Ed Razek is out at Victoria’s Secret. The embattled executive is leaving the lingerie brand and its parent company, L Brands, according to an internal memo reportedly distributed by CEO Leslie Wexner earlier this week.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the C-suite shakeup, which comes at a peculiar — if not completely predictable — time. Razek, the brand’s chief marketing officer, never fully recovered from comments he made last fall in an expansive Vogue interview, which many perceived as openly discriminatory toward curvy and transgender models.
“We attempted to do a television special for plus sizes [in 2000],” Razek told the publication. “No one had any interest in it, still don’t."
He went on to say that transgender models shouldn’t be featured in the fashion show as they'd somehow compromise the brand’s “fantasy” image.
“The show is a fantasy,” he said. “It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”
Although he issued an apology via Twitter a few days later, the damage to the already tainted brand was done. Razek’s words and lack of open-mindedness solidified what industry insiders and consumers alike have long suspected about Victoria’s Secret: Its heyday is beyond over, and it’s out of touch with an evolving market that wants to see more diversity and inclusion, not less.
After Razek’s snafu, Victoria’s Secret appeared to be making moves that would, at the very least, neutralize its plummeting brand image. In May, it announced that the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show would no longer be televised. And most recently, the brand hired Valentina Sampaio as its first openly transgender model.
But Victoria’s Secret will need to do more if it’s going to keep up with competitors like Rihanna's Savage x Fenty and ThirdLove, both of which have made inclusivity a central part of their marketing strategies and brand ethos.
Following Razek’s controversial Vogue interview, ThirdLove founder and CEO Heidi Zak took out an ad in The New York Times to share her perspective on the matter. “I’ve read and re-read the interview at least 20 times, and each time I read it I’m even angrier," she wrote in the open letter. “How in 2018 can the CMO of any public company — let alone one that claims to be for women — make such shocking, derogatory statements?”
All the controversy certainly isn't helping the bottom line over at Victoria’s Secret. Earlier this year, it announced plans to close 53 stores — that’s in addition to the 30 locations that shuttered in 2018. Further complicating the brand’s image is the apparent connection between Wexner and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein reportedly used to pose as a recruiter for the company's famed catalog.
So, where does this leave Victoria’s Secret? Troubled at best, and in the middle of a major identity crisis at worst. Unequivocally, consumers have become more conscious of their spending habits, and they expect the brands they support to embody their ideals and values. If this lingerie industry titan aims to stay relevant, letting Razek “retire” is a necessary step. But it’s only the first step on a long road ahead.