Why has Victoria's Secret succeeded so visibly in Ireland while it struggles elsewhere?
Around this time last year, I attended an early morning preview of the Victoria's Secret flagship store in Dublin.
I focused on the "art-deco inspired interior homes electric pink signage" and "a dramatic silver staircase where footage of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show plays on repeat, as it does behind the tills on its three floors." A colleague, on the other hand, wrote that "everything inside is Barbie pink and black" and "all the perfumes come with base notes of simple syrup." We were both right.
We both saw the same product through a different gaze, with the only consistent being that both of us have long since aged out of Victoria's Secret lucrative target market, comprised of Generation Z shoppers. I like my bras sturdy, my knickers big and lighting non-fluorescent: I was never going to be a repeat customer.
Traditionally, when a new Victoria's Secret store launches anywhere in the world, at at least one Angel is flown in to launch the premises in person, as both a representative of the brand, but also a vote of confidence in the market.
Ireland didn't have one. Some journalists, myself included, were given email interviews with Angels (mine with Adriana Lima) in conjunction with its promotion strategy. On the night of its launch, the 100 invited guests disappeared across the 2,700 square metre building in search of something suitable and hardly anyone paid much mind to the anti-animal testing protesters that occupied Grafton Street for its first few days of business. I bought, what remains to this day, the best sports bra I have ever worn, for €50.
Over the last 12 months, it's become increasingly popular to hate on Victoria's Secret - something of which I am just as guilty - and the year-round simmering comes to the boil around November when the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show takes place. This year, in particular, was a PR disaster for the brand thanks in no small party to Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek's comments that they have no interested in casting plus-size or trans models, consumers had their pitchforks at the ready. "Because the show is a fantasy," he told Vogue in one of the fashion industry's biggest car-crash interviews of 2018.
And while the reaction in the US was one of overwhelming negativity, stoking the ire of revolt, just a few thousand miles away in Dublin's fair city, the lingerie giant was making bank. In its first two months of trading, it made €64,000 per day. For any new business, that would be impressive, for one that is struggling internationally, it's a miracle.
The three-storey building is in keeping with the Victoria's Secret aesthetic, but it has emerged as something of a dark horse in the international investment of its parent company L Brands Fashion Retail Reland Ltd's portfolio. In 2016, it ceased publication of its long-serving catalogue and since 2016, there's been a 6% drop at its brick and mortar stores, another 2% dip in sales and, according to Forbes, it saw its fiscal third-quarter operating income drop 89% to $14.2 million from $120 million.
Meanwhile, in our capital, it enjoyed revenues of €3.88m between opening day on December 5th last to February 3rd of this year. It's a runaway accomplishment, which is particularly interesting given how much retailers as a whole are suffering this Christmas period in comparison to other years.
You could argue that a lot of its popularity has to do with the amount of time consumers had to wait for the store to finally put down some Irish roots as women, mostly aged between 16-25 had grown tired of asking their aunts in America to bring them over underwear and PINK tracksuit pants. By then, the cult was already established and followers, who worship at the altar of Instagram, were familiar in every aspect of its offering.
In the grand scheme of things, it's still relative small potatoes to a global conglomerate whose eyes are fixed firmly on China, which informed most of the decision to host the annual fashion show in Shanghai last year, as they are increasingly keen to take a bite out the country's $25bn lingerie market.
This year, however, the show returned to New York and VS brought over its two Irish ambassadors to attend, putting them up in the city's iconic Plaza Hotel, where they kept followers up-to-date with backstage action, selfies with supermodels and pictures with Kris Jenner, who was sitting front row to support her daughter Kendall.
Commercial strategies for lifestyle brands are shifting to being nearly exclusively influencer led, especially with those targeting the youth market, and Ireland is no exception. The decision to include two instead of the standard one token representative was enough of a vote of confidence on behalf of the brand in this country.
We are also, as a whole, not as woke with consumerism as we like to think and just like everywhere else, susceptible to the razzle dazzle of international marketing campaigns and sale prices that independent retailers simply can't afford.
At least we can relish in one retail success story over Christmas.