Victoria’s sinister secret: As the lingerie firm cancels its famous fashion show, we reveal how Jeffrey Epstein exploited his friendship with its billionaire boss to target models – including one who appeared in Baywatch – for sex
- Jeffrey Epstein had a close relationship with Victoria’s Secret boss Les Wexner
- Alicia Arden, then 26, was promised work with the lingerie giant by Epstein
- She made one of the earliest known allegations about his sexual misconduct
For Alicia Arden, the chance to model for Victoria’s Secret sounded like a dream come true.
Then aged 26 and with an appearance on hit TV show Baywatch behind her, the brunette actress had been invited to meet a man by the name of Jeffrey Epstein, who promised he could get her work with the lingerie giant.
Back then, more than 20 years ago, the name Epstein did not ring any warning bells.
But everyone knew the U.S. underwear chain, whose roster of models included some of the world’s most beautiful women, was a very big deal.
Alicia Arden, then 26, had already appeared on hit TV show Baywatch before being invited to meet Jeffrey Epstein who had promised he could promised he could get her work with the lingerie giant
Ms Arden was, she would recall, so determined to make the right impression that she bought Victoria’s Secret lingerie to pose for a set of photos, which she sent to Epstein’s New York office. He then invited her to a beachside hotel in California.
‘I knocked on the door and went in the room,’ she told the Daily Mail in an exclusive interview this week.
‘He was very nice in the beginning and looked at my portfolio. When you go on an audition for something like this, they want to see your body.
‘I was in very little clothing — like a swimsuit-type bra with a top over it and underwear and a short little skirt so he could see my legs. He said he liked the photos and said he’d love to get a picture in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.
He said: “You know, you look really good, your body looks really good. I think I just need to see it better.” ‘
Doing as requested, she moved closer — only for Epstein to start ‘manhandling’ her.
‘He started to take off my top, then he moved down to my skirt and was trying to take that off, and was touching my hips and buttocks,’ she said.
‘I was pushing his hands off me, I was pushing them down and pushing them away, but he was bigger than me.’
By chance, Epstein was momentarily distracted by a phone call, allowing Ms Arden — by then in tears fearing she was going to be raped — to flee the meeting.
Deeply shaken, she immediately went to a nearby police station, subsequently filing a report for sexual battery. That report is one of the earliest known police records of an allegation of sexual misconduct against Epstein.
Ms Arden later made one of the earliest known police records of an allegation of sexual misconduct against Epstein (pictured alongside Ghislaine Maxwell)
‘I filed it because I thought he was doing it to other girls, and touching other girls, and I could have been raped myself.
‘He told me he worked for Victoria’s Secret, and he was misrepresenting the brand — I wanted to file that.’
But, tragically, no action was taken against Epstein, meaning Ms Arden’s worst fears would be realised.
A string of women have recently come forward to reveal how they, too, were lured into Epstein’s clutches by the promise of work with Victoria’s Secret.
Of course, the work never materialised. Instead, they were used and abused by the billionaire financier.
What is also now emerging is the extraordinary relationship Epstein had with the boss of Victoria’s Secret, a man called Les Wexner, 82, founder and chief executive of parent company L Brands, and whose friendship Epstein exploited.
Many believe it was through their relationship that Epstein gained a foothold in the world of the rich and famous.
And, as everyone now knows, it was an entrée that he would make full — and terrible — use of.
Epstein exploited the relationship he had with the boss of Victoria’s Secret, Les Wexner, 82
Note, for example, that the now infamous seven-storey Manhattan mansion where Prince Andrew was photographed visiting in 2010, two years after Epstein was convicted for procuring underage girls for sex, was originally Wexner’s.
And it seems even Epstein’s apparent pimp and close friend of Prince Andrew, Ghislaine Maxwell, would lure young women into Epstein’s web by boasting of his links to Victoria’s Secret.
In August, Epstein committed suicide in jail where he was awaiting trial for sex trafficking. But despite his death, repercussions from his sick lifestyle continue to reverberate.
