Victoria’s Secret was founded during one sexual revolution. It’s not clear it’ll make it through the next one.

While still the dominant lingerie retailer in the U.S., Victoria’s Secret sales have dropped in each of the past six quarters and show few signs of rebound -- a drop that coincides with the rise of online lingerie brands and changing sentiment about women, bodies and sex appeal.

Parent company L Brands Inc. isn’t expected to show much improvement when it reports first-quarter earnings Wednesday. Even its Pink chain, aimed at younger shoppers, is slowing. Shares are down 44 percent this year, deepening a slide that’s eroded 65 percent of the company’s market value since 2015.

Roy Raymond founded Victoria’s Secret in the 1970s, but longtime L Brands Chief Executive Officer Les Wexner has engineered its rise since he acquired it in 1982. Victoria’s Secret brought bras and panties into the open, first on the sales floor, then on runway models. Its popular catalog took its cues from romance novels and Cosmopolitan magazine, a mix of sexiness and windswept allure. When popular culture got more explicit, so did Victoria’s Secret’s marketing and its cleavage-accentuating product lines.

But the company has been slow to understand more recent cultural changes. “The way we even talk about sexiness has shifted now -- the idea is sexiness isn’t something reliant on being a glamazon or having long hair, there’s lots of different kinds of sexy,” said Cora Harrington, editor of the Lingerie Addict blog. “The one vision Victoria’s Secret has of sexy is out of place.”

Or, as Candace Corlett, president of consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail put it, “Are they aware there’s this thing called #MeToo out there?”

Upstart Brands
The growing competition is promoting more variety in models and products. Now in its fifth year, online retailer ThirdLove has shoppers answer a series of intimate questions about their breasts -- which of these nine illustrations matches your breast shape? -- while reassuring consumers that every woman’s body is unique. The company has raised $13.6 million from investors and expects to double its sales this year. Companies like Adore Me, True&Co. and Everlane are taking a similar approach.

In the mall, Victoria’s Secret is facing new competition as well, primarily from American Eagle Outfitters Inc.’s Aerie brand. The intimates chain is opening stores and amassing a teen and young-adult following, getting attention for its campaign using models of many body types whose images aren’t retouched in editing. Comparable sales at Aerie increased 34 percent in the fourth quarter, and it ended the year with $500 million in sales.

Bee Walsh, a 29-year-old dog walker living in Washington said she buys almost all of her underwear and bras from Aerie because their products are comfortable and compelling. When she wants something special, she’ll browse independent merchants on Etsy or click an ad on Instagram. The last time she bought something at Victoria’s Secret, it was a bralette -- she returned it.

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