Fashion's Dirty Laundry: Victoria's Secret

By Mike Schuster  OCT 26, 2009 8:40 AM

Plunging necklines aren't the only thing that's risky.



It's sexier than the pajama rack at Target (TGT), classier than the display window at Frederick's of Hollywood (FOH), and produces catalogs more coveted by preteen boys than a mailer from Hammacher Schlemmer.

Victoria's Secret -- the largest subsidiary of Limited Brands (LTD) -- has become a leading name in lingerie, women's wear, and beauty products -- but mostly lingerie.

World renowned supermodels participate in its glitzy fashion shows and give news outlets the perfect excuse to roll footage of scantily clad women without being chastised. With more than 1,000 retail locations and a popular online store, sales in 2008 topped $5 billion and have no sign of stopping.

That is, if its bras and thongs stop reportedly attacking their owners.

In May 2008, Ohio resident Roberta Riller claimed a Victoria's Secret bra was responsible for painful rashes and hives and filed a lawsuit against the company. Once word of the lawsuit spread, more than 600 lingerie-afflicted customers -- some of whom experienced permanent scarring -- contacted Riller and her attorney to join forces in a class action suit.

The plaintiffs assert that the cause of the severe irritation was formaldehyde -- a common agent in resin and molded products. A lab test conducted by Riller found traces of formaldehyde in the bra, but another independent study disputed those results and found no traces of the chemical.

And despite the hundreds of customers with cases of skin irritation, a judicial panel in June 2009 rejected their request for a class action suit -- citing a lack of similarity -- and the plaintiffs subsequently withdrew their cases at the suggestion of their counsel. According to a Limited Brands press release, the company didn't compensate them in any way.

But itchy bras haven't been the only thing turning off customers. A 52-year-old Los Angeles woman claimed a metal clasp on a thong she was wearing sprang loose and struck her in the eye. Macrida Patterson suffered three cuts to her cornea -- her attorney attests this -- and was forced to apply a topical steroid for it to heal. She filed a liability lawsuit in June 2008.


 Victoria's Secret
Also, a woman from Greenville, South Carolina, alleged that when removing a Victoria's Secret bra to relieve some pressure, the item "malfunctioned" and caused a three-inch long, quarter-inch deep laceration across her left breast. She stated that it had affected her career as a model. The company responded, "Any injuries and damages sustained by the plaintiff may have been as the misuse and/or abuse of the product in question."

While many can suggest Victoria's Secret was responsible for physical ailments, one Long Island woman's claim cuts even deeper.

Back in May 2004, paralegal Katerina Pew registered a patent for a versatile bra -- equipped with numerous hooks and eyelets -- that can be worn in up to 100 different ways.
Katerina Pew's Bra design
Interested in getting her invention on store racks, Pew scheduled a meeting with Victoria's Secret in 2006 when, she claims, company designers unexpectedly canceled the appointment. Shortly thereafter, Victoria's Secret debuted their "100-way Strapless Convertible Bra."

Naturally, Pew was crushed to see the bra -- modeled after her design -- on a mannequin in a Victoria's Secret store. She filed a patent-infringement lawsuit in April 2008. Results of the case weren't available as of this writing and Victoria's Secret declined to respond.

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