mitro, were asked about how the brand has responded to competitive challenges including changing views on inclusivity. The push back on his comments on use of trans models were intensely criticized, forcing Razek to issue an apology on Twitter on Friday (November 9, 2018).
That said, competitive challenges for Victoria’s Secret are much bigger than what models the brand uses in its annual show. The brand struggled at retail throughout 2018, reflected by a stock price that began the year at $50 and change and now sits at $36.50. In its September 2018 earnings call, L Brands reported Victoria Secret same-store sales were down five percent.
Perhaps reflecting the brands woes, Razek took a defensive posture throughout the interview and without prompting brought up Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty and ThirdLove, a brand that’s received investment dollars from the former CEO of Victoria’s Secret.
In a conversation related to body size, Razek stated, “Everybody keeps talking about Rihanna’s show. If we had done Rihanna’s show, we would be accused of pandering without question.” He went on to state that the brand has a very specific point of view that took years to build that he’s proud of, and compared the brand’s identity to Ralph Lauren.
When asked about adding plus-size models or trans women in a Victoria Secret show, he stated, “If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show, we have. We invented the plus-size model show in what was our sister division, Lane Bryant. Lane Bryant still sells plus-size lingerie, but it sells a specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world sells a range of clothing. As do we. We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world.”
Razek noted the brand had tried a plus-sized presentation in 2000, but it flopped. “We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t,” insisted Razek, who went on to note that the runway held in Shanghai last year was viewed by 1.6 billion people, a growth of 45 percent versus the year prior.
Reflecting the heat on social media, Razek noted he’s on hiatus from Instagram because in his opinion it’s grown too negative. He then backtracked on casting a trans model and used an outdated description when he addressed consumers’ calls for more diversity. He explained, “So it’s like, why don’t you do 50? Why don’t you do 60? Why don’t you do 24? It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special.”
In response to criticism that the models are “aggressively physically fit,” Razek was once again unapologetic. Razek insisted, “Yes, they are aggressively physically fit, but the operative word is fit. Should they apologize for being fit? This is their profession, and this is the penultimate expression of their profession.”
Again, Victoria’s Secret’s issues are much bigger than the models it casts. One of its biggest issues is simply that it has a ton of stores based in malls where traffic continues to decline like a balloon with a slow leak.
Razek is right that building an identifiable brand story is hard, but what he didn’t note is that all brands will at some time be forced to pivot to address changing market trends. However, the bigger the brand the more challenging it is to redirect the ship, which in the case of Victoria’s Secret is the size of a massive tanker.
Please read this important message from Ed Razek, Chief Marketing Officer, L Brands (parent company of Victoria’s Secret). pic.twitter.com/CW8BztmOaM
— Victoria’s Secret (@VictoriasSecret) November 10, 2018