Hulu’s New Victoria’s Secret Documentary Is Full of Bombshells
From its ties to the late disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to its problematic internal culture and failure to adapt to changing consumer values, the documentary begs the question: is it really a surprise that Victoria's Secret couldn't keep up?
A new Hulu documentary from journalist-turned-director Matt Tyrnauer shines a critical light on the rise and fall of Victoria’s Secret under Leslie “Les” Wexner, who bought the small mail-order lingerie company in 1982 and made it the billion-dollar crown jewel in his L Brands portfolio within a decade. Featuring statements from former Victoria’s Secret models and executives, as well as journalists, Tyrnaeur puts a harsh microscope on company’s demise, which had at least as much to do with Wexner’s ties to the disgraced financier and late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein as it did the internal culture of misogyny and sexual misconduct, and its blatant failure to adapt to the changing times.
The documentary positions Victoria’s Secret’s parent company L Brands and its founder damningly for the role it allegedly played in helping Epstein cultivate the access, power, and wealth that enabled his criminal activity. For example, in 1991, Wexner quietly gave the sex offender “unmitigated control,” over his assets through a notarized power of attorney that allowed Epstein access to Wexner’s 19 trusts and charitable foundations, 20 companies, and investments, as reported by Washington Post staff writer Sarah Ellison, who appeared throughout the three-part series.
The power of attorney is only the beginning of the disgraced financier and sex offender’s entanglement with the company. Epstein’s notorious New York City townhouse was sold to him by Wexner; he later acquired a private jet from L Brands that he used to traffic the women and children he victimized. According to Ellison, the transaction was “shrouded in so many shell corporations,” that the amount Epstein paid for the jet is still a mystery. However, in 2020 Jerry Merrit, the former security chief at L Brands, confirmed to Vanity Fair that Epstein paid “below market rate,” for the plane.
Despite Wexner’s insistent claims that he was unaware of Epstein’s criminal behavior, documents uncovered in an investigation by the Oregon Attorney General appear to show that L Brands aided Epstein’s legal defense during his 2006 trial by providing employee records of one of his accusers, who had been a Victoria’s Secret employee. According to Ellison, the investigation found that the records had never been subpoenaed and were proactively provided to Epstein’s defense by the company. Unsurprisingly, Wexner’s attorney decried the findings as “salacious and patently false.”
In many ways, Pink, the Victoria’s Secret diffusion line launched in 2002 and marketed to school children and college students, signaled the beginning of the end for the company. In the documentary, former employees of the corporate office share their discomfort with the way Pink was positioned as a cornerstone of the brand’s ‘cradle to grave’ customer acquisition strategy “by bringing in a steady stream of young customers we can hold for decades,” as described in footage from an internal marketing video featured in the series. Pink even produced its own toy stuffed animals, which were featured prominently in its ads and marketing.
Pink became so successful that the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show included a special segment dedicated to the diffusion line. Models were directed to pose with infantilizing props like toys, lollipops, and even tricycle handlebars decked out with plastic streamers. Musicians with large school-age followings, like Selena Gomez and Justin Beiber, were booked to perform during the segment throughout Pink’s six-year run as part of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Next to Rihanna’s highly anticipated Savage x Fenty lingerie show, which debuted during New York Fashion Week in fall 2018, the Victoria’s Secret runway show felt like a shameful relic of an objectifying and predatory culture.
The Savage x Fenty show featured a diverse cast of models with different backgrounds and body types. It showed that Rihanna and her team were in tune with a consumer culture in which women’s definition of “sexy” included agency and representation, instead of a perverse male fantasy of perfection. In November 2018, Vogue published an interview with Razek in which he derided the Savage x Fenty show along with the very notion of inclusive casting. Tellingly, the next (and final) Victoria’s Secret show to air after Savage x Fenty, in December 2018, had the worst television ratings and viewership numbers in the its entire history. In the weeks following Epstein’s arrest in 2019, the New York Times broke the story of the sex offender’s involvement with Wexner and his proximity to Victoria’s Secret. The rest is history.
The three-episode docuseries deftly creates a through line of moments that all contribute to the decline of Victoria’s Secret as the company came under increased public scrutiny: from Harvey Weinstein’s involvement in the brand’s 2000 fashion show in Cannes to an out-of-control marketing budget that stretched to accommodate international fashion shows and an exorbitantly expensive Michael Bay–directed television commercial, to the company’s price-per-share plunge from its 2015 peak of around $100 to its current price of about $31. Head to Hulu to see it all unravel.