Victoria’s Secret & Co., the retailer’s former billionaire owner Leslie Wexner and Wexner’s ties to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein are the subject of a new docuseries that premiered Thursday on Hulu.
“Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons,” comes from Matt Tyrnauer, whose previous documentaries include “Studio 54,” “Valentino: The Last Emperor” and “Where’s My Roy Cohn?”
In the three-part series, Tyrnauer explores how Ohio’s richest man, after buying Victoria’s Secret in 1982, made the company a household name before it eventually fell out of favor with those who criticized its body standards and hypersexualized advertising.
Victoria’s Secret, which became its own company last year after splitting from L Brands, has been undergoing a transformation over the past two years, moving to a more diverse group of models.
“The company featured in this docuseries does not reflect today’s Victoria’s Secret & Co,” a company spokesperson said.
“Today, we are proud to be a different company, with a new leadership team and mission to welcome, celebrate, and champion all women. This transformation is a journey, and our work continues to become the Victoria’s Secret our customers and associates deserve — where everyone feels seen, respected, and valued.”
In 2020, Wexner resigned as CEO of L Brands after nearly six decades at the company.
Here are five takeaways from the new docuseries:
Former models criticize Victoria’s Secret fashion show
“I think it was brilliant. But it was definitely, for me personally, quite exposing. I was happy to leave, go home and cry in a bathtub and say ‘God, I got that over with.'”
That’s what Frederique van der Wal, a former Victoria’s Secret model, had to say about the lingerie company’s now-defunct fashion show, an event once so popular that it crashed the internet.
Once an annual event, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was last held in 2018, following growing criticism that it was out of touch in the #MeToo era.
But company CEO Martin Waters said last July that Victoria’s Secret would bring back the fashion show, without offering any details. A company spokesperson said Thursday they had nothing new to share.
“I thought it was fun to be part of it, but I feel like I was playing a game that wasn’t really real at all and wasn’t very aspirational,” said model Dorothea Barth Jörgensen of the show.
“I feel like I lost part of myself in that world,” Barth Jörgensen said at another point in the documentary.
Models complained of being groped by show producers, photographers
With the advent of #MeToo, the culture of silence around the fashion show began to shift, according to James Scully, a casting director who was interviewed for the docuseries.
“Word leaked that models were being assaulted by photographers, that they were also being touched and grabbed in fittings and that other people in the Victoria’s Secret organization were making comments or getting a little too handsy with the girls.”
In 2020, the New York Times reported that Ed Razek, who for decades had been one of the top executives of L Brands, the former parent company of Victoria’s Secret, had been the subject of repeated complaints about inappropriate conduct.
The executives interviewed by the Times also said they had alerted Wexner about Razek’s behavior.
Les Wexner took inspiration from abroad, formed L Brands employees say
In building his retail empire, former Victoria’s Secret executives said Wexner admired foreign brands.
“Les always said that the world designs for us and it was the merchants’ job to edit from all the stuff that was in the world for the customer that we were targeting. So the way we would accomplish this is by shopping various fashion meccas, frequently,” said Cindy Fedus-Fields, a former Victoria’s Secret executive.
What made this possible was Wexner’s small fleet of private jets, Fedus-Fields said. “You cannot imagine how much time that saved us,” she added.
Others interviewed for the docuseries took a more critical eye to the fashion world as supposedly practiced by Wexner and his deputies.
“It’s called shopping the stores. Shopping the stores is looking for shit you can copy,” said Michael Gross, author of the book “Model.”
“Taking something that’s popular in Europe, make a tiny little change here, a tiny little change there. If originally it was in cashmere, you sell it in acrylic. If originally it was $800, you sell it for $35.”
“All employees were taught the L Brands way, the core ideals and beliefs of our founder Les Wexner: that amateurs borrow and professionals steal,” said Lindsey Casella, a former employee of PINK, L Brands’ teen-focused label.
Wexner’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein was unusually close
“When Leslie Wexner put Jeffrey Epstein, he apparently remarked that Jeffrey Epstein was so exciting, that Epstein was everything that Les Wexner thought was lacking in Ohio,” said Barry Levine, author of “The Spider: Inside the Criminal Web of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.
In 1991, Wexner did something that Washington Post reporter Sarah Ellison has never seen in all of her years of reporting. He granted full power of attorney to Epstein, giving Epstein control over his assets.
“He managed his investments, he managed his businesses,” Ellison said in the documentary. “There wasn’t a part of Wexner’s empire that Epstein didn’t have access to and didn’t have some ability to control. To give carte blanche to someone, the way he did with Epstein, is such a puzzle.”
Epstein, who once posed as a Victoria’s Secret recruiter, even placed an ad in The Dispatch one year when Wexner and his wife, Abigail, needed a nanny at their New Albany home.
“What it implied to me was that he may have managed the money but clearly, Epstein was involved deeply in the personal lives of Abigail and Les,” Fedus-Fields said.
Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell in August 2019 as he faced federal sex trafficking charges.
Some of Epstein’s alleged crimes happened in New Albany
As first reported by Ellison and another Washington Post reporter in 2019, a young art student, Maria Farmer,
was invited by Epstein to spend the summer at Wexner’s estate in New Albany in 1996.
Epstein at the time owned a guesthouse on the estate. It was there that Farmer says she was assaulted by Epstein and and his associate Ghislaine Maxwell, who was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison.
“Maria said she was held against her will for a period of 12 hours before she was allowed to leave the Wexner property in New Albany,” Levine said. “You would think this would be in a security log that his security team would have informed Les Wexner what had taken place.”
A Wexner spokesman told Ellison in 2019 that the Epstein residence was just one of hundreds of homes within a community developed by Wexner.
“The Epstein house was not on land owned by the Wexners, and was nearly one half mile away from the Wexner home,” Thomas Davies said. “The entrance to the Epstein residence was not through the Wexner gate.”
Wexner has said he was unaware of any of the illegal activity Epstein was accused of. Wexner declined being interviewed for the docuseries, providing written statements through spokespeople instead.
Dispatch reporters Mark Williams and Jim Weiker, in addition to forming Dispatch reporter Tim Feran, contributed to this report.
Monroe Trombly covers breaking and trending news.