Leslie H. Wexner, the Ohio billionaire who was once one of the world’s foremost art collectors, made his fortune in the mall by turning struggling brands into hugely successful giants like Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret and founding others like Limited and Bath & Body Works. But since 2019, when Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who was accused of sex-trafficking minors in Florida and New York and who previously served as Wexner’s money manager, the mall magnate’s reputation and fortunes have been in decline.
Wexner’s relationship with Epstein is now being explored in a new three-episode docuseries on Hulu called Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons, which became available to stream on Thursday. Directed by Matt Tyrnauer, who has previously explored fashion and sex scandals in series such as Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) and Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2017), the tantalizing new documentary charts the rise and fall of Wexner and is the latest documentary to do so since Netflix released White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch earlier this year.
According to Angels and Demons, Epstein was known to associate with older, wealthier men as a way to secure funds and power. Wexner turned out to be one of those men, becoming deeply involved with Epstein and going so far as to make Epstein his financial manager and later give him power of attorney.
This struck many in his circle, such as former Victoria’s Secret CEO Cindy Feddes-Fields, as out of character, given that Wexner was a known micro-manager and that Epstein was a college dropout who mysteriously landed a job at Bear Stearns soon worked as a math teacher at Dalton, New York’s prestigious private school. Serving as Wexner’s financial manager from the 1980s to 2007, Epstein used his connection to Wexner’s companies, most notably Victoria’s Secret, to market women.
Angels and Demons focuses on one particular case. In 1997, actress Alicia Arden filed a police report after Epstein posed as a Victoria’s Secret recruiter. Epstein invited Arden to audition for him in his hotel room, where he proceeded, Arden claims, to sexually assault her.
By this time, senior Victoria’s Secret executives had already complained to Wexner that Epstein had posed as a Victoria’s Secret talent scout to gain access to young women. Despite promising to talk to Epstein about this behavior, Wexner was either unwilling or unable to get him to stop, and the two continued to maintain a close financial relationship for another decade.
Although the show is billed as a deep dive into Wexner and Epstein’s relationship, the series never gets to exactly why Wexner gave Epstein such unprecedented power and access to his fortune, paying him over $400 million over the years.
“It remains a big question mark,” Tyrnauer admitted in an interview with Los Angeles Times this week. “Despite the efforts of many great journalists looking into this, including Sarah Ellison, who is in the film, and writers from Vanity Fair and on New York Timesreally remains a mystery.” (Wexner declined to be interviewed for Angels and Demons.)
Instead, what the documentary focuses on is the incredibly interesting, but perhaps not headline-grabbing, story of the rise of the Victoria’s Secret empire and how it shaped the fast fashion industry and America’s understanding of sexy.
As a collector, Wexner doesn’t focus on a particular era or artist, but buys a little bit of everything. He began his collection in 1978 with that of Willem de Kooning Pink lady (c. 1944) and would go on to buy works by Picasso, Giacometti and Jean Dubuffet. His collection was exhibited at the Wexner Center for the Arts, to which he was a major donor and which bears his father’s name, in Columbus, Ohio, in 2014.
Although he currently amassed one of the finest art collections in the country, Angels and Demons doesn’t cover that either. This is perhaps an obvious omission, given that Epstein was also deeply rooted in the art world.
From 1987 to 1994, Epstein was a board member of the New York Academy of Art and a major donor to the MIT Media Lab. He had strong ties to art dealer Leah Cleman, whose contact information was recorded in Epstein’s “little black book,” which contained the names of dozens of high-profile people, some of whom denied knowing Epstein, according to New York Times.
Another important connection was noted collector Leon Black, who has long been a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. According to New York PostBlack allegedly tapped Epstein to run the Leon Black Family Foundation even after Epstein was arrested on sex-trafficking charges in 2008. The foundation has since denied having anything to do with Epstein after 2007, citing of its inclusion in documents after 2007 as a technical error.
In a 2020 statement, Black said: “Knowing everything I have learned over the past two years about Epstein’s reprehensible and despicable behavior, I deeply regret having had any part in it. In retrospect, working with him was a terrible mistake on my part.