TeaThe current resurgence of Y2k fashion has inspired a recent documentary reenactment of the biggest brand names of that era, from Von Dutch to Abercrombie & Fitch. Now the mother of them all gets the documentary treatment with a three-parter about Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons, fashion, sex, power, money and misogyny, which is sure to premiere this week.
After all, the multibillion-dollar lingerie juggernaut of the late 1990s and early 2000s was an inevitable cultural phenomenon, fueled by high-octane fashion shows, suggestive mail-order catalogs, impossibly leggy Angels to spokespersons, and million stores. (and the signature pink-). striped shopper bags) ubiquitous in shopping malls and the wider American fashion landscape. But behind the glare and sheen of women’s empowerment through face-to-face sexuality are allegations of bullying and harassment of employees and models; Officials reject casting more diverse and inclusive models; And billionaire CEO Les Wexner has close ties to convicted sex offender and disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
The series traces the megabrand’s rise and fall, telling the story from the inside (two former CEOs, courtesy of other key employees, never-before-seen inside videos, and some Angels harming themselves) and out: late. From the ’90s, post-Clinton/Lewinsky, Sex and the City-era cultural shifts ignited the brand’s particular brand of aggressive sexuality and which portended its decline in the wake of #MeToo decades later.
That’s when the controversies that surrounded the brand appeared on director Matt Tyrnoir’s radar. “In 2019, during my meeting with a fashion company, it emerged that some Victoria’s Secret models were rebelling against the brand on social media,” he told the Guardian. Before that, he admits, “I didn’t really pay any attention to the brand.” (He didn’t even know about Angels until he began researching the film: “My first reaction was, ‘This is the worst, stupidest, most outrageous, regressive, backward-looking marketing idea I’ve ever had. I’ve ever seen it.’ And yet it worked to an extent that probably no other fashion marketing campaign has ever worked.”)
Indeed, Tyrnauer, a former longtime Vanity Fair editor who previously directed documentaries on Studio 54, Roy Cohn, and high-fashion designer Valentino, operate in more rarefied circles. But, “it seemed to me an example of yet another crack in the foundation of the top-down old fashion establishment, where the models, who were completely controlled by the brands, were actually biting the hand that fed them.” ”, he says. “I like to make up stories about closed worlds and systems, and I thought, Here’s something.”
Many more obscure details were still not revealed, including how Wexner, now 84, enabled Epstein to access wealth and women by giving the financier broad authority over the corporate titan’s finances, philanthropy and personal life. Epstein also posed as a talent scout for Victoria’s Secret in 1997, taking a model to a Santa Monica hotel room, where he grabbed her and scuffled with her. As the series elaborates, Epstein’s long and close relationship with Wexner facilitated the purchase of his townhouse (where he sexually abused underage girls) and the private jet that his victims used to traffic. Who used to be known in the media as the Lolita Express. (Wexner, who stepped down from the company last year, declined series interview requests, but denied knowledge of Epstein’s sexual misconduct during his employment. The former chairman has admitted that on one occasion he Informed was claiming an affiliation with Epstein. The company and he forbade Epstein to do so again. Wexner says he broke up with Epstein in 2008.)
“New York is a city where you fake it until you make it, and Epstein is the poster child of our times,” says Tyrnauer, who previously oversaw Vanity Fair’s annual new installation catalog. “There was clearly nothing of valuable substance and yet what New York passes for the media world and society – which is basically a money culture, which I think is very corrupt at its core – seems is to either embrace it or just go blind. The more we examine that culture, which is basically a money and power and propaganda culture, and the more that mask is removed, the more is better.”
On the surface, he argues, “This series is about a pop brand this shallow compared to the most basic, low-brow consumer thing imaginable. But that’s just marketing. When you get behind it.” Let’s see, it goes to the core of the establishment.”
Yet even before Wexner’s association with Epstein came under scrutiny, the brand struggled to find relevance in a world that increasingly views its brand as airbrush-perfect bodies and male-gaze sexuality. was looking outside. The company “brought a woman who was born and made better with push-ups and padding,” as former VS exec Sherlyn Ernster says in the series, The images caused body dysmorphia in a generation of people around the world.
The vision was quite different from the company’s roots in the early 1980s, when Wexner created a brand inspired by a tasteful, educated British woman named Victoria, with a Victorian boudoir in store. By the late 1990s, that sophisticated image had turned into a more clearly risky one, satisfying the appetites of a new breed of woman looking to reclaim her sexuality.
This included casting spokespeople who introduced an unattainable sexuality: supermodels, who until now were reluctant to appear in lingerie commercials. Victoria’s Secret has equated the category to high fashion, consistently booking top models. “Lingerie is really a kind of obscure corner of fashion,” Tyrnauer explains. “It’s not a part of that world, and it never has been. That also attracted me to it — it’s seen as a fashion brand, it’s got the most-viewed fashion show of all time, and its Nothing to do with fashion really. It’s just the exploitation of fashion marketing tools to make billions of dollars.” Tyrnauer aims to “take off the forefront of technology that was so successful for him, and indicates that he used the sex-selling and sexual-empowerment narrative of Sex in the City era to justify it”.
This is the time he was well known as a journalist working in New York in the 1990s who rubbed elbows with Candace Bushnell and Darren Starr. “I wanted to remind people that there was an agreed-upon aspect of society that no one really looked twice at at the time – a celebration of the kind of forward sexuality that equated to empowerment. The way we see things today as a society. You can’t see everything in the right way.”
Tyrnauer sees Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch as a kind of proto-Instagram, promoting an unattainable body image and FOMO. “The mall was Instagram 1.0. It was the anesthetizing fantasy machine we all ran into and took over our lives with those tile floors manipulating us every step of the way and forcing us to buy things that didn’t have any We didn’t need to. There’s nothing wrong with buying, but how big companies exploited consumers and workers is a noteworthy story.”
Some of the series’ most eyebrow-raising views include the brand’s teen-oriented line, Pink, with which it hopes to develop influential young shoppers into dedicated long-term consumers. Tyrnauer surprised herself with the Pink fashion show: “It’s tweens dressed in tiny dresses with giant lollipops and hula hoops. Either I’m in a sort of Lolita Nabokovian parody or it was real. I’m afraid it was real “
As the company takes pains to reinvent itself to stop its downward spiral, the question remains: Can the brand turn its stripes? Last summer it announced a major rebrand with a diverse slate of spokespersons including Megan Rapinoe and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. “It talks about women’s empowerment from a more current perspective,” notes Tyrnauer—a pivot perhaps no different from its original rebrand in the 1990s.
Ultimately, the director hopes that the series reveals the plot behind the business of enticing us to buy, especially in the most successful cases. “The forerunners of marketing sometimes hide ugly truths,” Tyrnauer says. “Trying to understand why we are so fascinated by these things is very important to look at.”
Victoria’s Secret: Angels & Demons is available on Hulu on July 14 and will stream on Disney+ in the UK from July 15, with an Australian airdate yet to be announced