Roy Raymond was only thirty-years-old back in the mid 1970’s, a man most of you would probably know as the founder of the popular lingerie retail chain Victoria’s Secret. The idea first came to him when he walked into a department store to purchase some lingerie for his wife to wear, and left with a few notes. First off were the terribly floral nightdresses practically glowing under the fluorescent lights – they all looked terrible. Second was the fact that the store workers and even other shoppers were giving him looks of disgust, as though he were some type of pervert.
Roy Raymond, founder of Victoria’s Secret.
So after discussing the topic with a few friends and discovering they all felt the same way he did, Raymond set out to create the first lingerie store where men wouldn’t be judged for entering. The store got it’s name not from the man’s wife, but because the name Victoria in itself was Victorian-esque. Raymond wanted a sense of elegance to be departed on the customers, but that the “secrets” lay beneath. June 12th of 1977 at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California, the very first Victoria’s Secret opened it’s doors to the public.
It’s important to remember just how conservative the general public was back in the late 70’s; underwear and swimsuits weren’t about having fun, they were about practicality. Outside of special occasions lingerie wasn’t really discussed, but once Raymond opened his store that mentality was about to be flopped on it’s head.
Sales were high, much higher than anticipated so Raymond and his wife opened up three more branches within five years of the first. Their catalogue managed to reach across the nation and everyone began wanting to check it out; the scantily clad women wore next to nothing, but with a sense of elegance and grace attached that drew in more than a few male customers. By 1982 the company was taking in an average of $4 million per year, but somehow the business was failing.
Victoria’s Secret models, then and now.
Victoria’s Secret was flirting with the edge of bankruptcy, but Raymond simply couldn’t figure out what was missing from the formula. Everyone that visited absolutely loved the selection and the atmosphere, but sales weren’t doing nearly as well as they could be. This is when Leslie Wexner entered the picture.
Leslie was the owner and founder of a sportswear store known as “The Limited”, which at that time as rapidly expanding. To state that business was good would be an understatement! On one of his trips out to San Francisco he came across a Victoria’s Secret and discovered the sexiest lingerie he had ever seen before in his life, but he immediately knew what the problem was.
Victoria’s Secret was designed to be a safe place for men to shop for steamy outfits for their wives or girlfriends, and as such didn’t really put a whole lot of focus on the female aspect. Raymond had inadvertently created a store where the women who entered were just about as uncomfortable as he had been when buying his own wife lingerie just a few years prior.
Les Wexner, the genius behind the success of Victoria’s Secret.
Wexner was no stranger to European fashion at the time and saw the incredible potential the American market possessed. Back in those times European women were able to view lingerie as an everyday item, whereas the American way was to be more prudent and reserved in your more carnal desires. There was an untapped market in between the cheaper brands and the luxury. Wexner knew that if he could open up that very same ideology with the women in the United States the potential earnings could be astronomical – so he bought Victoria’s Secret for $1 million.
When Wexner took over the company began making a complete turnaround. Women all across the country were flocking to the stores for their own taste of glamour while the men continued to capitalise on the catalogue. By 1995 the company was worth over $1.9 billion with 670 stores nationwide. Wexner had been right.
With all the successes the company has had over the years many people completely forgot about Roy Raymond and his original vision for the store. For a year after selling the company to Wexner, Raymond continued to work as the company president until he decided to put his time and effort into a separate retail catalogue known as My Child’s Destiny based out of San Francisco. Unfortunately, back in 1986, just two years after Raymond had made the switch, My Child’s Destiny filed for bankruptcy. Shortly thereafter he got divorced from his wife, and on one chilly August day in 1993 Raymond jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge.
Victoria’s Secret has become one of the most successful global brands today.
The exact reasoning behind Raymond’s choice to commit suicide are yet unknown, though it’s a safe bet it was due to the few years prior. He sold his company for $1 million and watched it blossom into something great by someone else, filed bankruptcy with his new venture, lost his wife and he probably even felt like he’d lost his kids.
Raymond’s is a cautionary tale of how you can both succeed and fail simultaneously. He was right in the fact that shame needed to be removed from the purchasing of unmentionables but he simply went about it in a slightly wrong way. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Victoria’s real secret.