The mall’s most beloved store has finally revealed its deepest secrets. Earlier this summer, “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” was released on July 14, 2022. The documentary follows the rise and fall of a retail empire, The Limitedco, and its famous lingerie store, Victoria’s Secret; one of the most prominent retail brands in the U.S.
In the first episode, “Inventing Victoria”, viewers are introduced to Leslie Wexner, the founder and CEO of Victoria’s Secret. Though before he dominated the lingerie industry, he swept the malls with his first venture, The Limited. The clothing store was a great success in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, where a conservative atmosphere made Wexner feel like an outcast as a Jewish man. This mindset stuck with him even in New York society.
“You can see how he might benefit from a translator,” said Sarah Ellison, a journalist for The Washington Post. “Or someone who can take his elbow and lead him into the right rooms, and the right charities, and the right parties.”
Despite his success, he was still an outsider even in New York City. This is where Victoria’s secret, Jeffrey Epstein, came in the picture.
Epstein started his career teaching at the prestigious Manhattan private school, Dalton School, despite his lack of a college degree. What the documentary fails to mention is how his short tenure there drew mixed reactions from former students who attended the school. Leslie Kitziger, who graduated from Dalton in 1978, thought he was empathetic yet professional to her personal problems. Meanwhile, others recalled him flirting with other girls on school grounds and attending a high school party in an Upper East Side apartment where he was the only teacher. Soon after, he was kicked out for other reasons such as low-quality teaching.
“Epstein manifested a trait […] which was worming his way into the lives of older, successful, influential Jewish men,” said Michael Gross, the journalist and author of 740 Park.
This trait of his came into fruition in Bear Stearns, a wall street firm run by Jewish men. Epstein worked there as a financier after Dalton School but was then forced out once again after 1981 due to his misdeeds. Nevertheless, the firm’s CEO Ace Greenberg helped him widen his connections and he acquired Wexner as a client.
Epstein went on to gain Wexner’s trust and even received “Power of Attorney”, the legal authorization to make financial decisions, private decisions, and medical care for another person. This was a strange feat considering how executives of Wexner described him as a “micromanager”. In recent years, Epstein had abused this power, favor, and protection he received from Wexner.
“It was something that he was able to use, certainly, in his early years of predation as a kind of calling card that got him introductions to where he wanted,” said Ellison.
In 1993, Epstein was reported to Wexner by a female executive for portraying a model recruiter for the Victoria’s Secret catalog. This was inappropriate behavior as he was only a financier-not an actual recruiter-approaching these young women looking for a job. Wexner, who denied interviews, claims he had no knowledge of sexual misconduct, but acknowledged this particular incident.
“He told Epstein it was a ‘violation of company policy,’ and that he was ‘forbidden from ever doing so again,’” said the producers of the show
Yet, the documentary reports how Wexner continued to support Epstein, despite a list of sexual misconduct incidents occurring under Wexner’s watch even after the 1993 violation. One of these cases occured in 1997.
“I filed a sexual battery report on Jeffrey Epstein,” said model Alicia Arden. “He worked for Victoria’s Secret. That’s what he told me.”
These incidents were inflicted not only by the infamous Epstein, but also by Ed Razek, the Chief Marketing Officer of Victoria’s Secret.
While many may recall entering Victoria’s Secret with a parent as an uncomfortable child, the experience was nothing compared to what the models went through. The documentary reports how Razek had countless inappropriate encounters with the Angels. Casey Crowe Taylor, a former PR employee for Victoria’s Secret, recalls a conversation with Razek’s assistant.
“She said, ‘If I had a dollar for every time a sexual harrasment case came across my email, I’d be rich’”, Taylor recalled. “Ed laughed, other people laughed. And I felt really awkward, but I also laughed.”
However, when Razek was asked about the allegations, he denied them.
The success of the company would have been “unthinkable and impossible to achieve […] without treating everyone with respect. Which is exactly how I behaved at all times” said Razek.
Yet, ask any female executive or model for Victoria’s Secret who broke their silence in the documentary, and they remember the past much differently. They imply that the hostile and enabling environment created by powerful men like Ed Razek made it much easier for Epstein to prey on young girls and women.
The documentary leaves a lot of questions unanswered, which will most likely stay that way, as the relationship between Wexner and Epstein has been taken to the grave and Wexner doesn’t show any signs of revealing any information. Considering how much more powerful and rich Wexner has become even after stepping down as CEO, it is highly unlikely that anyone can get him to speak on it either. Still, it seems that Victoria’s Secret is hard at work, rebranding to become diverse and inclusive. Whether or not these actions can make up for the years of misconduct and negative cultural effects Victoria’s Secret enabled and created is up to the public.