Maybe it was the lusty mannequins in its stores, the massage oil on its shelves or the overabundance of cleavage on the glittery runway of its annual TV fashion show. But this week, Victoria's Secret Chief Executive Sharen J. Turney acknowledged that the chain had gotten "too sexy."
Is such a thing even possible?
"We have moved off of our brand heritage," she said in a conference call with analysts. "We use the word 'sexy' a lot and really have forgotten the ultra-feminine."
Victoria's Secret has long toed the line between seductive and sleazy, and its recent disappointing financial performance suggested that it had veered off course.
Its parent company, Limited Brands, reported Wednesday that Victoria's Secret's fourth-quarter revenue rose to $1.89 billion. But sales at stores open at least a year, a key measure of a retailer's health, declined 8%.
The company also said it would slow plans for new stores and remodels. The chain has about 1,000 stores, mostly in the U.S.
"I think it's a very good decision on their part," said C. Britt Beemer, head of America's Research Group, a firm that studies consumer behavior. "Sometimes sex doesn't sell as well to a woman as it does to the men."
Turney said the brand's original story line was of a to-the-manner-born Londoner named Victoria whose lacy underthings, we assume, were her little secret. But in recent years, Victoria became known as simply "Vicky," and she had no qualms about flaunting her sex appeal.
The chain began remodeling stores to resemble glittery boudoirs, with mannequins in feathery thongs and stilettos prominently displayed near the entrances. When the store in Tysons Corner Center, Va., was made over in 2005, enraged parents lobbied it to tone down the display. It eventually complied.
Still, the company sells the Very Sexy line of lingerie, swimwear and even makeup. Then there's the Sexy Little Things collection, which includes more risque merchandise, such as peek-a-boo bras and undies, and shimmering body powder in a feathery bottle.
Turney pointed to the company's Super Bowl ad this year as an example of its new direction. The spot featured model Adriana Lima in a black lace tank top and undies seductively tossing a football as she lounged in a chair.
"Let the real games begin," the ad said. It was the most popular spot on the broadcast and was seen by 103.7 million people, according to Nielsen/Netratings.