Once the most successful lingerie label in the world, Victoria’s Secret had a swift and catastrophic downfall in 2018, after CMO Ed Razek made a now-infamous comment on the label’s lack of diversity, shutting down the idea of plus-size and transgender models in the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show because “the show is fantasy.”

Since then, stock has plummeted, reports of bullying and harassment within the company leaked, and the show itself was scrapped for good. These days, the brand has had a complete image overhaul, but we’re still only scratching the surface when it comes to what was really happening behind the Angel wings and million-dollar fantasy bras.

New documentary Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons sheds new light on the dark underbelly of the company. Unfortunately, we can’t stream it in Australia yet, but these are the biggest takeaways from the Hulu series.

Jeffrey Epstein Was Allegedly Involved
Epstein allegedly lured models to meetings under the guise of being involved in the lingerie brand. Image: Getty

Les Wexner (Victoria’s Secret chief executive) may have resigned in 2020 but prior to that his power was incomparable – particularly in the 90s and 2000s. Epstein worked as an adviser to Wexner for a period of time, and allegedly posed as a recruiter as a way to access young, impressionable models. This is discussed in the documentary but was originally exposed by the New York Times in 2019.

One account that is revealed via the documentary is that of model Alicia Arden, who says that in 1997 when she was 27 years old, she was invited to Epstein’s hotel room under the impression they were to discuss her placement in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. Once there, Arden says, he groped and tried to undress her. 

Les Wexner has denied Epstein’s involvement, issuing a statement via his lawyer saying “The issue of Epstein claiming an association with Victoria’s Secret was raised on one occasion with Mr. Wexner. He confronted Epstein and was clear that it was a violation of Company policy for him to suggest that he was associated in any way with Victoria’s Secret and that Epstein was forbidden from ever doing so again. Epstein denied having done so.” 

The Unrealistic Body Image Values Were Even Worse Than We Remember

In this modern era where body inclusivity is paramount for successful labels, it’s easy to forget just how toxic brand messaging used to be. Similarly to the Abercrombie & Fitch documentary from Netflix, Angels & Demons features some truly damning footage of brand representatives espousing a culture and ethos we simply can’t even fathom today. At one point, former Victoria’s Secret executive Sharleen Ernster says the idea behind Victoria’s Secret was “a woman born perfect and made better with push-ups and padding.” 

Not to mention the hypersexualised youth sub-label, Pink. Footage of the Victoria’s Secret Pink runway shown in the docuseries shows jaw-droppingly inappropriate getups, with models dressed as sexy schoolgirls and carrying oversized lollipops while marketing underwear to teenage girls. “I had this dress with toy things [all] around and the whole set was pretty much based on toys,” former Victoria’s Secret model Dorothea Barth Jörgensen recalled of the 2021 show she walked in.

Victoria's Secret
Model Behati Prinsloo walks the runway during the 2010 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory on November 10, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Randy Brooke/WireImage)

None of this is new, however. All labels in the 2000s had a problem with unrealistic beauty standards and questionable marketing for young women, but it’s safe to say Victoria’s Secret was so focused on image and youth, even its own models weren’t considered “perfect” enough. As former employee Casey Crowe Taylor mentions in the series, retouching was rife. “One of the biggest things that shocked me when I was behind the scenes working there was, I didn’t realise just how much retouching was happening. It’s an image that is retouched, Photoshopped, changed. That’s literally impossible.”

The Misogyny And Sexual Harassment Was Rampant Within The Company

If you’ve followed the downfall of Victoria’s Secret, you’d be very across the New York Times investigation from 2019. Using interviews from 30 current and former executives, employees, contractors and models within the company, it’s the same one that linked Jeffrey Epstein to Les Wexner, but the problems within the brand go beyond just Epstein’s alleged involvement.

The docuseries refers to investigation repeatedly, delving into the allegations levelled at CMO Ed Razek – yes, the same man who made the transphobic comments to media. Razek was accused of sexually harassing models during fittings, demanding they appear nude and asking them to sit on his lap. One model accused Razek of touching her crotch, and Razek has also been accused of telling Bella Hadid to “lose the panties” during a fitting in 2018, before referring to her breasts as “titties”.

Bella Hadid was one of many models allegedly mistreated by Ed Razek. Image: Getty.

Razek essentially operated freely due to Les Wexner refusing to take action against him, despite many HR complaints, according to the documentary. Models that spoke up say they were blacklisted, such as Andi Muse, who says Victoria’s Secret dropped her from the annual fashion show after she refused Razek’s advances.

These days, Victoria’s Secret is in a very different place. ​​In 2020, L Brands (Victoria’s Secret’s parent company) sold a 55% stake of the lingerie label – Wexner also stepped down as chairman and CEO. In 2019, both Ed Razek and executive vice president April Holy stepped down, too. By 2021 the brand had received a full image overhaul, with diversity a core focus and fresh faces including Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Naomi Osaka.

In response to the docuseries, Victoria’s Secret released a statement, saying it had come a long way from the brand featured in the show. “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.”