FASHION CHIT CHAT

EXCLUSIVE: Naomi Osaka Joins VS Collective, Talks Mental Health, Fashion and Serena Williams on Victoria’s Secret Podcast

WWD.com

Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret continues to execute its comeback strategy, with plans to expand in India.

Naomi Osaka is now part of Victoria’s Secret. 

The professional tennis player and four-time Grand Slam winner is the latest in a string of high-profile figures to join Victoria’s Secret’s VS Collective, an initiative that includes women from diverse backgrounds who share their stories by way of collaborations, business partnerships and cause-related campaigns. 

“After learning and understanding about VS’s vision for the Collective, I was inspired to join these amazing women,” Osaka told WWD exclusively. “I remember going into [Victoria’s Secret] stores when I was a kid and wondering why none of the women on the wall looked like me. Now, as a collective, we can inspire the next generation from all different backgrounds, cultures and sizes. That represents such progress to me.”

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka on the court. AP IMAGES

Other members of the VS Collective include model and mental health advocate Hailey Bieber; actress and entrepreneur Priyanka Chopra; World Champion freestyle skier Eileen Gu; professional soccer player and LGBTQ activist Megan Rapinoe; plus-size model Paloma Elsesser, and transgender model Valentina Sampaio. 

“When thinking about the VS Collective and our ever-growing group of advocates, Naomi was a natural choice,” said Janie Schaffer, chief design officer of Victoria’s Secret. “She exudes such a positive energy and continues to inspire women across the globe with her courage, determination and honesty. We are honored to be partnering with Naomi to help drive positive change.”

The tennis star’s first role as part of the Collective is as a guest on Victoria’s Secret’s new podcast “VS Voices,” which launched last month. On the latest episode, which airs today, Osaka talks about what she hopes to achieve as part of the VS Collective, the importance of preserving her mental health, fashion, Kobe Bryant as a role model and how Serena Williams — and women in general — have to bear the pressures of double standards. 

On the latter she is referring to the 2018 U.S. Open, when Osaka beat Williams. But the victory came with mixed emotions. Williams was criticized by some for being too aggressive with an umpire. 

“Definitely if a male player did that it wouldn’t have been so broadcasted,” the soft-spoken tennis champ told Amanda de Cadenet, host of the podcast. “There’s actually been male players that have done far worse, like literally last year and this year, and they don’t get news reports at all. So, I’m not sure if it’s because Serena is Serena, or [if] people just wanted to write negative things. I can’t say that if we were both male players the outcome would have been the same way. But I can say that people are very interested in Serena and whatever she does is going to get attention. And it was just unfortunate that it had to be that moment that caught a lot of people’s interest.”

Since then, Osaka, who is currently ranked second among female tennis players in the world, has been in the news for more than just her athletic skills.

In the summer of 2020, Osaka wore face masks bearing the names of Black people who had been killed by police. She later decided to exit the Western & Southern Open because of what she said at the time was “the continued genocide of Black people.” The following summer, Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing concerns over her mental health — all of which she discusses in the podcast. 

“I didn’t go to the French Open and plan to withdraw. It’s just something that happened,” she explained. “In that moment, I wasn’t thinking about how my decision could affect other people, as well. But I’m really glad that it had a positive reach.” 

Osaka’s self-care routines include therapy, a dog, calming music and slowing down as much as possible. And she’s got an affinity for fashion.

“I’m a fan of VS and my go-to items are the flannel pajama sets,” Osaka told WWD. “Not only do I like them for relaxing at home, but they make a great gift, as it’s something everyone can use. I’m also going to be pursuing my passion for designing, which has become my main focus off the court.”

The tennis player has previously done collaborations and paid partnerships with Louis VuittonNike, Frankies Bikinis, Levi’s, Shiseido and a limited-edition collection of handbags with Scottish accessories brand Strathberry. In addition, Osaka recently launched her own skin care line, called Kinlò.

Naomi Osaka Coach show
Naomi Osaka sits in the front row at the Coach show during New York Fashion Week, February 2020. STÉPHANE FEUGÈRE / WWD

“I enjoy [the fashion collaborations],” Osaka said on the podcast. “Because I feel, like, I grew up playing tennis and there are so many fields that I don’t have that much knowledge of and it’s just interesting to be able to interact with everyone [in retail and beauty] who is, like, at the top of their field.”

Meanwhile, the VS Collective, which was launched in June, is part of Victoria’s Secret’s larger growth strategy. After the deal to sell the business — which includes the Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, Victoria’s Secret Beauty and Pink brands — to private equity firm Sycamore Partners for $525 million fell through, Victoria’s Secret officially separated from Bath & Body Works — and the larger company L Brands — in August. Victoria’s Secret & Co. is now a stand-alone firm listed on the New York Stock Exchange. 

Victoria's Secret
Victoria’s Secret is attempting to rebrand itself as an advocate for all women. The strategy includes a more diverse lineup of models and influencers. COURTESY PHOTO AZTEK INCORPORATED

The move was part of the lingerie retailer’s efforts to gain market share and win back consumers who have shifted to digital brands, many of which offer a more inclusive assortment. Victoria’s Secret has since attempted to give itself the ultimate makeover, rebranding as a lingerie company for women’s empowerment. 

In July, Martin Waters, chief executive officer of Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, said at L Brands’ investor day that the company’s mission “is to be the world’s leading advocate for women. And that’s about creating lifelong relationships with women reflecting their journey and their community and creating positive change for the world through the power of our platform and through our products and our services.”

Other comeback strategies include updating stores to include plus-size mannequins and more inclusive imaginary; adding a string of senior-level hires to the C-suite, including a board made up almost entirely of women (six out of seven); hiring  plus-size model Ali Tate Cutlerreintroducing swimwear, and selling off the Victoria’s Secret U.K. business while closing hundreds of unprofitable stores to make way for more lucrative markets, such as Milan and Israel. 

So far the strategy seems to be convincing at least some consumers that the lingerie brand is serious about making lasting change. Victoria’s Secret & Co. logged about $1.6 billion in revenues last quarter, thanks to strength across all channels and geographies. A representative from the company confirmed that the brand is soon planning on expanding into India

But investors aren’t completely sold. Shares of Victoria’s Secret and Co., which closed up 0.82 percent Tuesday to $51.62, are down 11.3 percent, year-over-year. 

The firm plans to report quarterly earnings Wednesday after the market closes.

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