The Hulu documentary “Victoria’s Secret: Angels & Demons” (subscription required) looks at this question, which has been asked over and over again: What was Jeffrey Epstein’s strange hold on powerful men, ranging from retail mogul Les Wexner to financial empire-builder Leon Black?
In the documentary that question is smoothly introduced into a broad-based backgrounder on the rise and fall of Victoria’s Secret. The narrative is engaging. The interviews insightful.
Before it drifted out of touch with changing values in America that retailer was a disruptor in women’s – then even young girl’s – intimate apparel.
At one time underwear was simply a necessity.
When it came to sexual identity there was a different category: lingerie. Victoria’s Secret fused those two. Later it blurred the boundaries between lingerie and soft porn. That gave permission to both women and men to transform anything related to the female’s private parts into fun fantasy. They became platforms for entertainment. No surprise then, the retailer banned a woman breastfeeding in the store. That wasn’t what the breast had been about.
For years it was the model for every aspect of successful retailing. For instance, it reimagined the traditional commercial as a story. Its Super Bowl ad had a record response.
During that heady time, chief executive officer Wexner developed a multi-dimensional relationship with Epstein.
That included giving Epstein the power of attorney over all business matters. When Wexner’s mother Bella’s illness had her step down from the Victoria’s Secret board, Epstein took her place. After she recovered and wanted the seat back, Epstein wouldn’t budge. She sued. Although there had been reports of Epstein’s sexual misconduct associated with his roles with the corporation, Wexner did nothing. There was a long delay before he distanced himself from Epstein, all the while contending he was unaware of the sexual abuse of underage females.
So, there was, is, and probably will be around forever the mystery of Epstein’s hold on such a talented, wealthy, and powerful businessman.
In the early episodes of the documentary, Wexner, originally from the Midwest, is depicted as longing to be part of Manhattan society but not knowing how to facilitate that. Could sophisticated Epstein have helped the Ohio “hick” feel secure and have a sense of belonging in Manhattan’s Ruling Class? Another documentary “Inventing Anna” details the rigid values and rules of that tribe.
There are cracks in that theory.
See, when it came to Epstein’s relationship with alternate-investment genius Black that kind of explanation for the force field doesn’t make sense. Black had been at the top of the Manhattan sophistication ethos. That included being chairman of the board of the Museum of Modern Art. Black had and has peer relationships with the white-shoe lawyers from elite law firms such as Paul Weiss and Quinn Emanuel.
During his friendship with Epstein between 2012 and 2017 he had paid $158 million for what he claims was tax advice, which he contends saved him $2 billion. So what kind of spell had Epstein been able to cast on Black – as well as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, and more?
Of course, those friendships damaged brands. Some such as Clinton and Gates were able to do reputation restoration. Not so for Wexner and Black.
Later in the documentary’s episodes what has been put out there is this: Epstein first offered pleasure. Then he entrapped with blackmail. His global residences were equipped with gee-whiz monitoring equipment. With his death, the threat essentially went poof. Gates could come down on Epstein.
Not that Epstein had been the only sexual predator in the Victoria’s Secret culture. The Number-two guy Ed Razek doesn’t come off looking too good. Earlier The New York Times had detailed inappropriate behavior.
So, here we are again with the Ghost of Epstein.
That essence continues to haunt the legacy of Wexner and the present of Black.
This documentary is damaging to Wexner.
Now and then Insider pops up with coverage of prominent law firms such as Paul Weiss which have represented Black, including for his family office. Shade is thrown on all.
And the mystery remains: What did Epstein’s force field consist of?
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