Katy Perry says she feels fat without them. Gwyneth Paltrow famously doubled up after the birth of her first child. So Spanx, the “problem-solving” underwear brand, is definitely riding the celebrity train. But can it take on Victoria’s Secret?
Spanx founder Sara Blakely, a protégée of Sir Richard Branson, is gambling that women’s growing openness about their bodies will propel the undergarment company beyond department stores into dedicated storefronts. The first Spanx store, a 1,200-square-foot boutique, opened on Nov. 2 in upscale Tysons Corner in McLean, Va., followed by another in King of Prussia, Pa., on Nov. 9. A third store is coming soon to Paramus, N.J.
The stores will carry all of the brand’s 200-plus items, an advantage over department stores, which have limited space. That will allow Blakely to display her line of activewear (yoga pants, shorts, skirts) as well as the better-known bras and shapers; not to mention the Footless Body-Shaping Pantyhose that made Oprah’s “Favorite Things” list in 2000. Also included: Manx, also known as man-Spanx.
The sale here isn’t sexiness. Rather it’s about looking healthy and fit—even for those who are neither—and self-affirmation. “Cheer squads” and “transformation teams” greet customers, and the entire space is devoted to form and function. Shoppers will not be distracted by items that would look good only on an angel.
“That’s what we want women to feel when they walk in and out of our doors—stronger, happier, and better about themselves and their potential,” says Spanx Chief Executive Laurie Ann Goldman in the company’s Craigslist help-wanted ad. A personal trainer probably says the same thing but charges more and inflicts more pain.
Allen Adamson, a global brand expert from Landor Associates, says the appeal to body image could work. “Quick fixes work in this space. Anything that promises you’ll look five pounds thinner without having to do the work.”
Adamson compares Blakely with Martha Stewart, saying a founder remaining out front as the face of the brand is more powerful than any advertising tool. “Momentum is everything in retail,” Adamson adds. “She has an advantage over Victoria’s Secret because she is the brand.”
Blakely, a former standup comedian, likes to say she “became notorious for lifting up my pant leg to every woman walking by.” But if her latest and boldest venture succeeds, it will be thanks to old-fashioned tireless marketing.