A Hulu docuseries titled Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons that premiered July 14 explores the rancid history of lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret — from its internal culture of sexual harassment to its perpetuation of a physically unattainable beauty standard, to its disgraceful fall with the emergence of the #MeToo movement and America’s demand for more inclusive representation from its brands.
The three-part series also focuses on the murky, albeit direct, ties between convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and billionaire patron of the arts Leslie (Les) Wexner, who bought Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and transformed it into a retail empire while expanding his company L Brands to dominate American malls through ownership of brands like Lane Bryant, Bath and Body Works, and Abercrombie and Fitch.
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As of July 28, Forbes estimated Wexner’s net worth at $5.7 billion. Like many other billionaires, Wexner is an art collector, but he is also the man behind the Wexner Center for the Arts, the massive arts institution affiliated with Ohio State University (OSU).
In 1989, seven years after he acquired Victoria’s Secret and after he had already started his personal collection, Wexner founded the arts center and museum and named it after his father Harry. In 2014, the museum, located in Wexner’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio, held an exhibition of the business mogul’s collection — a show that displayed works by canonical artists like Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Edgar Degas, and Willem de Kooning. Wexner still chairs the Wexner Center Foundation Trustees that governs the museum.
Angels and Demons ignores the arts center — besides a couple quick pans to its facade — but it delves into Wexner’s close relationship with Epstein. For over 20 years, Epstein was Wexner’s personal money manager, and in 1991, became his power of attorney, a role which gave Epstein nearly limitless power over Wexner’s finances. And the docuseries shows that the two men’s relationship was even closer: Epstein acquired Wexner’s infamous New York City townhouse in 1998; he helped Wexner build his yacht, used his private jet, and lived on his Ohio estate, a home that was only accessible through Wexner’s gate, according to the docuseries. That’s where artist Maria Farmer alleges she was sexually assaulted by Epstein and his accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell in the summer of 1996.
From 1990-1997, Epstein and his charity foundation donated and pledged $336,000 to the Wexner Center for the Arts. After the 2019 revelations about Epstein’s crimes, OSU publicly identified the money it had received from Epstein and donated it to the Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Initiative.
According to the docuseries, while Epstein was donating money to the Wexner Center for the Arts, he was pretending to be a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret models to lure in young women, and Wexner was on at least one occasion made aware of this behavior (although Wexner has denied any knowledge of Epstein’s crimes).
The filmmakers spoke with Cindy Fedus-Fields, who ran Victoria’s Secret’s lucrative catalog division from 1986-2000, and said that in 1993, another female executive told her that Epstein was posing as a Victoria’s Secret recruiter. According to Fedus-Fields, that other executive confronted Wexner, who said he would “put a stop to it.” A statement issued to the filmmakers from Wexner’s attorney (Wexner declined to participate in the docuseries) said that billionaire confronted Epstein about this matter but the latter denied the accusation. But Epstein did not stop, according to the docuseries. Four years later, in 1997, Epstein told model Alice Arden that he was a recruiter for the company to lure her into his Santa Monica hotel room, where he allegedly groped her and attempted to undress her.
In 2007, Wexner officially cut his ties with Epstein. It was after an investigation was initiated into accusations that Epstein had solicited prostitution from a minor, of which he was convicted in 2008. The falling out between the two also came after Wexner discovered that Epstein had reportedly stolen $47 million dollars from him. In Angels and Demons, Washington Post reporter Sarah Ellison comments on this, saying that it is unexplained why Wexner, who was so litigious, never went after Epstein for the theft. And then the series delves into Wexner and Epstein’s personal relationship, suggesting it was an intimate friendship and even entertaining the idea that the two men were lovers.
But ultimately, Angels and Demons poses a familiar question surrounding the discussion of Epstein: How did this man, a college dropout, command so much power? And why did he hold so much power over Wexner? The documentary paints Wexner as an outsider — a Midwestern Jewish man who was not accepted by New York high society — who made an easy target for the charismatic and persuasive Epstein. Fedus-Fields says in the series: “Wexner had the money that Epstein was seeking, and Wexner got from Epstein the glamour and smoothness that he was seeking.”
It has already been uncovered that Epstein, in his pursuit of the nation’s rich and powerful, was inevitably tied into the art world. Last year, artists, activists, and art workers called for MoMA’s board chairman Leon Black to be removed from his post after the billionaire’s ties to Epstein were revealed. Black eventually stepped down from his own private equity company and from his position as MoMA board chairman, but he still remains on the museum’s board. And Leslie Wexner is still the board chairman of the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Through its examination of Epstein’s relationships with figures like Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Bill Gates, the docuseries examines the ways in which Jeffrey Epstein was woven into the network of the American elite. In the final episode it entertains the popular conspiracy theory that Epstein did not take his life in his Manhattan jail cell, but was rather killed by rich and powerful figures who wanted their secrets to be buried with him.
Wexner has given over $200 million to OSU in addition to loaning his collection to the Wexner Center for the Arts, and Leon Black has given $40 million to MoMA while also loaning a little over a million dollars worth of art. They may still be around because of an art world that desperately wants their money.