I have never been to a Victoria’s Secret store but that doesn’t mean I haven’t speculated about the name. Who was Victoria and what are her secrets? A reference in a book I was reading got me interested and led me to do some research.
There are several speculations about the Victoria’s Secret name and most of them can be easily dismissed. One avers that Victoria’s Secret was founded by a man named Victor ( not true) and Victor = Victoria. Another claims that Victoria was the name of the founder’s wife and that he named the store after her. Nice try, but there is one little problem… the wife’s name was not Victoria.
Victoria’s Secret was founded in 1977 by Roy Raymond, a Stanford grad, and his wife. He was embarrassed to shop for lingerie for his wife in department stores and after five years of studying the market came up with the idea of a chain of lingerie stores which would cater to men and evoke the atmosphere of a Victorian boudoir. Borrowing $ 80,000 from his parents and the bank, Raymond and his wife Gray ( not Victoria) opened the first Victoria’s Secret store in Palo Alto, CA. The store was geared to male customers, and resembled nothing so much as a Victorian brothel with its heavy drapes, dim lighting and it’s period furniture which included red velvet sofas.
While there is no definitive answer to the origin of the name Victoria’s Secret, it most likely harks back to Victorian times which were noted for public prudery and private vice. The men of the time made a great show of being moral, upright and God-fearing but, behind closed doors, they indulged in every manner of vice. Prostitution was rampant and the numbers of brothels and gambling halls and saloons in the London of the time are staggering. Victoria’s Secret probably refers to just such a contradiction. What were those Victorian ladies wearing beneath their hoop skirts and crinolines? Could it be that they favored the sort of lacy, frilly unmentionables sold in the Victoria’s Secret stores? It was a titillating thought and within five years, the Palo Alto store had expanded to a chain of three stores with over $ 5 million in sales. Then, it all fell apart.
Raymond’s strategy of focusing on a male clientele was initially successful but the stores did not appeal to women and sales began to plummet. In 1983, Victoria’s Secret was headed for bankruptcy when it was sold to Leslie Wexner, creator of L Brands for $ 1 million ( some sources say $ 4 million or $5 million). Wexner redesigned the stores to appeal to women by emphasizing style and service and providing them a luxury shopping experience.
The rest, as they say, is history. Wexner,and his company Intimate Brands, have built up Victoria’s Secret into 346 store behemoth which had sales of over $ 6 billion in 2012.
Roy Raymond’s story however ended in tragedy. After he sold his company , he tried to establish a high-end children’s clothing company but failed and had to declare bankruptcy. To add to his woes, his marriage ended in divorce. It must have been torture to see the company he had started and then been forced to sell for a pittance become so successful.
Broke and broken, Roy Raymond leaped to his depth in 1996 by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge.
He was only 46.