It's quite an eventful week for Victoria's Secret. In case you missed it, the aughts-obsessed lingerie company recently hired its first transgender model by tapping Valentina Sampaio to star in a VS PINK campaign, and chief marketing officer Ed Razek, most famous for his exclusive definition of the brand's "fantasy," coincidentally (or maybe not) announced his retirement shortly afterwards. Now, an update has emerged surrounding a different scandal tarnishing the brand's Angel wings: the Model Alliance released an open letter petitioning for VS to institute greater protections against sexual misconduct for its models and employees. This pressure comes on the heels of exposed connections between sexual predator Jeremy Epstein and L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner, who held a close personal and professional relationship. There have also been multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against photographers Timur Emek, David Bellemere, and Greg Kadel, all of whom have worked with the brand before.
Sara Ziff's fashion industry advocacy organization pressured the company and its CEO John Mehas to address the instances of sexual harassment that have occurred under the company's watch.
"We are writing today to express our concern for the safety and wellbeing of the models and young women who aspire to model for Victoria's Secret," Ziff began. The letter goes on to hold the company accountable for not adequately addressing the fact that these men in question had used their positions at Victoria's Secret to carry out their predatory behavior.
"These stories are gut-wrenching and hit close to home for many of us who have encountered these kinds of abuses that are too often tolerated in our industry," the letter continues. "We stand with the courageous women who have come forward and shared their stories, despite fears of retaliation or harm to their careers."
Ziff has expressed specific disappointment that Victoria's Secret has not publicly commented on its reported ties to Epstein. The letter encourages the company to support the Model Alliance's RESPECT Program, a sexual misconduct policy "designed by and for models," tailored to work within the intricacies of an industry that can often brush exploitation under the rug. The program compels employees, agents, and other contractors to follow a code of conduct to promote workplace safety, and offers resources for models to file complaints and ensure consequences for inappropriate behavior. RESPECT also requires a training program to promote preventative measures and mutual understanding.
"If Victoria's Secret were to take a stand against these abuses and commit to meaningful change by joining the RESPECT Program, this would go a long way in helping our industry chart a new path forward," the letter concludes.
Over 100 models have signed the open letter, including Milla Jovovich, Carolyn Murphy, Christy Turlington Burns, and Gemma Ward. According to Ziff, the Model Alliance has been in talks with Victoria's Secret since November 2018. Although Ziff invites all fashion brands, agencies, and publishing companies to join the RESPECT Program, she believes Victoria's Secret has an even greater imperative.
"We believe that they have an opportunity to be a leader," Ziff told WWD.