Leslie Wexner was as soon as often called the Merlin of the Mall for his seemingly magical capacity to create ubiquitous retail manufacturers: the Restricted, Categorical, Tub and Physique Works, Abercrombie & Fitch.
Maybe his biggest success was Victoria’s Secret, the fledgling lingerie firm he reworked right into a billion-dollar behemoth that dominated the intimate attire marketplace for a long time. However, as detailed within the new docuseries “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons,” the corporate imploded spectacularly following a sequence of publicity disasters, inner scandals and revelations about Wexner’s ties to infamous predator Jeffrey Epstein in 2018 and 2019.
“It was one of the crucial dramatic collapses of a style empire in latest reminiscence,” says director Matt Tyrnauer, whose earlier movies embrace “Valentino: The Final Emperor” and “The place’s My Roy Cohn?”
The Hulu sequence, premiering Thursday, charts the rise and fall of the model and the self-made Midwestern billionaire behind it, who began with a single retailer in a Columbus, Ohio, suburb and finally grew rich sufficient to construct his personal city. That includes interviews with journalists, fashions and former Victoria’s Secret executives (although not Wexner, who stepped down from his function as chief govt in 2020), “Angels and Demons” portrays a company tradition that was contaminated with the identical misogyny it peddled to the plenty.
We learn the way Wexner acquired Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and revamped the model with a refined but accessible sensibility based mostly on a fictional Englishwoman named Victoria. By the late ‘90s, guided by Wexner and advertising and marketing chief Edward Razek, the corporate had embraced a extra overtly attractive picture: Within the firm’s televised style present, supermodels like Heidi Klum and Gisele Bündchen strutted down runways in huge angel wings and barely-there underwear.
Most damning of all is Wexner’s shut affiliation with Epstein, who was arrested on federal intercourse trafficking prices in 2019 and killed himself whereas awaiting trial. Way back to 1993, Epstein, who served as Wexner’s cash supervisor for greater than a decade in the course of the heyday of Victoria’s Secret, was rumored to pose as a expertise scout for the corporate and was accused of assaulting a mannequin throughout a so-called audition for the catalog in 1997. One other girl claims she was assaulted by Epstein at Wexner’s Ohio property in 1996. (Wexner stated he lower ties with Epstein in 2007.)
“Angels and Demons” — which follows a Netflix documentary about sister firm Abercrombie & Fitch, a podcast about Victoria’s Secret launched final yr and a cottage business of Epstein journalism — examines a number of the most prevalent theories concerning the convicted intercourse offender and the origins of his wealth, together with the recommendations that Epstein was working a large blackmail scheme or working in intelligence.
And whereas it doesn’t conclusively reply essentially the most urgent query about Wexner — simply why did he affiliate with Epstein for therefore lengthy? — it’s nonetheless a captivating portrait of a enterprise visionary with a catastrophic blindspot. (In 2019, Wexner claimed Epstein misappropriated “huge sums” of his cash.)
Tyrnauer spoke with The Instances concerning the sequence, what Wexner has in frequent with up to date tech billionaires and the “fever swamp” of Epstein conspiracy theories.
What drew you to Les Wexner and Victoria’s Secret?
I prefer to make initiatives about closed programs and worlds aside. And this actually fell into that class. My first movie was about Valentino, which was the alternative finish of the spectrum — the world of high fashion. This one is about essentially the most mass of mass market and, in our present time, the culturally far more impactful, as a result of the story of style has turn out to be one of many mass market. L Manufacturers, the father or mother firm of Victoria’s Secret, just about invented quick style. I began to discover this matter when sure well-known fashions who had been related to the model started to insurgent towards it on social media. The corporate then had a near-death expertise after I used to be already trying into the story and by then already appeared like a behemoth shedding its grip.
Did you discover the previous Victoria’s Secret fashions have been reluctant to talk?