Wexner has insisted he was unaware of Epstein’s crimes, and cut ties with him as soon as he found out about them.
In stores, sales are down, jobs have been cut and two weeks ago it was announced its annual televised show would be cancelled for the first time in almost 25 years.
Previous pageants — which saw the world’s most sought-after models like Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen, sashay down the catwalk in outfits that left nothing to the imagination — invariably made global headlines.
Not any more. To a generation of women invested in the #MeToo movement, the brand’s one-dimensional depiction of female sexuality has soured. Instead, consumers have turned to rivals who have embraced female empowerment and diverse body types.
As one commentator recently observed: ‘Victoria’s Secret was founded during one sexual revolution. It’s not clear it’ll make it through the next one.’
Amid such a climate, you can see how the links to Epstein could have struck such a body blow to the company.
In stores, Victoria Secret sales are down, jobs have been cut and two weeks ago it was announced its annual televised show would be cancelled for the first time in almost 25 years. Pictured: The 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
To be clear, Epstein never worked for Victoria’s Secret, nor hired their models as he claimed.
The ‘Angels’ as their models became known, were always sourced from agencies. And there is nothing to suggest that Wexner authorised Epstein to recruit models.
One Angel, Heidi Klum was photographed in 2000 with Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell at a ‘hookers and pimps’ Halloween party.
A year later, she launched the first televised Victoria’s Secret fashion show wearing a jewel-encrusted bra worth $12.5million. By this time, Victoria’s Secret was worth in excess of $2billion, with more than 650 stores across America.
It had come a long way from its early days in 1977, when it was established by U.S. businessman Roy Raymond, who was inspired after a bad experience in the lingerie section of a department store.
The offerings weren’t risque enough, and the saleswomen seemed uncomfortable with his presence, he would recall.
In 1982, Wexner, the son of Russian immigrant, came across one store on a business trip to San Francisco.
His company, then called The Limited, ran clothing stores. He saw potential in Victoria’s Secret, which inside was like a Victorian ‘brothel… with red velvet sofas’, as he later described it. ‘I hadn’t seen anything like it in the U.S.’
British socialite Adela King, then aged 20, was similarly approached at a social event in London by Ghislaine Maxwell and now believes that she had a lucky escape
He purchased it for just $1million. Today, his personal fortune is put at some $5billion. And with that money came Epstein. According to the New York Times, the pair were introduced in the mid-to-late 1980s when Wexner was looking to diversify his investments.
Epstein, who had worked at Bear Stearns, the investment bank, was given the role of managing Wexner’s fortune and providing financial advice.
He would go on to become more than a mere money man — winning praise from his mentor as ‘a most loyal friend’ with ‘excellent judgment and unusually high standards’.
By 1991, such was their relationship that Wexner handed Epstein power of attorney, allowing him to hire people, sign cheques, deal in property and borrow money on his behalf.
He held that power for the next 16 years, during which time a number of valuable assets previously owned by Wexner passed to Epstein — including that Manhattan mansion Prince Andrew memorably described as a ‘convenient place to stay’ in his crushing Newsnight interview.
The property was bought in 1989 by Mr Wexner for $13.2 million, then a record price for a Manhattan house. Epstein moved in when Mr Wexner decided to remain in Columbus, Ohio, where his company is based.
Epstein told The New York Times in 1996 that he owned the property, but the transaction does not appear in online New York City records.
It has been claimed that he paid $20million for it. It has also been reported that a business controlled by Epstein obtained a Boeing 727, dubbed the Lolita Express. As has become clear, Epstein used the trappings of wealth to target young women.
A number of them claim to have been enticed into his orbit by offers of work with Victoria’s Secret.
But in 1995, two years before Epstein’s approach to Ms Arden in America, he tried a similar tactic with British socialite Adela King.
Aged just 20, the striking blonde had been approached at a social event in London by Ghislaine Maxwell, a woman she’d never met before.
