Victoria’s Secret is moving into luxury for the first time ever in a partnership with Balmain, but don’t expect this to be the magic bullet for the lingerie brand to overturn mounting sales woes.
The L Brands–owned company announced on Thursday it will team with Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing on a capsule collection that will debut during the Victoria’s Secret fashion show in November. Few details have been shared regarding what the line will entail and at what price point it will sell, but it appears be a clear revitalization ploy following four consecutive quarters of slumping sales for Victoria’s Secret. Even with the high profile of Balmain, retail analysts and lingerie enthusiasts don’t anticipate the partnership will have much impact in the long run.
Cora Harrington, founder of the Lingerie Addict blog, said the issue is Victoria’s Secret was never particularly synonymous with fashion to begin with, and has recently distanced itself further. The company has continued to move away from apparel in order to focus on lingerie and beauty, in an effort to reduce category sprawl; in 2016, the company announced it would halt sales of swimwear and apparel to focus on its core products.
“For Victoria’s Secret, the value is probably that Balmain is adding glitz, glamour and brand cachet, but people aren’t thinking of Victoria’s Secret as a fashion-forward brand right now,” she said.
Despite its ongoing restructuring — which included the sale of brands including The Limited, Express and Abercrombie & Fitch — L Brands is struggling. The parent company reported on Thursday that comparable sales for the month of September dipped two percent, with net sales rising a modest 1 percent to a total of $981.6 million.
MaryLeigh Bliss, chief content officer at millennial marketing agency YPulse, said while Rousteing has played a significant role in elevating the Balmain brand — thanks in large part to his personal relationships with the several celebrities he regularly dresses and features in campaigns — he’ll likely be less effective at boosting Victoria’s Secret. The reason: Luxury partnerships are becoming tired.
“Balmain certainly has good recognition at this point among young female consumers, thanks to the Kardashians and other celebs,” she said. “But at this point, luxury collabs are so commonplace, it won’t necessarily make Victoria’s Secret stand out.”
Bliss said Victoria’s Secret remains mired in issues such as the rise of competitor lingerie sites that tout cheaper prices and more options for personalization. Victoria’s Secret has also failed to focus on body inclusivity in the same way peers including Aerie have. “While a Balmain collaboration might give them some good buzz short-term, it doesn’t fix either of those problems for them,” she said.
Mihai Botarel, co-founder and creative director at RXM Creative, said if the Balmain for H&M collaboration is any indication, the Victoria’s Secret partnership will drive some traffic, but it won’t have a significant impact on business.
“Fans of Balmain lined up in droves to purchase [products at H&M] because, for many, this was the only way they would be able to own a piece by the Balmain brand,” he said. “This partnership will definitely give sales a quick bump, but I’m not convinced it will have a lasting impression on the perception of Victoria’s Secret or its sales.”
Harrington, the founder of Lingerie Addict, said it’s ultimately possible the partnership may be more beneficial for Balmain than Victoria’s Secret, by increasing the luxury retailer’s visibility to mall brand consumers.
“Victoria’s Secret has the largest lingerie presence in the U.S. in terms of storefronts, market penetration and access to customers, and that can be powerful. [Balmain] can use Victoria’s Secret as a way to reach consumers and [improve] brand awareness.”