Frederique van der Wal, who was one of many unique main fashions related to the model, gave us a extremely insightful interview and was very articulate about her expertise. Youthful fashions additionally spoke. However a whole lot of the foremost names related to the model at its apex didn’t converse, and I’m unsure why they weren’t keen to take action.
Van der Wal says she felt very uncovered after days when she labored for Victoria’s Secret. I assumed that was hanging. We predict fashions are inured to that type of factor.
When she was doing work for the model, it was early days. Lingerie as style actually wasn’t a factor earlier than Victoria’s Secret, and I might enterprise to say that lingerie as style was barely ever a factor. I don’t actually think about Victoria’s Secret to be a style model. I think about it to be a advertising and marketing scheme that bought comparatively cheap lingerie to the mass market and did so extremely successfully utilizing the tropes and trappings of the style world to attain their aim.
What did Wexner perceive accurately about shoppers, particularly when it got here to Victoria’s Secret? What do you suppose he accurately intuited again within the ‘80s when he acquired the corporate?
I see Wexner because the [Amazon’s Jeff] Bezos and [Meta’s Mark] Zuckerberg of his time. He was one of many nice retailers, actually, however he was the analog model of the tech and social media titans all of us obsess over. As I used to be making this, I actually noticed the 1.0 model of Instagram within the shopping center. The mall was the fantasy machine of its time.
Do you suppose Victoria’s Secret would have floundered as a model even when the ties between Epstein and Wexner by no means got here to mild? How a lot of the model’s troubles are tied to that relationship?
I feel the model ran out of street years in the past. Why it saved going is a thriller to me. The angels on the runway and all of that exploitative use of feminine sexuality to promote issues was extremely dated. Once I began the challenge, I might need been the final particular person within the Western Hemisphere that didn’t know concerning the angels. I used to be like, “God, this looks as if one thing from Las Vegas within the ‘60s on the Stardust.”
You see [in the series] there was a whole lot of inner strife on the firm. The crew that had finished the unique profitable branding of Victoria’s Secret as an upscale aristocratic world rebelled and both stop or have been fired within the early aughts when [the company] modified tack. The relevance of the model I feel actually stopped in all probability a number of years earlier than its near-death expertise [in 2018-2019].
What do you suppose motivated Wexner? He’s a cipher.
Wexner himself has stated that he created a fantasy world and he lived in it. He builds his personal city, exterior of Columbus, the place the corporate is predicated, known as New Albany, which is a fantasy world of Georgian splendor that has nothing to do with the farmland on which it was constructed. It’s the actual fantasy of 1 billionaire and has notes of Gatsby and Ralph Lauren.I feel it was a forerunner to billionaires going to outer house and making an attempt to colonize Mars.
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How did you method the Epstein facet of this story? As a result of I really feel like you would spend the remainder of your life taking place Epstein rabbit holes.
Epstein is likely one of the biggest con males of the final 100 years on this nation. I might say the opposite two have been Roy Cohn and Donald Trump. Epstein’s Zelig-like capacity to connect himself to rich targets in that New York money-fashion-industrial advanced is chilling.
Reporter Sarah Ellison says that, in keeping with the most effective estimates, Wexner paid Epstein round $400 million over the course of their enterprise relationship. Do you’ve any sense of why Wexner apparently thought-about Epstein so priceless?
That continues to be an enormous query mark. And we could by no means know. Regardless of the efforts of many nice journalists trying into this, together with Sarah Ellison, who’s within the movie, and writers from Vainness Truthful and the New York Instances, it actually stays a thriller.
One of many sex-trafficking specialists within the sequence states quite conclusively that Epstein was utilizing girls and ladies as instruments to blackmail highly effective males. Are you satisfied of this concept?
It’s very laborious to say. The Epstein narrative is now obscured by the weeds of the fever swamp. There are such a lot of conspiracy theories round him and so many unanswered questions. It’s quite disorienting and laborious to parse actuality from conspiracy, and the information are scarce as a result of he didn’t reside to go to trial.
‘Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons’
The place: Hulu
When: Any time, beginning Thursday