Victoria's Secret May Become New Company

Victoria’s Secret, one of America’s iconic apparel brands, has struggled recently. Some investors want it to become a new company, separate from parent L Brands Inc. (NYSE: LB), as a means to resurrect the retailer. Soon, Victoria’s Secret may become independent for the first time since 1982.

L Brands is made up of two divisions. Bed & Body Works had same-store sales that rose 11% last year. The year before, the increase was 5%. Victoria’s Secret same-store sales fell 2% last year and 8% in 2017. Although Victoria’s Secret is the larger of the two operations, it is shrinking financially as well. In the final quarter of 2018, its revenue was $2.53 billion, down from $2.69 billion in the same quarter of 2017. Bed & Body Work’s revenue hit $1.91 billion, up from $1.73 billion in the final quarter of 2017.

When L Brands released its earnings results, CEO Leslie Wexner said:

Our No. 1 priority is improving performance at Victoria’s Secret Lingerie and Pink. We have lost our close connection to our customer. … Our new leaders are coming in with a fresh perspective and looking at everything … our marketing, brand positioning, internal talent, real estate portfolio and cost structure. Most important is improving our merchandise assortments.

Wexner brought in former Tory Burch President John Mehas to be CEO of Victoria’s Secret Lingerie. Outside investors are skeptical that the brand belongs stuck inside a parent company with another large division with separate priorities.

Victoria’s Secret was started in 1977 and has become one of the most famous clothing brands in the world. It has over 1,000 stores, although management recently said it would close 53. The annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is televised and watched by millions of people via streaming media. It has been held in several cities, including Cannes, Paris, London and Shanghai. Some of the world’s most famous models have worn Victoria’s Secret lingerie at the shows. Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande are among performers who have headlined the programs.

Victoria’s Secret has run into several major problems recently. It has been criticized because most of its models are thin and highly paid professionals. Outsiders argue this is not in touch with most women’s body sizes. Others contend that women, and particularly girls, have been misled about the way women should look if they take the bodies of Victoria’s Secret’s models as their goals. Some members of the LGBT community say their intimate apparel needs have not been appropriately addressed by the brand.

The competition against Victoria’s Secret has grown. On one side, lingerie companies that cater to women who are not as tall and thin and Victoria’s Secret models have become more visible. Some “plus size” brands have been introduced. Several other companies, like Frederick’s of Hollywood and Agent Provocateur, sell lingerie that is much more at risk than Victoria’s Secret lingerie.

The Wall Street Journal is the latest medium to report pressure on L Brands to solve the Victoria’s Secret sales problem. Hedge fund Barington Capital reportedly wants Victoria’s Secret to become its own company with its own management. With growing competition, falling sales and reductions in its store count, the formation of another corporation may not solve any of Victoria’s Secret’s problems.