Victoria's Secret slips into . . . music

January 02, 1994|By John Guinn | John Guinn,Knight-Ridder News Service

Bras and Brahms. Panties and Prokofiev. Slips and Schubert.

You might think those pairings are as incompatible as venison and vegetarians, but you'd be wrong. Women's intimate apparel and classical music have, uh, climbed into bed together with surprisingly successful results.

The pairing of two such apparently disparate elements comes courtesy of Victoria's Secret, the firm that sells what were once considered "women's unmentionables" through catalog sales and retail outlets.

It all started when the Victoria's Secret folks decided to use classical selections for the background music piped into their stores.

"People came into the stores and heard the music and asked how they could get it," says spokeswoman Valerie Lichman. "The firm saw this as an opportunity to provide an added benefit for their customers," she adds, "so they decided to market some recordings."

Arrangements were made through Paul Whitehead, who runs Iliad Inc., a firm based in Nashville, Tenn., that specializes in creating music for major corporations.

Mr. Whitehead has worked on similar projects over the years with the London Symphony Orchestra, one of the world's most recorded ensembles. Mr. Whitehead signed up the LSO and arranged for Don Jackson, a conductor on Iliad's staff, to lead the group.

Dubbed "Classics by Request," the first recording was issued in 1988. There has been one each year since. And while the series is available only through Victoria's Secret, each recording has sold more than a million copies.

"I fell off my chair when I saw the sales figures," Mr. Whitehead says.

"After all," he adds, "the first time customers buy a tape or CD they're taking a chance. But then they see that they have a piece of the store with them, a bit of its ambience."

Ms. Lichman agrees. The recordings give "people a chance to prolong the Victoria's Secret dream," she explains. But she thinks the chain's clientele is an added ingredient.

"They're mostly young people, and young people don't usually walk into a classical record store and buy records," Ms. Lichman says. "They'd feel intimidated because most of them don't know much about it. They wouldn't know what to ask for. At Victoria's Secret they can buy the recording in an atmosphere they're used to and feel comfortable doing it."

The written material accompanying the recordings is intentionally scant. Program notes, when they exist at all, are kept to a minimum. There is no indication, for example, of soloists. And Don Jackson, who conducted the orchestra, isn't even mentioned in the notes on the first four recordings.

"We're very sensitive to what we're trying to create," Mr. Whitehead says, "and that is not to take it over the heads of the audience. We don't want the series to put big demands on consumers. We want them to enjoy the music."

Victoria's Secret, which is owned by the Limited Inc., has made a firm commitment to the project. It has become a diamond patron of the LSO by endowing its principal harpist's chair at an undisclosed but apparently substantial sum.

And the company continues to fund the recordings. An all-Mozart recording, the first devoted to a single composer, was the sixth in the series this year. And a seventh recording is planned for 1994, according to company officials.

"This is not a one-shot concept that will be replaced by a tote bag next year," Mr. Whitehead says. "It's a very serious plan and has been immaculately executed. It's very difficult to sell classical music in this country. This may be the best way to do it in the future."

Ms. Lichman takes a perspective more tuned-in to the average shopper. "Instead of just wearing the underwear you can now also have something aural to sustain the mood."

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