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On the money

A new business model at Victoria’s Secret

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Victoria’s Secret Angels, a group of scantily clad supermodels with Jessica Rabbit curves, are out of a job. The “avatars of Barbie bodies and playboy reverie”, as The New York Times describes them, have been replaced by the VS Collective, “seven women famous for their achievements and not their proportions”. They will spearhead what the paper says may be “the most extreme and unabashed attempt at a brand turnaround in recent memory”.

Founded in 1977, Victoria’s Secret has come under pressure from the #MeToo movement and attracted unwelcome publicity because of its former owner Les Wexner’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. There have also been revelations about a misogynistic corporate culture that is alleged to have trafficked in sexism, sizeism and ageism. That said, it remains a fashion powerhouse: although its share of the US women’s underwear market fell from 32% in 2015 to 21% last year, that’s still 5% more than its nearest competitor.

The company now wants to transform the Angels marketing culture – once described as “patriarchal” and “sexist” by Megan Rapinoe, a pink-haired 35-year-old soccer star and gender equality campaigner – and reposition Victoria’s Secret as a leading global “advocate” for female empowerment. With a new executive team and a board of directors on which all but one seat will be occupied by women, it is set to split from its corporate owners this summer and become an independent public company. And Rapinoe has signed up as one of the brand’s new ambassadors.

New product areas will include sportswear and nursing bras, although thongs and lacy lingerie will still feature in the range. As one former executive told the NYT, there will have to be a balance between moving forward and satisfying existing customers. “If it was a $7bn business pre-Covid, and much of that $7bn was built on this blatant sexy approach, be careful with what you’re doing.”

Don’t put your house on property 

Britain’s booming residential property market grew at a “near-record” pace of 8.9% in the year to April, according to The Times – and this is not an isolated phenomenon. From Auckland to Seattle, says Fortune, the cost of buying a home has surged to levels not seen since the height of the housing bubble 15 years ago.

Knight Frank estate agency’s Global House Price Index, based on data from 56 countries and territories, increased by 7.3% in the year to March. Thirteen countries recorded double-digit price growth, including pandemic “star” New Zealand (up 22%), inflation-ravaged Turkey (up 32%) and the US (up 13.2%, its highest rate of house-price growth since December 2005). Italy and Spain, which endured lengthy lockdowns in 2020, were the worst hit in Europe, with the average house price increasing by just 1.6% in Italy and falling by 1.8% in Spain.

The figures come amid heightening concern about a new burst of inflation, fuelled by big stimulus programmes in the US and Europe. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis’s personal consumption expenditures price index – a measure closely watched by the Federal Reserve – last week jumped by the highest number for 13 years. Opinions differ sharply on whether consumer price pressure is likely to be transitory: the markets are sanguine for the moment, but many commentators are wary about what comes next. “Policymakers are likely to prefer moderately higher inflation to reduce the value of higher debt levels,” the head of one economic consultancy wrote in the FT.

Watch out, there’s a scammer about  

The pandemic has been like Christmas for criminals, says Claer Barrett in the FT. Scam warnings from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, many of them about investment fraud via “highly convincing” cloned websites, doubled in 2020 and are on course to do so again in 2021. An estimated 150,000 victims were duped into transferring a record £479m last year, with fewer than half getting any of their money back.

It’s also scary for the banks, according to The Economist. A “new breed of bank robber” is on the loose, breaching cyber-defences, tricking employees with elaborate “phishing” schemes, stealing data as well as money, and benefiting from the backing of rogue states such as North Korea and Iran. Banks spend more on digital security than any other type of company – $2,691 per employee – but insurance consultancy Advisen suggests they have lost about $12bn to cybercrime since 2000.