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We Know What You Did

Photographed by Quinn McCaffrey of Emily Gonzalez, Cassidy Marshall, Izzy Demers, Arianna Line, Emma Rockwell and Tatiana Mason
Styled by Jack Turpen and Emily Gonzalez

By Joelle Beauchamp

Victoria’s Secret, the premiere destination for underwear and lingerie for years, almost holding a monopoly above the rest, and famous for further pushing along unrealistic and unattainable standards of beauty. For years, Victoria’s Secret has been under intense scrutiny for various offenses.

From their start, they have taken advantage of the notion that ‘sex sells’, exploiting it to sell their products. The brand originally started with traditional European clothing, showing magazines with surprisingly fully clothed women in the London countryside. Shortly before the 2000s, the Angels appeared. Aligned perfectly with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, executives at Victoria’s Secret saw Bill Clinton’s popularity rising, and observed the age of risky business coming afoot. Their move; women in bras and underwear emerging from a spaceship, the first known siting of the Angels. The status of being an Angel quickly drove aspiring models straight to the top of the food chain, but at what cost?

A recent offense that overtook the public; not allowing transgender or plus-size models to walk in their show. When prompted, the chief marketing executive, Ed Razek, offered a piece of intel from his toxic and misogynistic point of view, that transgender and plus-size models do not sell the fantasy that is the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Another strike for inclusivity. Not only does the brand not allow bodies over a size four on the runway, but they encourage their models to follow a strict diet, with the hope of making them even skinnier before the show. Countless since-retired Angels reflect on their time at Victoria’s Secret, often synonymous with stories of harassment, body dysmorphia and eating disorders. With the expansion of the PINK line, targeted towards young women, these impossible beauty standards were only pushed further down the generations. Apart from the mental abuse of these models, Ed Razek has many offenses against him. From trying to kiss models, asking them to sit on his lap, and even touching a model on the crotch before she walked in the show. When models alerted the founder and chief executive, Leslie Wexner, they would face retaliation, often in the form of an ended contract. Razek took specific interest in one Angel, Ms. Muise. Countless intimate emails from the executive landed in her inbox, and after months of her retaining a polite tone, so as to not risk her career, she found that she was not chosen to walk in the show after four consecutive years. Wexner loved to remind models that their careers were in his hands, and this was obvious to anyone that dared to try him. Not only was Razek known for his slim-fitting views on body types, but Wexner has his eggs in a similar basket. When asked about the retail industry’s embrace of different body types, he replied “Nobody goes to a plastic surgeon and says, ‘Make me fat,’”.

The most recent offense: Leslie Wexner’s close ties with sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein, as released in a Hulu documentary this fall. Wexner was a frequent guest of Epstein’s “house of horrors”, his home in Manhattan where he abused and assaulted countless minors. The house was in Wexner's name for years, although he never moved in. Epstein moved into the home, and years after, the property was transferred to his name. Epstein’s Boeing 727 jet was purchased below-market price from Wexner, and was dubbed the Lolita Express, as it was frequently used to transport underage girls from home to home. Epstein also would frequently use his ties with Wexner to lure women in, promising them a chance to be an angel, and even saying that he worked for the brand. He would often invite them for auditions, often leading to assault and never leading to an Angel contract. One victim of Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, Maria Farmer, was held by the two at one of Leslie Wexner’s estates in Upstate New York, where she had to lock herself in a room, with furniture blocking the door, to escape the assaults. News of the close friendship of Wexner and Epstein shocked the media. Wexner avoided the allegations, saying he cut off Epstein’s friendship after his first allegation was proven.

The fallen angels walked their last show in 2019, due to its sexist, objectifying, and anti-feminist rhetoric. The show lacked diversity, inclusivity, and taste that matches the current mindset within society. The current chief financial officer, Stuart Burgdoerfer, spoke on the topic, saying, “It was a very important part of the brand building of this business and was an important aspect of the brand and a remarkable marketing achievement. We’re figuring out how to advance the positioning of the brand and best communicate that to customers.”

Only once sales fell dramatically, and as more inclusive lingerie brands hit the market, did Victorias Secret decide it was time for a slight change in strategy and inclusivity. Not for the sake of positivity or inclusivity, of course, but for sales. After the launch of the “Perfect Body” campaign, which featured, surprisingly, all size two models, the internet did not hold back. The most recent attempt at inclusivity was an improvement, but again missed the mark. As they chose to pursue inclusivity as a tactic, instead of a culture. The advertising campaign was performative, screaming ‘Hey! We are body positive & inclusive now! I promise! Come back!”, in the blandest and most unoriginal way. They included plus-size, disabled, transgender models from all cultures and diversities (not sure if we should applaud them, as they are about ten years late), in a way that was the exact opposite of the Victoria’s Secret brand. The advertisement was not scattered with wings and embellished with gemstones and lace, but was simplistic, and frankly, bland. While we can all understand what they were trying to do in this situation, we cannot help but look at their competitors like SavageXFenty, Parade, Aerie, that have made inclusivity their main purpose, all while holding up their own brand identity.

Inclusivity, especially in the lingerie industry, cannot be an afterthought. Shoppers today value inclusivity above all else, and research shows that women that see models with similar bodies to themselves are more likely to buy from these brands. So, Victoria’s Secret, we know what you are trying to do, but we also know what you did last summer, too little, too late.

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