‘She told me to be at Claridge’s at 8pm and ask for a Mr Jeffrey Epstein’s suite,’ she recalled. ‘So I did — who wouldn’t, it was Victoria’s Secret.
‘Epstein opened the door to his suite, sat down on his sofa and looked through my portfolio and then instructed me to pose in a degrading way and said he’d be in touch,’ she said.
He never was, but days later attending a party, Miss King, now a 45-year-old mother of two who recently featured on reality show Ladies Of London, learned what the pair were really after.
Writing about her experience on her Instagram account this summer, she explained: ‘I told friends at dinner about my encounter with her [Maxwell] and Epstein and they told me she recruited women for threesomes with them both.
‘I was in shock how I’d been so stupid! But I believe that dinner saved me from something far worse.’
Not everyone had such a lucky escape. Just weeks ago, another woman came forward to say she, too, had been seduced into Epstein’s clutches by promises of a modelling career.
In a lawsuit seeking damages against the dead man’s estate, the woman, who has not been identified, says she met him in late 1999.
‘Epstein offered her a position modelling with Victoria’s Secret,’ the legal papers state. ‘He explained that he was friends with Les Wexner, the chief executive of Victoria’s Secret’s parent company.’
The woman claims she was forced to give Epstein sexual massages at his mansion in New York and at his Palm Beach residence.
According to the documents, she finally escaped after she was simultaneously sexually assaulted by Epstein and Maxwell. Maxwell, it should be noted, has long denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes.
Another woman to claim she had been attacked by Epstein is Maria Farmer, an art graduate who once worked for Epstein manning the front door of his New York mansion, recording who came and went.
In the summer of 1996, Ms Farmer, then 26, claims she was assaulted in one of Epstein’s houses in Ohio.
This property, too, had been previously owned by Mr Wexner and was part of an exclusive estate developed by him. He and his wife Abigail themselves owned a large mansion nearby.
Ms Farmer claims the first time she heard the Wexner name was when Epstein told her that Les Wexner loved him.
According to an affidavit filed earlier this year by Ms Farmer, it was while in Ohio that Epstein and Maxwell sexually assaulted her.
‘They asked me to come into a bedroom with them and then proceeded to sexually assault me against my will,’ she claimed.
Ms Farmer claimed Wexner’s security staff refused to let her leave for 12 hours.
Back in New York, police there told her to call the FBI, which she did, but said that, ‘to her knowledge’, no action was taken against Epstein or Maxwell. Following Epstein’s arrest on sex trafficking charges, Wexner sought to distance himself from his former right-hand man.
He made it clear he had severed ties with Epstein in 2007 after the financier was first accused of sexually abusing underage girls, and accused the disgraced financier of misappropriating over $46 million of his personal fortune.
In a letter to members of the Wexner Foundation, he wrote: ‘We discovered that he had misappropriated vast sums of money from me and my family. This was, frankly, a tremendous shock, even though it clearly pales in comparison to the unthinkable allegations against him now.’
He added: ‘I am embarrassed that, like so many others, I was deceived by Mr Epstein. I know now that my trust in him was grossly misplaced and I deeply regret having ever crossed his path.’
The Daily Mail contacted L Brands for comment on behalf of Victoria’s Secret and Mr Wexner but received no response. Earlier in the summer, L Brands said it had hired lawyers at the direction of its board ‘to conduct a thorough review’ into Wexner’s relationship with Epstein.
A spokesperson also previously said that ‘while Mr Epstein served as Mr Wexner’s personal money manager for a period that ended nearly 12 years ago, we do not believe he was ever employed by nor served as an authorised representative of the company’.
As for Ms Arden, despite her experience at the hands of Esptein, she bears Victoria’s Secret no ill will. ‘I don’t think they should let one person, Jeffrey Epstein, ruin their entire iconic brand,’ she said.
But only time will tell if the Angels will ever fly high again.
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