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Architecture + Branding: Victoria’s Secret architectural design progressively migrating away from implicit innuendo towards explicit extravagance

1-Transforming A department into THE department

In the current retailing environment, whereby businesses cater to mass-markets and/or specialize in segments and sub-segments of the retail market, shopping for many consumer goods is plentiful. Fashion, apparel, intimates, consumers can choose from businesses that tailor their offerings to best respond to their particular needs and wants.

However, just a few decades removed, retailing had not spread across the multitude of categories available today. In the heydays of the enclosed malls, department stores tended to be  all things to all people. These anchor tenants would draw all types of consumers with a varied offering set up into distinct departments such as, household goods, women’s wear, shoes, and intimates.

DSC11727 - VS Macys 6th Avenue and West 34th Street NYC NY

Macy’s Department store, 6th Avenue and West 34th Street, New York City, New York

DSC11647 - VS JC Penney Manhattan Mall NYC

JC Penney, Manhattan Mall, 6th Avenue and West 34th Street, New York City, New York

Feeling embarrassed trying to purchase lingerie for his wife in the department store retail environment, Roy Raymond undertook to change it (source: wikipedia.org). The department stores’ cold hollow displays, box upon box of undergarments stacked neatly in slotted display cases would be forever altered. Once relegated to being a department within the department store, lingerie and under garment shopping would move to the forefront.

2-Embracing Victorian charm

When Victoria’s Secret launched in 1977, social mores and some old ideas surrounding intimate apparel had begun to wane. Aimed directly at softening and altering the cringe inducing factors that accompanied the intimate apparel shopping experience, especially for male shoppers, the first store opened at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California (source: wikipedia.org).

Fashioned to evoke Victorian-esque boudoirs, the stores were designed to create an inviting environment, replete with ornate Victorian detailing, warm neutral colours, and rich wood-paneled walls. Victorian era design ideals assign a strong importance to order and ornamentation, whereby public and private spaces were to be kept separate and bare quarters were in violation of the unspoken rules of good taste.

The traditional department stores’ slotted display cases were replaced with individual styles paired together, framed and mounted for easy browsing (source: wikipedia.org). Helpful staff assisted in estimating appropriate sizes and pulled the merchandise from inventory in the back rooms (source: wikipedia.org). As such, both women and men, could feel more at ease in this particular retail environment.


Victoria’s Secret, Briarwood Mall, Ann Arbor, Michigan (source: wikipedia.org)

After several more store openings, as well as the introduction of a mail-order catalog, shopping for intimates had changed radically (source: wikipedia.org).

3-Moving to a grander stage

In 1982, Mr. Raymond would sell his interests to the founder of the Limited Brands, Linda Wexner (source: wikipedia.org). The size and scope of the Victoria’s Secret brand would changed again, and dramatically at that.

Ten years into the Limited Brands’ tenure, Victoria’s Secret was a nationally recognized brand. Sticking to the strategy that made it successful early on, Victoria’s Secret grew rapidly with mall locations across the US throughout the 1980s (source: wikipedia.org).

DSC06276 - VS Victoria Secret Salmon Run Mall Watertown NY

Victoria’s Secret, Salmon Run Mall, Watertown, New York

Along with physical stores, the breadth of products that could be sold was exponential due to the availability of its mail-order catalog business (source: wikipedia.org). Exceeding $1B in sales, Victoria’s Secret had established itself as the largest American lingerie retailer by the early 1990s (source: wikipedia.org).

DSC09641 - VS Victoria Secret Champlain Centre Plattsburg NY

Victoria’s Secret, Champlain Centre, Plattsburg, New York

Somewhere along the expansion path, the stores started to take on a more daring, provocative look, unrecognizable to the founding vision.

DSC11653 - VS Victoria Secret Manhattan Mall NYC NY

Victoria’s Secret, Manhattan Mall, New York City, New York

The intricate dainty details, the quaint pinks and white and the playful suggestive innuendos were disappearing. Streamlined surfaces, a generous splattering of black, hot pink neon and peep show framed window displays that had much commonality with Amsterdam’s Red Light district began to creep into the suburban malls.

DSC06231 - VS Victoria Secret Carousel Mall Syracuse NY

Victoria’s Secret, Carousel Mall, Syracuse, New York

Implicit or suggestive references were now undeniably explicit, the storefronts communicated the brand’s category dominance. This was no whisper, it was an untamed guttural growl.


