Global lingerie giant Victoria's Secret has reinvigorated the feud with smaller, body-positive online competitor ThirdLove, this time changing the battlefield from blaring magazine interviews to sedate U.S. Trademark applications.
Parent company L. Brands Inc., sought two trademarks for the name "Victoria's Secret First Love." While It succeeded in securing the rights for beauty products, it failed to trademark the phrase for clothing, since First Love was already taken by a New York garment manufacturer, according to a Dec. 22 decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The whole Victoria's Secret's First Love quest is a befuddling strategy, trademark attorney Josh Gerben muses.
"Really, why are they doing this?" wonders Gerben, in a Fortune interview. "It is unusual that a company would make a trademark filing that arguably is a play on a competitor’s name...This is taking it a lot farther than a lot of companies would actually go—especially a company as big as Victoria's Secret."
Victoria's Secret remains the queen of the lingerie runway, in spite of recent stumbles on the catwalk. Comparable store sales in 2018 were up a respectable 6%, but short of the 2017 gain of 8% against the prior year, according to L. Brand's latest financials filed with the Security and Exchange Commission. And after poor holiday sales, the retailer is closing 53 North American stores this year as opposed to its annual average of 15.
Still, as of February, Victoria's Secret maintained 1,143 stores in the U.S. and Canada, and 79 in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and China. The business sold a weighty $7.8 billion in lingerie during 2018.
In contrast, ThirdLove is now generating $100 million in annual revenue, barely scratching Victoria's Secret's marketshare, although 12 million women have used ThirdLove's Fit Finder tool on its website to determine their bra size.
Nevertheless, the bra and underwear upstart, in its sixth year, is growing. It attained a $750 million valuation in February after a successful $55 million funding round.
ThirdLove's all-inclusive lingerie niche features diverse models of all body types, and sells 78 bra sizes (with bands ranging from 30–48" and cup/half cups from AA—I). In contrast, as Victoria's Secret chief marketing officer Ed Razek summed up in a November Vogue interview
, "we market to who we sell to"—sizes 30A—40DDD—"and we don’t market to the whole world."