‘Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons’: Doc explores the brand’s boom years, its dark side and its Jeffrey Epstein connection
Former execs and models question the company’s messaging on the well-crafted Hulu series.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was an entertainment monster for 20 years. Starting in the late 1990s with webcasts that fractured the Internet and continuing for two decades with high-end productions featuring supermodels in million-dollar bras, entertainers such as Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga, these prime-time specials often drew 10 million+ viewers per year. They were pop culture phenomena.
By 2019, however, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the changing times and reports of alleged harassment within the organization — not to mention the company’s then-chairman Les Wexner’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein — the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was considered to be a pink dinosaur and was rendered extinct. The stock plunged some 40 percent, dozens of retail outlets were sold, and the corporate structure and marketing strategies were completely revamped.
In the well-crafted three-part Hulu documentary series, “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons,” director Matt Tyrnauer does an outstanding job of taking us through the fascinating history of the company, augmented by interviews with former executives who were there from the beginning — and models such as Frederique van der Wal, who were in the spotlight during the explosion of growth but have come to question the messaging behind the marketing. Much of the series’ focus is on the Ohio billionaire Les Wexner, who founded The Limited stores in the 1960s and eventually expanded his shopping mall/catalog retail empire to include household brands as Bath & Body Works, Henri Bendel, Lane Bryant, Abercrombie & Fitch — and Victoria’s Secret, which he acquired in 1982.
A three-part documentary available Thursday on Hulu.
There’s no denying Wexner’s business acumen, as he marshals the company’s transition from a mildly titillating but relatively sophisticated brand. Wexner invented a story about the mythical founder of the brand, a refined and classy 36-year-old woman named Victoria White, and refashioned the company into a high-profile, marketing-driven player, with glossy catalogs and the aforementioned fashion shows.
In the process, Wexner became insanely wealthy — and found himself dazzled by the oily and predatory Jeffrey Epstein, who introduced Wexner to the new billionaire class in New York City. Like the high school nerd who finds himself befriended by the popular jock, Wexner was utterly taken with Epstein and blinded to the man’s horrific machinations. He bought the biggest house in Manhattan and eventually sold it to Epstein for a relatively low sum (this was the notorious site of many of Epstein’s assaults against girls and young women) and in the early 1990s granted full power of attorney to Epstein, giving him control over all of his assets.
Director Tyrnauer chronicles the ascension of the Victoria’s Secret brand and its popularity with the masses while delving into the dark side of the business, including reports of models being mistreated. Then there’s that Epstein connection. While Wexner maintains he was completely unaware of Epstein’s horrific crimes and has never been accused of any type of involvement with them, the two remained close for some 20 years.
Jeffrey Epstein is dead. Les Wexner has retired. Victoria’s Secret transformed its brand and signed a diverse group of celebrity activists such as Megan Rapinoe, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Eileen Gu and Adut Akech, as part of the “VS Collective.” Says former Victoria’s Secret model Frederique: “I’m glad Victoria’s Secret woke up. They had to. Were they late to the table? Absolutely.”