It’s that time of year again.
Not just shelves laden with tinsel and baubles, not just the old Christmas songs playing on endless loops in lifts and not just the time for the infamous Office Christmas party. No, it is the time when every self-respecting tabloid runs a feature on why men are so bad at buying lingerie for their loved ones.
Seeing the first of these reminded me of the beginning of what is now one of the world’s largest lingerie brands.
In 1969 Roy Raymond went to buy his wife Gaye some lingerie, an event which he recalled some years later in an interview with Newsweek. “When I tried to buy lingerie for my wife,” he recalls, “I was faced with racks of terry-cloth robes and ugly floral-print nylon nightgowns, and I always had the feeling the department store saleswomen thought I was an unwelcome intruder.”
It was an event that clearly scarred him. He decided something had to change and for the next eight years he studied the lingerie market, developing his ideas. Finally settling on his concept he borrowed $40,000 from his parents and $40,000 from a bank to establish Victoria’s Secret.
His aim was to market women’s lingerie to men and he wanted to create a store in which men could feel comfortable buying lingerie. He wanted the stores to be places where men could browse at their leisure without having to manically flash their wedding bands or be constantly frowned on.
Though American, Raymond picked a name with a British twist. “Victoria” was a reference to Queen Victoria and was chosen to bring with it associations of the style, elegance and class of the Victorian era. The “Secret” was of course hidden underneath the clothes and probably in those olden days seen as something shocking.
The store design was an homage to the boudoir with hints of seduction featuring dark wood panels, velvet sofas and silk drapes. The lingerie itself wasn’t the often dull but practical and functional everyday underwear which dominated the market but tended towards the frivolous and often completely impractical pieces only fit for a wedding night or burlesque show.
The first store was located in Stanford Shopping Centre in Palo Alto, California in 1977 and proved a reasonable success returning profit of $500,000. Raymond opened more stores and launched a catalogue.
And everyone lived and dressed happily ever after. (Well, not entirely and there is the story about how the brand started to falter, was ultimately sold and relaunched but that’s another story for another time).