Leslie H. Wexner, 82-year-old chief executive of L Brands, is stepping down after widespread criticism of his connections to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein and the toxic internal culture of lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret. Wexner’s resignation follows L Brands’ announcement that it will be selling a majority share of Victoria’s Secret to Sycamore Partners, a private equity firm.
Wexner, who led L Brands for nearly six decades, hired Epstein as a personal advisor and trustee for his charitable foundation. Epstein died in jail in August 2019 after being arrested on federal sex-trafficking charges. Wexner worked with Epstein for years after meeting him in 1988, but claims to have cut ties with him in 2007 and that he was unaware of any of Epstein’s criminal conduct. Wexner has said he was “embarrassed” by his relationship with Epstein, but previously referred to him as “very smart” and a “loyal friend.” Epstein used his connections with Victoria’s Secret to lure young women to meet with him by posing as a talent scout for the brand.
Earlier this month, The New York times reported a culture of misogyny and harassment at Victoria’s Secret. Interviews with executives, employees, and models revealed that Wexner had ignored repeated complaints about Ed Razek, a top L Brands executive. Razek allegedly groped models, tried to kiss them, and asked them to sit on his lap. Some women who complained were punished, like model Andi Muise, who was no longer hired for Victoria’s Secret fashion shows after rejecting Razek’s advances. Employees also reported hearing Wexner make misogynistic remarks.
The sale of Victoria’s Secret comes after years of slow decline for the brand, partly due to its refusal to meet consumer demands for more inclusive advertising.
Sources: New York Times 2/20/20, 2/1/20; CNN 2/20/20; Forbes 1/29/20