News & Politics

Victoria's Secret Hires Transgender Model in Effort to Rebrand After Epstein

Brazilian transgender model Valentina Sampaio wears a creation from the Amir Slama collection during Sao Paulo Fashion Week in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

On Monday, the agent for Brazilian biological male model Valentina Sampaio, who identifies as a transgender woman, confirmed that Sampaio would become Victoria’s Secret’s first transgender model. While liberals and transgender activists are likely to celebrate this as a win for diversity, it seems more likely a desperate attempt to distract the public from the connection between Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, L Brands, and newly re-arrested sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Sampaio’s agent, Erio Zanon, told The New York Times that the 22-year-old model had been hired for catalog work for VS Pink, the company’s youth line. The model “believes that this is a great opportunity to break barriers and to contribute to a bigger representation for everybody,” he said.

“Never stop dreaming,” Victoria’s Secret’s first male model wrote on Instagram.

Yet this flashy new acquisition seems perfectly calculated to divert attention from another story covered by The New York Times the very same day. The headline: “Victoria’s Secret Executive Leaves as Company Distances Itself From Epstein.”

Ed Razek, longtime chief marketing officer at L Brands, is retiring. Yet his departure may also be a distraction.

Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who was arrested last month and charged with sex trafficking involving girls as young as 14, was a close personal advisor to Leslie H. Wexner, the CEO of L Brands.

In the mid-1990s, executives at the company learned that Epstein was trying to pitch himself as a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret models, and Wexner was warned about this. Around that time, a model said Epstein lured her to his hotel room under the pretense of being a Victoria’s Secret talent scout — and then sexually assaulted her.

L Brands said it has brought in lawyers to “conduct a thorough review” into the relationship between Epstein and Wexner.

Wexner sent a note to employees on Monday, noting that “there are few with Ed [Razek]’s passion and talent in this industry.” Razek headed the public relations side of the sexualized lingerie company.

Last year, Razek made headlines by saying he didn’t think Victoria’s Secret should have a transgender model in the fashion show.

“Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should,” he said in an interview with Vogue. “Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is. It is the only one of its kind in the world, and any other fashion brand in the world would take it in a minute, including the competitors that are carping at us.”

It does seem quite remarkable that Victoria’s Secret has hired its first biologically male model. It seems identity politics has won out over Razek’s marketing sense. But it seems even more likely that this embrace of transgender issues is an exercise in virtue-signaling to distract the public from the Epstein connection.

Judging from the fact that the Times ran two separate stories, and that the story about Sampaio does not even mention Epstein, it seems L Brands might succeed in pulling off the distraction.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.