A senior executive at Victoria’s Secret made unwanted sexual advances toward the company’s models, and harassed and bullied staff members, the New York Times reported Sunday.
Marketing Director Ed Razek is accused of trying to kiss models and asking them to sit on his lap, as well as touching the crotch of a woman ahead of a fashion show.
Models were often reminded of how powerful Razek was, and he was perceived to be the proxy of parent company L Brands owner Les Wexner. Current and former employees of Victoria’s Secret told the newspaper that this gave Razek an air of invincibility.
“This abuse was just laughed off and accepted as normal. It was almost like brainwashing. And anyone who tried to do anything about it wasn’t just ignored. They were punished,” said Casey Crowe Taylor, a former PR employee at Victoria’s Secret who said she witnessed Razek’s behavior and was once publicly berated about her weight by the executive when she went to take seconds at a buffet lunch.
Executives said they told Wexner of Razek’s behavior and some of the women who complained faced professional retaliation, the newspaper reported.
Razek responded to the claims on a general basis in an email to the Times, saying: “The accusations in this reporting are categorically untrue, misconstrued or taken out of context. I’ve been fortunate to work with countless, world-class models and gifted professionals and take great pride in the mutual respect we have for each other.”
Victoria’s Secret is already under pressure due to Wexner’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in prison this year while awaiting trial on charges he trafficked underage girls for sex.
Wexner was thought to be Epstein’s biggest financial backer for a while after hiring him as a financial adviser in the 1980s.
Wexner said he severed ties with Epstein after the latter’s conviction for sex crimes with underage girls in 2008.
Moreover, countless women who accused Epstein of sexual assault said they were recruited to work for him on the false promise that he would get them jobs as Victoria’s Secret models.
The brand is often accused of objectifying women and has been struggling to appeal to a younger generation of shoppers who increasingly prefer less sexualized designs and branding.
The company’s sales have been slipping in the past two years, weighing on the bottom line of L Brands which reported a net loss of $252 million in the third quarter, against a $43 million loss a year earlier.
Victoria’s Secret sales were just over $1 billion in the third quarter of 2019, down seven percent from the same period in 2018. More than 30 of its stores have closed since February.
The brand seems to be paying the price, in part, for some marketing blunders.
The cast in the show’s 2018 edition was more cosmopolitan than usual, following criticism that the brand had little regard for diversity in its choice of models.
But days after last year’s event, Razek ruled out using transgender or plus-size models in future shows.
His ill-judged comments came as demands for greater diversity on catwalks increases. They sparked an outcry on social media and he later apologized.
Razek stepped down from L Brands last August.