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Can a grand old dame, pushing 70, become sexy and desirable again?

For Frederick’s of Hollywood, the iconic American intimates brand best known for its historic association with the golden age of Hollywood glamour, the answer is an unqualified yes.

If you haven’t thought much about Frederick’s in the past few years, it’s time to look again.

While some U.S. retailers retrenched and clung nervously to their market share through the recession, Frederick’s undertook an extraordinary top-to-bottom makeover. Its goal? Making the company relevant to a new generation of consumers in a way that respected its illustrious heritage.

The results of that effort — following a year of planning — started to materialize last winter with the introduction of an aggressive online marketing strategy and an even bolder new product mix that, quite frankly, would make Liz Taylor blush.

Today, the new Frederick’s is a more contemporary, trend-conscious lifestyle brand offering a vast range of products beyond its seductive lingerie collections: ready-to-wear clothing, eyewear, shoes, swimwear, perfumes and skin care products.

“We are a 67-year-old brand of seduction,” said Hope Brick, senior VP of marketing. “We are evolving to become leaders in fashion for that sexy spender, so she only has to make one stop.”

Before it could reposition itself in the marketplace, Frederick’s had to define who they are — and determine whether its heritage was still a selling point.

One of the most prized brands of the 20th century, Frederick’s was founded in 1947 by Frederick Mellinger, the inventor of the push-up bra. Its original flagship store was a Hollywood landmark and a magnet for movie stars and pinup icons like Bettie Page.

With its celebrity associations, Frederick’s became one of the fashion world’s early ‘aspirational’ brands, generating a massive mail-order business from suburban housewives who relied on the FOH catalogue to inject some glamor into their wardrobe — and their sex lives. What we think of as high-end vintage lingerie today was Frederick’s stock-in-trade: figure-enhancing bullet bras, girdles and corsets, sheer negligees, and, memorably, the headline-making inflatable bra.

If women’s lingerie flourished in the last century, the innovative Frederick’s chain certainly deserved some of the credit. The new millennium was less kind, however, and the Frederick’s business model lost steam under the pressure of new competition, changing consumer tastes and new shopping habits driven by the internet and the spread of discount retail chains. Frederick’s spent two years in bankruptcy protection in the early 2000s and tried a variety of ways to regain traction — including an unlikely stint as a wholesale supplier of lingerie to Wal-Mart.

Last year, the company’s new corporate parent, Frederick’s of Hollywood Group Inc., authorized a soup-to-nuts remake of the historic brand that involved, among other things, new executive leadership and extensive market research into what 18-35 year-old women want and how they shop.

From that exercise emerged a new vision of who the Frederick’s woman was, and what the brand represented. The company’s new manifesto (shown above) offers a revealing mix of messages:

  • Every woman is sexy: “We’re totally hot … (and) we think you’re totally hot, too.”
  • Every woman is a star: “We believe in star power power, and that every woman possesses it.”
  • If you’ve got it, flaunt it: “The body was meant to be seen, not covered up.”
  • Self-marketing helps: “We believe sexy is all about confidence, and a really amazing push-up bra.”

The Frederick’s manifesto makes several conspicuous references to the company’s past as a celebrity brand, and even re-purposes its historic slogan: “The most important part of being an Original Sex Symbol is ‘original’.”

And, in its attempt to position the brand as an erotic powerhouse, it takes an unmistakable swipe at the industry leader in such things: “We’re no angels, and we don’t believe in keeping secrets.”

According to company president Linda LoRe, last year’s branding exercise helped establish a new relationship between Frederick’s and its customers.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, Frederick’s of Hollywood was THE place to go for cocktail dresses and underpinnings, to help women feel good about themselves,” she said. “That basic premise has not eluded us. This is part of our DNA.

“But every company has to continually evolve its mission,” she added. “Ours is about being the sexy destination, and offering the glamor of Hollywood at an affordable price.”

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One Response to “New Shine on the ‘Original Sex Symbol’: Behind the Frederick’s Makeover”

  1. Joe D2 says:

    Funny story here about Fredricks of Hollywood.

    I worked for the company that printed the catalogs and handled their mailing lists. One time we had a very strict mother who caught her 17 yo daughter with a catalog that had been sent to their house. I was tasked with manually removing the name and address from the master mailing list. The woman didn’t want her daughter wearing trashy clothes.

    I suggested that we should put her on the Victoria’s Secret catalog list since we did that one too.

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