clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Victoria’s Secret models pen open letter against sexual misconduct

More than 100 models have signed the letter to the company CEO, including Christy Turlington Burns and Milla Jovovich.

Models walk down the runway at the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The annual fashion show has been dogged by bad ratings and publicity and will not be taking place this year.

Victoria’s Secret, the women’s lingerie brand faltering in the #MeToo era, is also taking a hit from its most important employees: Models who say they’re fed up with its failure to protect women and girls from sexual harassment and abuse on the job.

More than 100 models, led by the Model Alliance, have signed an open letter to the company CEO calling on Victoria’s Secret to “take meaningful action to protect its talent and those who aspire to work with the company.”

Specifically, the models want the company to sign up for “The RESPECT Program,” a Model Alliance-designed anti-sexual harassment scheme that demands signatory companies require their employees, agents, vendors, photographers and other contractors to “follow a code of conduct that protects everyone’s safety on the job, and reduces models’ vulnerability to mistreatment.”

The letter to CEO John Mehas, posted online Tuesday, comes after weeks of media revelations about allegations of sexual assault, alleged rape and sex-trafficking of models and aspiring models, the petition says.

Even more poisonous is the recent news of the indictment and arrest of convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein, a close friend of Leslie Wexner, the CEO of L Brands, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company. (A spokeswoman for Wexner told the New York Times that he “severed ties” with Epstein about a decade ago.)

“While these allegations may not have been aimed at Victoria’s Secret directly, it is clear that your company has a crucial role to play in remedying the situation,” the models’ letter says.

“From the headlines about (Epstein) to the allegations of sexual misconduct by photographers Timur Emek, David Bellemere, and Greg Kadel, it is deeply disturbing that these men appear to have leveraged their working relationships with Victoria’s Secret to lure and abuse vulnerable girls.

”These stories are gut-wrenching and hit close to home for many of us who have encountered these kinds of abuses that are too often tolerated in our industry,” the petition says.

Among those signing the petition are Christy Turlington Burns, Milla Jovovich and the Time’s Up movement, which has surged in prominence alongside the #MeToo movement since the fall of 2017 when the first allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men in multiple industries, including entertainment and fashion, first began surfacing.

Victoria’s Secret did not immediately return a message from USA TODAY.

Even before the national reckoning about sexual misconduct in workplaces, the lingerie brand best known for selling sex – with a splashy TV fashion show featuring glamazon models in underwear – was not doing so well, even though it remains the leader in its category.

According to a Forbes magazine look at what’s gone wrong, the Victoria Secret market share is shrinking (from 32% in 2013 to 24% last year), and the company is closing 53 stores in North America this year. The parent company’s stock price also has dived, Forbes reported. In January 2016, it traded at more than $96 a share; now it’s trading at less than $24, a loss of 75% of market value.

Another problem: The Victoria’s Secret TV fashion show may be headed for the remainder bin. The show has been buffeted by bad publicity, bad reviews and bad ratings numbers: Last year, its audience of 3.27 million viewers was the smallest since becoming a holiday season TV event in 2001, according to the Nielsen company, which said the show lost more than half its TV audience in two years.

Meanwhile, Ed Razek the longtime chief marketing officer for L Brands, just announced he’s retiring, according to The Guardian, The New York Times and Forbes, citing a note sent to employees by Wexner. His departure comes just after VS hired its first openly transgender lingerie model, Brazilian Valentina Sampaio, 22, for a photo shoot.

Razek caused consternation last year when he said in an interview with Vogue that Victoria’s Secret should not cast “transsexuals” in its fashion show “because the show is a fantasy.” He made similar “insensitive” comments about why plus-size models should not be hired; he later apologized for his remarks.