The Tragic Story Behind Victoria’s Secret

Tragic story behind Victoria's Secret founder

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We’re all very familiar with Victoria’s Secret, but what you probably don’t know is the tragic secret that lays behind it. Its a fascinating, but tragic story.

Victoria’s Secret was the brainchild of a man named Roy Raymond. It all began when he walked into the lingerie department of a large department store in the mid 1970s, wanting to pick out something special for his wife.

What started out as a thoughtful and romantic gesture soon turned into an uncomfortable and embarrassing experience. He felt awkward under the glares of the school-marm-type sales clerks who made him feel like a perv for being there. And he couldn’t find the type of sensual attire he was wanting to purchase for his wife – only a lot of frumpy floral print night gowns and “cross your heart” brassieres (if you aren’t old enough to remember the commercials, they werent sexy). The ugly, bright florescent lighting did nothing to lend ambiance to the shopping experience, and it certainly didn’t do the merchandise any favors either.

He didn’t leave with lingerie, but he did leave with the inspiration for a business concept. It occurred to him that if he found the whole experience so unsatisfactory, other guys must have been in the same boat. It occurred to him that there was an untapped market for an elegant, upscale lingerie store where men would feel welcome and comfortable shopping for beautiful, sensual, classy lingerie for the women in their lives.

In his mind he envisioned a boutique with a Victorian boudoir feel. He chose the name Victoria to convey the respectability and sense of being “proper” that the Victorian era is associated with. Sensuality was a very big part of the Victorian era, but it was always very discreet. Victoria kept her secrets hidden beneath.

Roy Raymond - Victoria's Secret founder
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With his wife as his partner, Raymond pulled together $80,000 and a lot of guts, took out a lease on a small mall unit,  and opened a lingerie store in Palo Alto, California.

Following through on his vision has paid off, or at least, so it seemed. Within 5 years, Victorias Secret had three more stores in San Francisco and the company was earning $4 million a year by 1982.

That was all well and good. The only trouble was, Victoria’s Secret was on the verge of bankruptcy. For all its success, Raymond realized there was still something missing from his formula, and despite his efforts, he could not identify what the problem was.

By a stroke of luck, one day Les Wexler happened into one of thlle San Francisco stores and was taken aback by the stunning lingerie he found there. Wexler happened to be the brains behind “The Limited” a popular sportwear chain that was booming at that time.

Immediately Wexler could see what the issue was. Because Victorias Secret focused on the male customer, it was neglecting the female segment of the market. Women felt just as uncomfrotable in Victories Secret as men had felt in the lingerie departments in deparment stores. Wexlre rightly identified that for the brand to really succeed, it had to attract both men and women as customers.

Les Wexner - Victoria's Secret

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Wexner made an offer to buy Victorias Secret for 1 million dollars, and Raymond agreed to sell.  Over the next several years, Wexner took Victorias secret to the next level, buliding it out to 670 stores in the US by 1995.

BUT as Victorias Secret was booming, its orginal founder’s life was slowly crumbling. After selling Victoria’s Secret, Raymond went on to start an upscale kids clothing store and catalogue called My Childs Destiny. But in 1986, after just two years of operations, the company went bankrupt.

Business and financial problems ultimately took a toll on his marriage, and the couple ended up divorcing. In 1993, despondent and feeling like everything he had had was gone, Roy Raymond jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Roy Raymond had a level of genuis in that he was able to identify a need in the market and find a way to fill it. And yet, for all the genius he had, he could not figure out what the remaining portion of the formula for the company’s success ultimate;y was.  He had to live with the fact that someone else was able to figure that out and turn his brand into one of the biggst retail successes of the centruy, and yet, he could not. He had to live with watchning someone else take his brand and run with it, while his attempts at future successes failed and his life slowly fell apart i all directions.

Ultimately, Roy Raymonds story contains a common theme in human existance – a story of someone who achieved rapid success, then lost it all, and was never able to rebuild to what they had again.

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