During the 1990s and the 2000s, the world was mesmerized by the American brand Victoria’s Secret, its sexy and glamorous fashion shows, and of course its angels (un)dressed in feathers and bras adorned with precious gems. Alessandra Ambrosio, Miranda Kerr, and Behati Prinsloo have all made the provocative lingerie brand’s day by wearing sexy underwear during spectacular shows widely broadcasted on TV... Up until the brand’s marketing chief Edward Razek caused a public outcry when he shared some criticism about transgender and plus-size models in 2019. Displaying models with unreal proportions and an aesthetic far from being feminist, Victoria’s Secret lost some feathers and went through a complete rebranding for more inclusiveness in 2021. The #MeToo movement reshuffled the deck and the brand intended to bring under the spotlight women who were famous for what they did, such as footballer Megan Rapinoe or skier Eileen Gu, rather than for their flattering curves.
But the image of Victoria’s Secret suffered from many other scandals. This is what this three-part documentary series Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons underlines. Airing on Hulu since July 14th in the United States, the show is quite racy even though it is based on an authentic investigative work. The first episode traces back the spectacular career and marketing ideas of the lucrative company’s former CEO, the mysterious billionaire Les Wexner. He was the one who turned Victoria’s Secret into a real empire with his kitschy and blingy catwalk concepts, featuring some of the world’s most beautiful women, such as Gisele Bündchen, Heidi Klum, or Tyra Banks.
The American businessman Les Wexner, whose fortune was estimated at 5.6 billion dollars in 2022, also established an almost sectarian environment in his company. Thanks to a large number of archives, images, and interviews with former employees and models, the documentary broadcasted by Hulu unveils the extent to which models used to receive a misogynistic and hypersexualized treatment, while being exploited by a company that ironically wanted to promote an image of female empowerment.
Jeffrey Epstein makes his entrance in the second episode of the documentary series. The businessman and sex offender involved in trafficking of minors, who committed suicide in prison before his trial started in 2019, adds an even more disturbing twist to the story of the lingerie brand. According to some testimonies, Epstein allegedly tried to recruit young women into his sex trafficking ring by tricking them into believing they could eventually become models for Victoria’s Secret. Ultimately, like the documentary Abercrombie & Fitch: A Brand on the Edge available on Netflix, Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons does not tell us anything new about the downfall of a fashion empire. However, it does lay a successful brand bare by revealing how much it participated in the prevailing sexism during the 1990s and the 2000s.
Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons (2022) by Matt Tyrnauer is available now on Hulu in the US and on Paramount+ in the UK. The released date in France is yet to be announced.