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No Victoria’s Secret catalog? No problem: a modest proposal

Victoria’s Secret Angel Taylor Hill hosts a global media livestream to reveal the retailer’s Bralette Collection and launch a multi-city tour at Victoria’s Secret Herald Square in New York City on April 12.
Victoria’s Secret Angel Taylor Hill hosts a global media livestream to reveal the retailer’s Bralette Collection and launch a multi-city tour at Victoria’s Secret Herald Square in New York City on April 12.
(Cindy Ord / Getty Images)

The Victoria’s Secret catalog, that glossy through-the-door-slot compendium of impossibly perfect lingerie-clad feminine pulchritude, is apparently dead. News of its demise came during parent company Limited Brands’ May 20 earnings call, which noted that while annual catalog costs were in the $125 million to $150 million range, test eliminations of the catalog in key markets “saw a relatively small to no impact on sales.” Interestingly, in the fourth quarter of 2015, when catalog activity was scaled back some 40%, the Columbus, Ohio-based company noted demand in the direct (i.e. online) channel was actually up about 15%.

To be clear, while no one has actually used the D-word catalog-wise, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion, especially considering this bit of official pre-earnings-call guidance issued the night before: “Specifically, we intend to substantially reduce direct mail couponing, printed catalog circulation and certain other historical promotions.” (Although the catalog is receiving the lion’s share of the attention, the parent company announced a range of shifts, cuts and restructuring at the same time.)

While it might have had a negligible impact on lingerie sales, reaction to the demise of the postally propogated bra and panty parade seemed to underscore the special place it seems to have occupied in the hearts and loins of popular culture with many reports characterizing the catalog as, how to put this, a certain kind of inspirational material. Examples include headlines like, Sorry, Boys: Stock Up Now Because the Victoria’s Secret Catalog is Getting the Axe (mediaite.com) and the cosmopolitan.com story titled “The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Is Dead,” which asked in the sub-headline: “What will we stack on the backs of our toilets now?!?!”

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Perhaps the classiest innuendo-filled response came earlier this week on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” with the late-night talk-show host mourning the passing for nearly three minutes. In a moment of mock outrage, he characterized the elimination of the catalog as “just plain un-American.”

All of this reminds us of another recent high-profile periodical pivot involving glossy images of impossibly perfect women: Beverly Hills-based Playboy’s announcement, late last year, that it would no longer feature full female nudity in its pages. (Full disclosure: My past freelance career includes contributing to the magazine.) And, as is the case with the Victoria’s Secret catalog, the crooked finger of blame there points squarely at the Internet. Where the scenarios diverge, of course, is that Playboy has a steeper challenge online because the Internet has essentially devolved into a smorgasbord of piping hot all-you-can-click nudity 24/7.

November 2015 issues of Playboy magazine are seen on the shelf of a bookstore in Bethesda, Maryland on October 13, 2015. Playboy said last year it would stop publishing nude photos in its iconic magazine.
November 2015 issues of Playboy magazine are seen on the shelf of a bookstore in Bethesda, Maryland on October 13, 2015. Playboy said last year it would stop publishing nude photos in its iconic magazine.
(Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images )

Whether Playboy’s pivot ultimately pays off remains to be seen, but with the Victoria’s Secret catalog kicked to the curb, maybe there’s a chance to hedge the bets a little bit by dressing the lovely ladies who grace Playboy’s pages in some of the in-season sexiness of Victoria’s Secret barely there bralettes, thongs and babydolls with Limited Brands kicking in some of that $150-million-in-catalog savings for the privilege of tapping into a pool of potential customers it would never have been able to otherwise.

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On the other side of the equation, all those gnashing their teeth and rending their garments over the death of the Victoria’s Secret print product will have what amounts to a slick, high-quality catalog with really interesting super-long captions that they can have and hold and stack on the back of the toilet until time immemorial.

And hey, there’s even a bonus upside if this kind of synergy happens to help both brands survive and thrive. We’ll finally know at least one of Victoria’s secrets: product placement.

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For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me @ARTschorn.


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