“Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” is a fitting name for a docuseries that at times seems to be at war with itself – part business examination of the brand’s rise and fall, part expose of former CEO Les Wexner’s ties to the late Jeffrey Epstein. Yet those threads come together before it’s over, exposing a corporate culture that ultimately led to the company’s unraveling.
Part one is a fairly standard look at Wexner’s business acumen in acquiring the lingerie outfit and transforming it into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, inspiring cultish devotion among employees while facing ever-escalating pressure to make the marketing more provocative. Soaring for a time, the latter impulse gradually drifted toward what one observer describes as the thin line between high-end fashion and soft-core pornography.
Yet Wexner’s success, which made him the richest man in Ohio, also brought Epstein into his orbit, eventually leading to allegations that the latter leveraged his affiliation with the company as part of his predatory behavior.
As for what Wexner might have known, the executive (who declined to be interviewed for the docuseries but is shown extensively from earlier video) and his representatives staunchly denied any awareness, saying that he severed ties with Epstein in 2007. They echo his statement in 2019 in which he said, “I would not have continued to work with any individual capable of such egregious, sickening behavior as has been reported about him.”
The hardest-to-explain aspect of the story involve Wexner granting Epstein power of attorney over his assets. Michael Gross, author of the book “Model,” suggests that given the closeness of the men, it was hard for many to be shocked Wexner’s name would come up “as the Jeffrey Epstein onion was unpeeled.”
With so many projects devoted to the Epstein scandal, including docuseries from Investigation Discovery and Netflix, the emphasis on his role, while understandable, feels like well-trodden territory. Indeed, it tends to obscure insights having to do with Wexner’s retail strategy and its broader implications – turning something as mundane as underwear into a premium item, manufacturing in China to slash costs and from a cultural perspective, feeding unrealistic expectations about women’s bodies with heavily photoshopped catalogue spreads.
In the final chapter, however, director Matt Tyrnauer deftly weaves the pieces together, conveying how the key men behind Victoria’s Secret were blind to the changes sweeping over society while allegedly engaging in their own questionable behavior.
The company began to look like a “dinosaur,” says casting director James Scully, as evidenced by the demise of its fashion show. Of the hyper-sexualization that once made Victoria’s Secret a sensation, he notes, “The world at large moved on from it, and they didn’t.”
Wexner’s bravado also embodied a certain swaggering attitude of the billionaire class that grew up during those years that draws inevitable parallels to Epstein’s other famous and wealthy friends, as well as the current generation of high-profile moguls that has followed.
The challenge in repeatedly returning to the Epstein of it all is that it potentially adds a salacious “ick” factor to the narrative without bringing much new to the party. “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” mostly overcomes that criticism in a way that’s well worth watching, even if, by the standards of the best docuseries, it doesn’t rise to the level necessary to completely earn its wings.
“Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” premieres July 14 on Hulu.