The company reached an agreement with Barington in April that made the firm a special adviser. L Brands now has five women on its 12-member board; it previously had three.
The model Karlie Kloss recently said that she had stopped working with Victoria’s Secret because it did not convey “the kind of message I want to send to young women around the world about what it means to be beautiful.”
“There was a supermodel moment with a lot of aspirations around those women in general that seemed to be beautiful and having the time of their lives,” said Leslee King, founder of RetailRepublik, who was an executive at Victoria’s Secret for more than a decade. “But as the millennial rose, it started to become dated. She just wasn’t having someone tell her what you should look and feel like, and unattainable projections of beauty became not just dated and uncool but offensive.”
Victoria’s Secret was skewered in November after Edward Razek, then the marketing chief of L Brands, expressed uninterest in casting plus-size and “transsexual” models in the fashion show, “because the show is a fantasy.” Mr. Razek, who later apologized, abruptly retired last month after more than three decades. He was a confidant of Mr. Wexner’s and integral to the rise of the brand’s models, known as Angels.
That same day, Victoria’s Secret made headlines for casting an openly transgender woman in a catalog for the first time.
For all its struggles, Victoria’s Secret remains one of the biggest mall stores. It had $7.4 billion in sales last year in the United States and Canada, more than the Gap brand makes worldwide. But it has been running a dizzying array of promotions, which have eaten into its operating margins. Sales at stores have declined, and closings have accelerated.
Victoria’s Secret has been ceding market share to a number of small competitors that are “chipping away” at the business, said Jamie Merriman, a retail analyst at Bernstein Research. The brand’s share of the United States women’s underwear market, which includes bras and lingerie, dropped to 25 percent last year from 34 percent in 2016, according to Euromonitor International, a market research provider.