Epstein Ties, Alleged Fat-Shaming, and Billions Lost: Inside the Fall of Victoria’s Secret

·4 min read
Victoria's Secret Cancels Must-See Fashion Show - Credit: Lionel Hahn/Abaca/Sipa USA/AP
Victoria's Secret Cancels Must-See Fashion Show - Credit: Lionel Hahn/Abaca/Sipa USA/AP

For decades, Victoria’s Secret was a mall lingerie giant. In recent years, however, the brand has fallen from grace as executives faced allegations of harassment, bullying, fat-shaming, and promoting a company culture of misogyny. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, between 2015 and 2020, the company’s sales dropped by more than $2 billion.

Beyond that, the former owner and retail magnate Les Wexner was revealed to have had close ties with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who posed as a model recruiter for the company — and at least one woman has accused Epstein of attacking her when she was an aspiring Victoria’s Secret model.

More from Rolling Stone

Details of the company’s toxic culture and Epstein’s role there continue to emerge, as reported in a new podcast, Fallen Angel, the first two episodes of which premiered October 13th from C13Originals and Campside Media. Later in the eight-part series, Cynthia Fedus-Fields, a former Victoria’s Secret executive, reveals more information about the previously reported inappropriate advances Epstein made toward her. He once invited her to an afterparty following a dinner they attended, she tells hosts Vanessa Grigoriadis and Justine Harman on a later episode. “As the evening is winding down he said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?’ and there was something that just didn’t seem right about it,” she says on the podcast. “I was, if you will, the hired help, and my boss is having an afterparty to which he didn’t invite me. And I don’t think it’s cool to show up with this guy. I don’t even know who this guy is. So I declined.”

That wasn’t Fedus-Field’s only strange encounter with Epstein. Another time, while she was working at company headquarters, Epstein called her and made what she describes as an “uncouth” comment. “He said, ‘You know, I’m frequently in Columbus, and I could use some female companionship,’” she recalls on the podcast. “And I said to him, ‘Well, I have 500 telephone operators a hundred feet away from me. Come on over. Maybe I can introduce you to one.’ And he very quickly got off the phone.’”

The hosts also interview former models, like Australia’s Bridget Malcolm, who has been outspoken about the company’s unreasonable body requirements for its exclusive, now-defunct yearly fashion show venerating its highest-ranked models: the Angels. In a TikTok, she showed viewers her size 30A bra from when she walked in the 2016 show. “I didn’t even know you could get bras that size,” she says on the podcast. She describes eating nothing but protein shakes and steamed vegetables for months to prepare for the event.

After she resolved to be more reasonable about prepping for the next fashion show, she tells Grigoriadis and Harman she gained half an inch around her waist and didn’t get cast the following year. She believes body image is only one part of the problem at the company. “I think any conversation around body image and any conversation around controlling women and the way they look is actually a signify larger conversation,” she says on the podcast. “It’s a conversation of control between men and women, between people in power and people who don’t have power. It is a symptom of a really, really toxic trait…of our society.”

In early 2020, Wexner stepped down as CEO of Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands, several months after Epstein died in prison by apparent suicide. Epstein had been awaiting trial for allegedly sexually abusing dozens of underage girls, who he lured to his houses in New York and Florida before asking them to massage him while he was naked. He had pleaded not guilty to federal sex-trafficking charges and was facing up to 45 years in prison.

Victoria’s Secret is now attempting a rebrand to stay relevant in a post-Epstein, post-MeToo era. The company is phasing out the Angels, promising to instead elevate “accomplished women who share a common passion to drive positive change.” The brand even launched its own podcast earlier this month, VS Voices, promising to celebrate the female experience with interviews with women like Megan Rapinoe and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. Whether it works remains to be seen.

Grigoriadis hopes Fallen Angel will help demand accountability from companies like Victoria’s Secret. “I hope this podcast is part of the movement to stop corporations from pushing negativity towards women and girls in the guise of empowerment,” she says. “And though Victoria’s Secret is trying to remake its business now, it still needs to deeply reckon with its history.”

Best of Rolling Stone