Matt Tyrnauer wasn’t initially interested in Victoria’s Secret—that is until the models started talking. “When the models started rebelling and the brand started to have the foundation crack underneath it, I thought, ‘This is a real story,’” the director, who has previously made films about subjects including Roy Cohn, Valentino, the Reagans, and Studio 54, among other topics says, “then things got even worse for them.”
In the new three-part documentary Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons, out now on Hulu, he chronicles the lingerie mall brand’s rapid ascent, exploring how it secured its position as arbiter of mass-market sexuality in the ’90s and early aughts only to fall from the pinnacle of pop culture just a few years later.
With help from journalists, former executives, models, and other insiders, the series deftly weaves narratives about money, power, and sexuality in America to craft a complete picture of Victoria’s Secret—and ultimately to expose founder Les Wexner’s deep and exceedingly odd ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Here, Tyrnauer talks to T&C about making the series, what Instagram has to do with early 2000s nostalgia, and his perspective on Wexner’s “mysterious” relationship with Epstein.
How did you determine who all you wanted to help tell this story?
Well, we were liberal in our phone calls. We called many people, and we would talk to anyone who would talk to us. Eventually, we got two former CEOs of the catalog to go on camera, some of the former models, and a whole array of senior executives and junior executives. We had to report it from the ground up. It was challenging in part because there was a history of NDAs in the company. That always makes it more difficult, but certain people came forward. I don’t know whether they didn’t have NDAs or their NDAs were lifted, but we got people to talk, and they told their story. It’s really interesting to see tales from the inside of what, at the time, was a very secretive company based in the middle of Ohio, far from the fashion center of New York City. That was a fascinating process, and I’m grateful to the people who did speak.
After making this documentary what is your perspective on Les Wexner’s relationship with Epstein?
I think it’s very mysterious, and it remains mysterious, and we may never know. Epstein died in prison. He never really spoke about it publicly. The Epstein mystery, I think, is going to just build in our society because there’s so little information and people are so assiduously distancing themselves from anything having to do with Epstein.
The other thing I’d say is that I’m very fascinated with power in New York and that kind of New York power-money complex, and Epstein was a poster boy for that. He marketed himself as, as ridiculous as it sounds, an international man of mystery. And what’s most remarkable to me about that is that it worked—that he was kind of this entity in that shallow, fake-it-until-you-make-it New York that tolerates people who are fakes, and sometimes really insidious fakes. That, I thought, was a narrative worth exploring.
There’s been a recent trend of documentaries looking back at iconic brands of the ‘90s and early aughts. Why do you think we’re interested in that moment in fashion culture right now?
You want to know what came before. If you’re on the younger side of things, you’re kind of grooving on what Mom and Dad were doing or being inspired by when they were your age. And fashion frequently revisits earlier decades. Right now, apparently, we’re going through a Y2K moment.
I think that’s one reason, but I think that Instagram and social media are doing to us now, what Victoria’s Secret did to us in its analog, or proto digital, way—and did very successfully, whether people know it or not, that is a strange trip.
I would also point out that there’s been a documentary about Abercrombie and Fitch, which was the same company. It was like the brother brand to Victoria’s Secret, which was using male sexuality to sell clothing that no one really needed. And Victoria’s Secret’s was using female sexuality and marketing sex to sell clothing that you may or may not need. Now you may want it, which is perfectly legitimate by the way, but I’d say, caveat emptor. We have to understand that we’re being seduced now on our screens, and at that time we were being seduced in the mall.
Do you think the new iteration of Victoria’s Secret has a future as a brand?
On one level, it’s sort of a marketing sleight of hand. “Look, we’re a newborn. We’re very different now.” But I would say, well, ‘you’re still a big company that’s marketing.’ So whether they’re successful in their 180-degrees-from-what-they-used-to-be approach remains to be seen. I can’t think of a bigger 180 than this, certainly in the fashion marketing world. It’s pretty dramatic.
Several of your projects, your film about Valentino, your project about Studio 54, focus on fashion, influence, and power. What about the confluence of those things appeals to you?
A lot of my work is about power and how people navigate in powerful spheres. And most of my work is about closed systems and worlds apart, and frequently, there’s an element of power in them. This was one of those. So at the beginning, intrinsically I wasn’t really interested in an old patriarchal brand that used what was once charmingly called “sexploitation” to sell things. I was much more interested in shopping malls and their rise and fall, actually. But then that’s a part of this. To get a little heady here, for me, this was really a series about the manufacture of consent, which is a very important concept in our lives. That touches every part of our lives, from the political to the economic. We live in a consumerist culture that took a real estate huckster and failing reality TV star and made him our president. So this narrative, for me, is adjacent to that narrative, which I think is the narrative of our time.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io