Hoping to push up sagging sales, Victoria’s Secret CEO, Sharen Turney is making the case that the brand has become "too sexy" and needs to return to it’s "heritage." "We use the word ’sexy’ a lot and really have forgotten the ultra-feminine," said Turney. She’s not kidding. According to one CBS report (to which I cannot link, sorry) one issue of the company’s catalog used the word "sexy" more than 75 times!
All joking (and laments from male readers) aside, I actually think this could be an interesting development. Is there a point at which even our jaded popular culture begins to feel repulsed by a non-stop assault of the senses by overtly sexual imagery and exhortations to be more sexy? Is it any coincidence that the lingerie chain’s most recent advertising campaign asked this poignant and pregnant question: "What Is Sexy?" It is as if they finally understand they’ve reached the end of the road. They ask because it is so apparent that they no longer know.
Part of "sexy"--or really, any kind of appeal--has to be its mystery. You pique the interest and invite discovery. This is probably why Victoria’s Secret was so successful in the beginning. Their very name suggested the Victorian age--where such things were whispered but never spoken aloud. Instead of blasting rock and rap music, they used to pump classical and jazz music into their stores. They even used to feature pretty little feminine things you might find in a gift shop--apart from the underwear. (Years ago, I bought a lovely scented little volume of poetry from Victoria’s Secret--but I won’t say if I bought anything else.) Now they market "Sexy Little Things" and other items that more resemble things you’d have to search for in an adult bookstore 20 years ago. Once upon a time, you were not embarrassed to walk past their store front with an eight year-old in tow. Now, you avoid the mall.
In the beginning, the emphasis of the company was on the "Secret" . . . you got the catalog in the mail, it was just a little racy, but always feminine. No more. Look at the frightening woman marching at the camera in link above. She looks like something you’d get when Cruella D’Ville crashes into Xena the Warrior Princess and drags out Lorena Bobbit on the way--complete with the scissors. I mean, I realize that God made her an attractive woman . . . but no one could possibly believe that wearing that get-up is going to help her look anything other than ridiculous. Good lingerie advertising should make you believe it’s possible to aspire, in some way, to be pleasing to your man. But everyone knows that no one but a Victoria’s Secret model could carry off such a look without looking downright creepy. Whether the model succeeds in the "not looking creepy department" is even up for debate. Perhaps if she lost the leather and the scissors . . . but then you’re back to Turney’s point.