L Brand’s sells stake in Victoria’s Secret; status of Kettering call center not clear

BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Victoria’s Secret, which once defined sexy with its leggy supermodels prancing around in their bras and oversized angel wings, is being sold as women increasingly look for styles that more realistically fit their body type.

The company’s owner, L Brands, said that the private-equity firm Sycamore Brands will buy 55% of Victoria’s Secret for about $525 million. The Columbus company will keep the remaining 45% stake. After the sale, L Brands will be left with its Bath & Body Works chain and Victoria’s Secret will become a private company.

For 25 years, L Brands has operated a Kettering call center, which supports Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The 5959 Bigger Road call center employs about 900 though has regularly held hiring surges seeking thousands of seasonal workers.

Les Wexner, who founded the company in 1963, will step down as chairman and CEO after the transaction is completed and become chairman emeritus. Wexner has been grappling with his own troubles, including questions over his ties to the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted on sex-trafficking charges.

The selling price for Victoria’s Secret signifies a marked decline for a brand with hundreds of stores that booked about $7 billion in revenue last year. Shares of L Brands, slid more than 7% Thursday.

“We believe the separation of Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, Victoria’s Secret Beauty and PINK into a privately held company provides the best path to restoring these businesses to their historic levels of profitability and growth,” said Wexner in a prepared statement.

The brands have struggled to keep up with competition and failed to respond to changing tastes. Rivals like Adore Me and ThirdLove, which have sprouted up online and marketed themselves heavily on social media platforms like Instagram, have focused on fit and comfort while offering more options for different body types.

Victoria’s Secret lit up runways and clogged up the internet with its supermodels and an annual television special that mixed fashion, beauty and music. That glamour has faded and so have sales. The show was cancelled last year and shares of Victoria’s Secret went from triple digits less than five years ago to a quarter of that.

The company has been beset by allegations of a toxic work environment and its founder recently apologized for his ties to Epstein, who was found hanged in his jail cell after his indictment.

Epstein started managing Wexner’s money in the late 1980s and helped straighten out the finances for a real estate development backed by Wexner in a wealthy suburb of Columbus. Wexner has said he completely severed ties with Epstein nearly 12 years ago and accused him of misappropriating “vast sums” of his fortune.

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