It's touted as the biggest annual fashion show in the world and it certainly stars the most prominent names in the industry: From Kendal Jenner to Heidi Klum and New Zealanders Georgia Fowler and Stella Maxwell, Victoria's Secret has created a brand and platform for underwear on a scale never seen before.

Last year's parade in Shanghai, China, was an estimated $12 million production, featuring a $3 million bra encrusted with jewels and paraded by a six foot tall Brazilian model with an impossibly perfect physique.

Sounds sensational, right? Worth watching? But according to the New York Post, perhaps not anymore.

Viewership of the lingerie extravaganza reportedly plummeted last year. And while the company argues more people are watching online instead, critics claim at 41 years old the brand finds itself in a middle-aged slump it may never get over.

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A look at Victoria's Secret's (VS) sales does nothing to quash this: For the last seven quarters the company has reported a decline in sales in its more than 1100 stores in the US.

So how could such an iconic brand, plugged by some of the world's most beautiful women, be in decline?

The answer may well lie in images like this:

British model Iskra Lawrence is the face of Aerie. Photo / Aerie
British model Iskra Lawrence is the face of Aerie. Photo / Aerie

And its comparison to the likes of this:

Victoria's Secret models in an ad campaign. Photo / Victoria's Secret
Victoria's Secret models in an ad campaign. Photo / Victoria's Secret

In the #MeToo era, promoting body positivity and shunning retouched imagery is seeing the marketing of "relatable" outdo the "aspirational".

Retail consultant Gabriella Santaniello of A-Line Partners told the New York Post: "The Angels are unrelatable, while the stores look too much like an outdated boudoir."

Meanwhile, the likes of retailer American Eagle has swooped in with Aerie Brand: Undercutting VS prices by half, the company has reportedly enjoyed a 38 per cent spike in comparable store sales in the first quarter of 2018.

And claims are it's largely due to the success of their #AerieREAL campaign which features Photoshop-free ads - such as the one above - of both models and customers in the brand's collection.

So what does Victoria's Secret have to say about all of this? In an email to the New York Post, a spokesperson for the company addressed the body positive movement by saying "Victoria's Secret has always been about self confidence."

They added: "When your bra fits, you stand a little taller, your clothes fit a little better, and you feel more comfortable and confident — and that's sexy."

In 2016, when Sports Illustrated put plus-size model Ashley Graham on its cover, VS was approached to create a line of larger sized lingerie. They declined the pitch by leading plus-size manufacturer, Only Nine Apparel, who were told via email: "Unfortunately at this time we are not looking to expand our focus into larger sizes."

Since then, numerous underwear brands have released plus-size lines, some offering almost twice as many sizes as VS.

Cutting the brand's swimwear line has also been noted as hurting overall sales, leaving women with one reason to visit VS stores, note experts.

So while Victoria's Secret has dominated the underwear world in the past, as times change can it and will it be able to turn the tides? Or will the very thing underpinning the brand's success - sex appeal - be its undoing, too?

The history of Victoria's Secret

In 1982, Les Wexner, now an 80-year-old billionaire, bought five small Victoria's Secret stores for US$1 million.

According to Bloomberg, Wexner is now worth around $US 6.7 billion and roundly hailed a retail genius.

But others say he's part of Victoria's Secret's current problem: His comments from recent interviews suggest he's out of touch when it comes to the impact of technology on retail and lacks understanding around the #MeToo movement.

The Financial Times asked Wexner if he believed the fashion industry's objectification of women had gone some way to encouraging bad behaviour among men.

His reply: "I think that's complete nonsense."

He argued that because VS is run by women, it couldn't take advantage of women stating: "The business has been headed by a woman. The marketing director is a woman. These aren't women that are exploitative."