How Victoria's Secret: Angels and Demons Searched for the Naked Truth About Power Run Amok

The director of Hulu docuseries Victoria's Secret: Angels and Demons talked to E! about piecing the brand's story together as its parent company founder's ties to Jeffrey Epstein came to light.

By Natalie Finn, Alex Ross Jul 14, 2022 12:00 PMTags
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Victoria's Secret has had more to stress over in recent years than moving inventory and staying relevant in the increasingly crowded intimate apparel business.

And it's had to stress about those things a lot.

But the 45-year-old brand has also been busily trying to remake its image in a rapidly shifting retail landscape, hoping to make up for its painfully slow embrace of size diversity when consumers were clamoring for a more representative portrayal of women's bodies. 

"We've changed," read a company Instagram post from June 28 (as in this year), heralding the "new Victoria's Secret."

Marketing concerns aside, an explosive 2020 New York Times report detailing allegations of misogyny, harassment and bullying made by employees and models against former top executive Ed Razek, who was with parent company L Brands for 36 years and was instrumental in launching the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, only further clouded the brand's future.

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A spokeswoman for parent company L Brands told the Times the company had made "significant strides" to improve corporate governance, workplace and compliance practices, stating, "We regret any instance where we did not achieve this objective and are fully committed to continuous improvement and complete accountability." Razek, who had left the company in 2019, called the report's accusations "categorically untrue, misconstrued or taken out of context."

Meanwhile, models were demanding change.


"This seemed to be part of the story of a massive culture shift in that world, where top-down fashion and the world of powerful designers and magazine editors was collapsing, perhaps once and for all, and the force of social media was starting to dictate what was relevant in the fashion world," Matt Tyrnauer, director and executive producer of the three-part Hulu docuseries Victoria's Secret: Angels and Demons, told E! News. "And as these models were pushing against this brand, in essence biting the hand that fed them, there seemed to be a story to look at."

In response to the series, a spokesperson for Victoria's Secret said in a statement to E! News, "The company featured in this docuseries does not reflect today's Victoria's Secret & Co. When we became a stand-alone company in August 2021, we set out to regain the trust of our customers, associates and partners.

"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."

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Tyrnauer's previous projects, including the documentaries Valentino: The Last EmperorStudio 54 and Where's My Roy Cohn?, reflect his interest in "closed systems and worlds" and "hidden power," he explained—and he ventured into a perfect storm with Angels and Demons.

The start of his deep dive into what he called the "cascading fortunes of a once dominant brand" ended up coinciding with the scope of L Brands founder Les Wexner's past association with Jeffrey Epstein coming to light—a name you don't want attached to your already-under-fire lingerie brand (or any brand) in headlines.

"While Mr. Epstein served as Mr. Wexner's personal money manager for a period that ended nearly 12 years ago," an L Brands spokesperson told the New York Times in 2019, "we do not believe he was ever employed by nor served as an authorized representative of the company."

Though Epstein's business dealings and who he palled around with were hardly a secret—"Hiding in plain sight, or actually not even hiding," Tyrnauer said, "they're right in front of your nose"—his connections drew fresh scrutiny following his arrest on sex trafficking charges and subsequent death by suicide in jail in August 2019


At the time, Wexner, who turned down interview requests for the new docuseries, maintained in a letter to his charitable Wexner Foundation Community that he cut ties with Epstein back in 2007 when the disgraced financier was first investigated for sex crimes. He ended up pleading guilty to charges of soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution.

Speaking at L Brands' investors day in Columbus, Ohio, in September 2019, Wexner said he was as duped as anybody by his former financial manager's duplicity, calling Epstein's behavior "abhorrent" and "something that we would all condemn." At the time, according to Columbus' ABC 6, news had just broken that the corporation's share price was down 35 percent from the previous year.

And the writing was on the wall.

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Calling the move "an important new chapter in the evolution of the enterprise" in an email to employees, Wexner stepped down as chairman and CEO of L Brands in February 2020. The business has since been renamed Bath & Body Works, Inc., with Victoria's Secret spun off as its own publicly traded company.

Among those who sat down for Angels and Demons was Cynthia Fedus-Fields, who oversaw the iconic Victoria's Secret catalogue and other direct business from the mid-1980s until 2000. Amid recollections such as being sent to have lunch with Hugh Hefner's daughter Christie, then-CEO of Playboy Enterprises, because Wexner had deemed the VS catalogue not sexy enough and pointed at Playboy as inspiration, Fields remembered an executive coming into her office one day in the 1990s to tell her that a guy named Jeffrey Epstein was running around New York claiming to be a VS model recruiter.

A statement from a Wexner attorney cited in episode two said that, once Epstein's reported actions were brought to his attention, Wexner told him to stop. Two executives remembered to the Times in 2019 that Wexner had said he would take care of it. The following year, also to the Times, three former execs then questioned whether he did.

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Tyrnauer acknowledged that telling the tale of this particular power structure wasn't easy. In addition to Wexner being "one of the more private CEOs," headquartering his business in his native Ohio, the Epstein puzzle will probably always have missing pieces.

"It's perhaps an unsolvable mystery," the director told E!, "because everyone involved was so secretive. Epstein marketed himself in New York through the '70s up until the end as a kind of 'International Man of Mystery,' as corny as that sounds. That was the image that he pulled over on society, and what I think we see now is that he was one of the greatest conmen of the last 100 years."

And his ruse "seemed to satisfy enough people in the media-fashion industrial complex that makes New York go round," Tyrnauer said, "that he just seemed to kind of slip by for decade after decade."


At the same time, Tyrnauer continued, Wexner—who founded The Limited in 1963 with the help of a $5,000 loan from his aunt—is a self-made billionaire who enjoyed his time as a media darling in the 1980s, "and I think one of the stories of our time is how corporate leaders have been lionized and celebrated."

Wexner was behind much of the admittedly "brilliant marketing and branding that made Victoria's Secret a household name," he said, comparing the company's tactics to an "analog version of Instagram"—i.e. it created unrealistic expectations and made the unobtainable desirable.

"It was an anesthetizing fantasy that was designed to make us buy things that we don't need," Tyrnauer continued, "and masked a kind of culture on the corporate level that was apparently corrupt and certainly not healthy

Ultimately, he concluded, the story of Victoria's Secret "is a story about corporate culture run amok and about billionaires having a lot of power and in many cases, perhaps, too much power. And I think that examining what happened at this once high-flying company that crashed to Earth almost overnight is a cautionary tale."

Victoria's Secret: Angels and Demons premieres July 14 on Hulu.

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