Baltimore Sun

Docuseries charts rise, fall of Victoria’s Secret, CEO Wexner

- By Meredith Blake

Leslie Wexner was once known as the Merlin of the Mall for his seemingly magical ability to create ubiquitous retail brands: the Limited, Express, Bath and Body Works, Abercrombi­e & Fitch.

Perhaps his greatest success was Victoria’s Secret, the fledgling lingerie company he transforme­d into a billion-dollar behemoth that dominated the intimate apparel market for decades. But, as detailed in the new docuseries “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons,” the company imploded spectacula­rly following a series of publicity disasters, internal scandals and revelation­s about Wexner’s ties to notorious predator Jeffrey Epstein in 2018 and 2019.

“It was one of the most dramatic collapses of a fashion empire in recent memory,” says director Matt Tyrnauer, whose previous films include “Valentino: The Last Emperor” and “Where’s My Roy Cohn?”

The Hulu series, now streaming, charts the rise and fall of the brand and the self-made Midwestern billionair­e behind it, who started with a single store in a Columbus, Ohio, suburb and eventually grew wealthy enough to build his own town. Featuring interviews with journalist­s, models and former Victoria’s Secret executives (though not Wexner, who stepped down from his role as chief executive in 2020), “Angels and Demons” portrays a corporate culture that was infected with the same misogyny it peddled to the masses.

Wexner acquired Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and revamped the brand with a refined yet accessible sensibilit­y based on a fictional English woman named Victoria. By the late ’90s, guided by Wexner and marketing chief Edward Razek, the company had embraced a more overtly sexy image. In the company’s televised fashion show, supermodel­s like Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen strutted down runways in enormous angel wings and barelyther­e underwear.

Most damning of all is Wexner’s close associatio­n with Epstein, who was arrested on federal sex traffickin­g charges in 2019 and killed himself while awaiting trial. As far back as 1993, Epstein, who served as Wexner’s money manager for more than a decade during the heyday of Victoria’s Secret, was rumored to pose as a talent scout for the company and was accused of assaulting a model during an “audition” for the catalog in 1997. Another woman claims she was assaulted by Epstein at Wexner’s Ohio estate in 1996. (Wexner said he cut ties with Epstein in 2007.)

“Angels and Demons” — which follows a Netflix documentar­y about sister company Abercrombi­e & Fitch, a podcast about Victoria’s Secret released last year and a cottage industry of Epstein journalism — examines some of the most prevalent theories about the convicted sex offender and the origins of his wealth, including the suggestion­s that Epstein was running a massive blackmail scheme or working in intelligen­ce. (In 2019, Wexner claimed Epstein misappropr­iated “vast sums” of his money.)

And while it doesn’t conclusive­ly answer the most pressing question about Wexner — just why did he associate with Epstein for so long? — the docuseries is neverthele­ss a fascinatin­g portrait of a business visionary with a catastroph­ic blind spot.

 ?? HULU ?? “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” tells the story of its longtime CEO Leslie Wexner.
HULU “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” tells the story of its longtime CEO Leslie Wexner.

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