Victoria’s Secret, Las Vegas, Nevada (source: wikipedia.org)

The staid conservative ethos gave way to a more radical approach. The stores began trending in a new direction and reflected a more laissez-faire, va-va-voom attitude where reserved now clashed with risqué.

4-Reserved to Risqué to Refined

In December of 2008, Victoria’s Secret unveiled a new flagship store in Manhattan that recalled the founding principles and increased the feminine cues in a less provocative manner.

Stately, bright, bold and luxurious, the Lexington Avenue store was a sort of return-to-roots for Victoria’s Secret, and an embodiment of the essence of the brand in built form.

Victoria Secret 722 Lexington Avenue and East 58th Street NYC NY 2 https___maps.google

Victoria’s Secret, 722 Lexington Avenue (and East 58th Street), New York City, New York (source: wikipedia.org)

Victoria Secret 722 Lexington Avenue and East 58th Street NYC NY 1 https___maps.google

Victoria’s Secret, 722 Lexington Avenue (and East 58th Street), New York City, New York (source: wikipedia.org)

The facades reflect a modern design approach with clean lines, basic shapes, sleek machined edges, hidden fasteners and a lack of ornamentation. Utilizing reflective laminated glass panels, the exterior exudes a slick polished hi-tech look, almost casting a soft glow, underscored by pink lit portals. The varying panel sizes create a rhythm and a sense of motion in the building facade which is accentuated in the panels mirroring activities beyond. Street facing window display cases of varying height and width punctuate the facade, adding an element of surprise. Stainless steel framing around the window openings, as well as the main entrance component, provide a clean orderly transition piece at the openings.

Victoria Secret Lexington Avenue

Victoria’s Secret, 722 Lexington Avenue (and East 58th Street), New York City, New York (source: fashionwindows.net)

Inspired by hospitality and residential design themes, the interior exudes opulence, accentuated by the iconic black and white Victoria’s Secret colour palette. White-washed herringbone flooring and mother of pearl tiling, quilted walls further reinforce the sumptuous ambiance.

(source: dailymotion.com)

Décor items such as, black and white photographs, early 20th century French Art Deco influenced pieces, grand crystal chandeliers and sheer drapery hint to the brand’s Victorian inspired design roots and serve to further the luxurious immersive experience.

Upscale and very feminine, the new store substituted the older schematic of pinks and red with a black and white theme which would serve as a test-lab for the brand’s future design direction.

5-Manhattan Project lessons

In August of 2010, Edmonton’s West Edmonton Mall became home to Victoria’s Secret first store outside of the United States. Toronto followed in September 2010, and Calgary in May 2011 rounded out the list of Canadian locations.

Lessons and design cues from the flagship Manhattan store are evident. The more serene whites and pinks have returned, the use of silver and toned down neon is apparent, the use of black on the exterior facade has been balanced and used more sparingly, being featured as accent and contrast.

Victoria Secret Yorkdale Mall Toronto
Victoria’s Secret, Yorkdale Mall, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (source: torontoisfashion.com)


Although not dainty and demure, the architectural expression is less sterile. Ornamentation and detail has returned to the displays.

Retail design alchemy has seen equal parts classy imbued with equal parts sassy for a more refined, upscale, yet feminine look.

The architectural expressions that the stores have adopted over the years have at times served to blur the lines between sensual and sexual, the more recent iteration, with a dose of drama and a splash of sophistication seems to provide a balanced approach to satiate both extremes.

Victoria Secret 335 Powell Street San Francisco CA 1 https___maps.google

Victoria’s Secret, 335 Powell Street, San Francisco, California (source: maps.google.com)

Victoria Secret 3000 Hennepin Avenue South Minneapolis MN 3 https___maps.google

Victoria’s Secret, 3000 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

DSC11724 - VS Victoria Secret 6th Avenue and West 34th Street NYC NY

Victoria’s Secret, 6th Avenue and West 34th Street, New York City, New York

Victoria Secret 923 W North Avenue Chicago IL 3 https___maps.google

Victoria’s Secret, 923 W North Avenue, Chicago, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Instituting a softer, more feminine, balanced design aesthetic should help to strengthen the Victoria’s Secret brand, already a dominant force in apparel and intimate wear, as it continues to expand into international locations and non-traditional retail sites.


All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


One thought on “Architecture + Branding: Victoria’s Secret architectural design progressively migrating away from implicit innuendo towards explicit extravagance

  1. It’s incredible how architectural glass can transform the way a building looks by making it more stunning and unique. You can definitely see this within the design at Victoria Secret. Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by Caryl Anne | April 16, 2014, 12:35 pm

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