Victoria Secret has long been synonymous with sexy, glamourous underwear. The lingerie brand has built its empire on a specific vision of beauty, one that’s been hailed by some and criticized by others. Its annual runway shows are famous the world over, and its so-called Angels—or supermodels—shine in their lingerie and grin for the cameras while posing in front of intricate backdrops. But the new three-part documentary series “Victoria Secret: Angels and Demons,” which debuted Monday on Hulu, paints a much more complex picture of the company than its sexy image would suggest.
The film’s first episode opens backstage before the lingerie company’s annual fashion show. It’s just a few minutes before the show is set to begin, and a slew of photographers mill around as the Angels—or “models” as the company prefers to call them—dress in their fantasy lingerie pieces. With cascading curls and chiseled cheekbones, the models embody a fantasy world of pink, white, and tan. The women are clad in body-hugging silhouettes, with gilded wings draped over their shoulders and bodies as they pose for the camera.
As the story unfolds, Tyrnauer reveals a darker side of the company that has been glossed over in its marketing and praised by some as a model for women’s empowerment. Former executive Sharleen Ernest says that a culture of misogyny and sexual harassment was widespread at the company during her time there, and she describes an impenetrable wall of male leaders—including Razek and founder Les Wexner—who shut down any attempts to expand the brand beyond its narrow definition of beauty. For example, she says the men forbade any expansion of the product line into maternity or shapewear.
Wexner’s personal and business relationship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was later charged with sexually exploiting underage girls, is also examined in the documentary. Wexner was close to Epstein, and the pair often traveled together on business and for vacations. Epstein allegedly used their relationship to meet underage girls whom he abused and trafficked for money. He was arrested in 2019 and charged with 11 counts of sex offenses against children.
In recent years, Victoria’s Secret has attempted to evolve its brand image in ways that are meant to signal the company is now more than just a place for women to shop for lace bralettes and panties. It’s dropped the controversial annual runway show; rebranded its Angels as a collective of “Insta-famous” women (including Megan Rapinoe, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Paloma Elsesser, and many others); hired more body-inclusive models; and introduced products like nursing and mastectomy bras that didn’t fit the old definition of beauty.
But the lingerie giant’s effort at calculated wokeness isn’t necessarily resonating with contemporary consumers, and its market share has been declining. Aerie, a rival intimate apparel brand, has exploded in popularity as it has marketed itself with slogans like “We Are Real,” which celebrates the authenticity of women’s bodies and faces rather than hiding stretch marks and acne; and focuses on comfort and functionality over sexiness.