Victoria's real secrets: A brand that needs a walk-in closet for its skeletons

Victoria's Secret brasBy Mike Schuster,

Purveyor of sultry bedroom wear, finicky snap clasps and freakish angel-model hybrids, Victoria's Secret, has become a favorite among fashion-conscious women and preteen boys alike. So popular, in fact, that the 33-year-old company represents the chiefest segment of its parent company Limited Brands, which recently posted a net income of $356.1 million in its fourth quarter -- adjusted to $332.8 million, or $1.01 per share, after tax and restructuring issues. Despite a sluggish 2009, Limited Brands and its racy subsidiary is predicting a hefty boost in 2010.

Part of that optimism is heaped upon the new stand-alone Pink store, which opened March 13 in New York's trendy SoHo neighborhood. Targeting a younger, college-age demographic, the shop marked the first outpost of the Victoria's Secret Pink line. The grand opening featured the likes of models Chanel Iman and Behati Prinsloo, as well as free lollipops and a cupcake truck -- an odd choice for a brand that depends on a hassle-free fitting room experience.
But as fashionistas squealed in delight as the Pink store's ribbon was cut, few were thinking of the lesser-known facts about Victoria's Secret -- many of which would cause them to slowly back away from the racks of Lycra Spandex. Here shares a few lurid and seldom-told tales from behind the curtains of Victoria's Secret.

1. In 1982, after finding success with the company's mail-order catalog, Roy Raymond sold Victoria's Secret to Limited Brands. But Raymond's next venture couldn't match the enlivened success Victoria's Secret was enjoying under new ownership. Distraught over his bad luck, Raymond committed suicide by leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

2. A recent NBC report conducted in a New Jersey mall exposed a dirty habit practiced by several women's clothing retailers. The stores, Victoria's Secret among them, would restock and resell used clothing items -- yes, underwear, too -- straight from the customer's hands. Lesson learned: Always thoroughly wash new clothes before wearing.

3. Already well-versed in featuring models who perpetuate an unrealistic body image, Victoria's Secret was hit with a maelstrom of criticism from Fox News' Bill O'Reilly when Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio was photographed in an emaciated state, appearing to rehash the controversial early-'90s "heroin chic" trend. Making matters worse, the models beside her -- representing an ideal body shape for many women -- were referred to as "plus-sized."

4. Two years ago, Ohio resident Roberta Riller spearheaded a class action lawsuit against Victoria's Secret after numerous women -- 600 to be exact -- relayed their painful experiences with a particular line of bra. Their skin irritations, such as hives and rashes -- which led to permanent scarring for some -- were said to have been caused by traces of formaldehyde in the undergarment, according to a lab test conducted by the plaintiff. The case, however, was withdrawn.


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5. That same year, a 52-year-old Los Angeles woman filed a liability lawsuit against Victoria's Secret after she was injured by a "wardrobe malfunction." The metal clasp of a thong she was wearing sprang loose and struck her in the eye, allegedly causing three cuts to her cornea and requiring a topical steroid.

6. Victoria's Secret was again accused of pitting women against dangerous undergarments when a South Carolina woman alleged that she received a three-inch long, quarter-inch deep laceration across her left breast while removing a bra. The company responded, "Any injuries and damages sustained by the plaintiff may have been as the misuse and/or abuse of the product in question."

7. As clothing retailers are no stranger to lifted patent accusations, Victoria's Secret should be one chain used to infringement lawsuits by now. Paralegal Katerina Pew alleged the company stole her idea for a bra that can be worn up to 100 different ways. But the case became even juicier once Pew revealed she had scheduled a meeting with the company to discuss her design but Victoria's Secret unexpectedly canceled the appointment.

8. The Hollywood Walk of Fame hosts some curious personalities of dubious achievements: Ryan Seacrest, Judge Judy, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. to name a few. But inducting the Angel models of Victoria's Secret in 2007? Are we sure this wasn't done simply for the occasion's photo session?

9. Genetic luck aside, the job of a supermodel is said to be one of the most difficult occupations one could have -- according to the models themselves. To everyone else, it's lying on a rock and arching your back. So to hear that Victoria's Secret once signed model Gisele Bundchen for a $5 million a year contract to do basically that, well, it doesn't bode well for the brand's image
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