The popular lingerie brand, known around the world for its top models dressed like angels, might not be so heavenly after all. As The New York Times (NYT) recently reported, Victoria’s Secret, although a female-oriented brand, didn’t cater much to the female audience, but more to their male counterparts. And it is dealing with some behind-the-scenes controversy.
Victoria’s Secret (VS) was founded in 1977 by Roy Raymond, in an attempt to help other men avoid embarrassing experiences while shopping for lingerie for their wives. Although his business was relatively fresh in the retail world – until he sold it to business mogul and owner of L Brands, Leslie H. Wexner in 1982 – the concept remained the same; catering to men.
Women became the subjects in front of the lens. They were carefully selected and dressed up like Barbie dolls with angel wings to entertain a crowd of powerful businessmen such as Jeffrey Epstein.
Victoria’s Secret saw its heyday in the early ‘90s. It was the ticket for the careers of many big name top models, such as Tyra Banks, Giselle Bündchen, Adriana Lima and Heidi Klum, who all rose to fame through the Victoria’s Secret fashion shows. But behind the scenes, the light wasn’t always that shiny.
The Victoria’s Secret commercial from 2010, shot by director Michael Bay, known for directing movies such as “The Transformers,” didn’t favor the models or focus on the product, which was designed for men, by men. The motto “sex sells” certainly applied to Bay’s explosive commercial.
But women weren’t just being sexualized in commercial shoots. They were also being sexualized on the runway, and sexual advances were made behind the scenes, in dressing rooms, by the powerful men in charge, according to more than 30 witnesses.
Various models, current—and former executives, employees, and contractors, as well as documents and court filings display a culture of sexual harassment, misogyny, and bullying.
But this is just the tip of the crumbling, male-dominated empire which had to cancel its 2019 Victoria’s Secret fashion show, and is dealing with decreasing sales. There has been related controversy because of the Epstein case, and VS former chief marketing officer, Ed Razek’s alleged sexual advances and bullying toward models and employees.
Razek, who was known for airbrushing, sexualizing, and keeping the look of the Victoria’s Secret models analogous, resigned in August 2019.
Former VS model Andi Muise came forward and talked about the allegations with the NYT, Razek’s behavior toward women, and her own experience with Razek, who invited her to private dinners. The first invitation occured in 2007, when Razek picked the then 19-year-old up in a limousine to go to dinner. While inside the car, he made unwanted sexual advances towards Muise, who rejected him. After that incident, many more emails followed (Muise kept them as proof) and responded to them with a professional demeanor to protect her modeling career. But the dream of continuing as a model for Victoria’s Secret ended with her angel wings being taken away from her—she no longer received bookings with VS.
Another case that brought darkness over Victoria’s Secret, was Epstein. In 1997, the late financier allegedly posed as a VS recruiter. He had women pose for him in lingerie. He lured one woman into his hotel room and attacked her, according to The NYT. Reports were brought back to Wexner, since Epstein handled his fortune. But no investigation or actions were taken until after Epstein’s alleged suicide.
Spokespersons for Razek or Wexner did not comment, The NYT reported.
Many models who spoke out against Razek, were not hired back by the company for fashion shows. Casey Crowe Taylor, who once worked in public relations for Victoria’s Secret, told The NYT that she had witnessed Razek’s behavior towards the models.
“What was most alarming to me, as someone who was always raised as an independent woman, was just how ingrained this behavior was,” Crowe Taylor said in an interview. “This abuse was just laughed off and accepted as normal. It was almost like brainwashing. And anyone who tried to do anything about it wasn’t just ignored. They were punished.”
In 2015, Crowe Taylor experienced bullying from Razek, although she is not a model. At a photoshoot buffet, Razek looked her up and down and criticised her for getting more food. Although Crow Taylor filed a complaint with Human Resources, nothing was being done about the matter, she quit shortly after.
This is not the only complaint Razek received from women. According to five witnesses, Monica Mitro, who was a top public-relations executive at VS and who did the 2018 Vogue interview with Razek, filed a complaint with a former member of the L Brands board of directors, who she is said to have trusted more than the H.R. department. Shortly after, she received a notice from H.R. that she was put on administrative leave, and recently settled a financial agreement with the company.
Wexner gave the impression that he couldn’t be bothered and although the complaints H.R. received increased, he still supported his pal, Razek. He even raised money in Razek’s name at the Ohio State University’s cancer center, in 2013.
Money talks. And it was a powerful tool, pushing accusations under the rug. Razek’s son Scott, was also a topic of conversation. He eventually got transferred to Bath & Body Works, another of L Brands stores. The woman who filed the complaint against Scott also received a settlement.
Many models were coaxed into posing nude, “to help their careers.” Top VS photographer, Russell James, would approach models to pose nude for him. This was covered in their VS contracts, therefore no additional pay was required and the company was protected from lawsuits.
After an interview with Vogue in 2018, hell broke loose for Razek and the company, when Razek was asked if VS should have transsexuals in the show.
“No. No, I don’t think we should,” Razek told Vogue. “Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special.”
It is unclear why Razek resigned the same day that news flooded social media, announcing that Victoria’s Secret sister brand PINK hired its first transgender woman, Valentina Sampaio.
Wexner also announced his plans for retirement and the selling of the company after he had to close 53 stores, in 2019.