Could a beaded miracle bra lift the nation's sagging economy?
That's what the leading purveyor of lingerie hopes to help accomplish, while getting a dose of publicity on the side, and raising a drawerful of dollars for Sept. 11 charities.
Victoria's Secret kicked off its holiday shopping campaign Tuesday night with its annual fashion show, set against a velvet ceiling full of shimmery stars, in a giant tent at New York's Bryant Park, venue of the city's Fashion Week.
But the world's most-watched fashion show comes to New York at a time when not only the scarred city continues to pull itself out of the ashes of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but as the nation struggles against a sweeping economic slowdown.
Retailers have been hit particularly hard by the decline in sales growth, which started even before Sept. 11, as consumers' confidence eroded, making them more reluctant to spend. Sales had been flat throughout the summer before plunging 2.2 percent in Sept.
But underwear could give the retail sector a kick in the behind with its own mini sales revival.
Lingerie's $3 billion-plus share of the retail sales category may be small, but while the holiday outlook for the retail sector as a whole is cautious, intimate apparel is set for strong holiday sales, projects Richard Jaffe, retail analyst at New York-based financial services company UBS Warburg.
"Intimate apparel in general, and Victoria's Secret specifically, could possibly outperform many other areas of retail," added Todd Slater, retail analyst at the New York office of financial advising firm Lazard.
Some evidence of how that can fuel the sector came with retail sales figures for October, which jumped a record 7.1 percent, in large part pumped by a jump in auto sales, but also helped by a deep discounting of smaller-ticket items, such as clothing and intimate apparel.
Helping to explain the trend is Stan Williams, fashion director for Maxim magazine. "I still can't get my head around buying clothes," says Williams. "But intimate apparel is not expensive, and anyone — men or women — can buy it."
Sept. 11 created a sentimental response, argues Jaffe. "And what is the holiday season all about? A way to show affection. Consumers will be out there looking to buy gifts because exchanging presents is a way to be sentimental with your family."
Adds Slater, "People don't want to be overt with their purchases in a recession. But unless you're wearing intimate apparel as outerwear — which some people do — it can be considered an inexpensive 'lift-me-up.'"
Victoria's Secret certainly didn't spare any expense in its effort to get Americans into the shopping mood early. The fashion show, which is scheduled to be broadcast this evening on ABC-TV (whose parent company also owns this Web site), cost approximately $6 million to produce, says Ed Razek, president and chief marketing officer of Victoria Secret's corporate parent Intimate Brands.
Razek believes it's money well spent. "This is the biggest sales opportunity Victoria's Secret has had and it's a very good investment." Last year more than 1.6 billion people in 140 countries saw some part of the show through media coverage and on the Web. And Victoria's Secret projects its network debut will set new records for TV viewership.