After nearly a year and a half of turmoil, it seems that Victoria’s Secret as we knew it has finally met its downfall. Late on Wednesday, the New York Times reported that the company plans to go private, and will soon be sold to an equity firm. Less than 12 hours later, even more major news broke: Leslie Wexner will step down from his post as CEO of Victoria’s Secret’s longtime parent company, L Brands. Meanwhile, L Brands confirmed that it is indeed selling a majority stake in the brand, which Sycamore Partners will purchase for $525 million.
In many ways, it’s something of an accomplishment that Wexner and the company managed to hold on for this long. Victoria’s Secret has been under intense scrutiny since November 2018, when Ed Razek, then chief marketing officer of L Brands, gave an unabashedly discriminatory interview about why Victoria’s Secret doesn’t work with “transexuals” or plus-size models. Shortly afterward, ratings of the company’s longtime crown jewel, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, plunged to a record low.
Razek, who joined the company in 1983, eventually retired in August 2019. At that point, attention had already shifted to another scandal: the brand’s ties to the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who used to pose as a Victoria’s Secret scout to prey on women as young as 14 years old. What’s more, Epstein had quite the history with Wexner. Wexner employed Epstein as his personal adviser, allowing him to make hires and borrow significant amounts of money. He also may have given Epstein his Upper East Side townhouse, where much of the abuse allegedly took place. (The FBI and NYPD raided it in July, and discovered hundreds of nude photos of underage girls.)
All that has opened up the opportunity for former allies like Karlie Kloss, a one-time Victoria's Secret Angel, to candidly criticize the brand, which was attempting (and failing) to rethink its traditional Angels ethos. (For the first time in more than two decades, there was no Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2019.)
When it comes to his own future, though, Wexner seems to remain optimistic. “Today feels very similar to the day that my aunt offered me a new start,” the 82-year-old wrote in an email to employees on Thursday, February 20, referencing how he started L Brands with a $5,000 loan with his aunt. “Today is the beginning of an important new chapter in the evolution of the enterprise.”