Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Victoria's other secrets
Viral song from the summer and a history lesson. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Quick warning: Today's newsletter is about business and history and music, but suicide comes up a few times.
Over the summer, a singer-songwriter named Jackie Miskanic who goes by Jax recorded a song called Victoria's Secret.
The story behind the song, Jax says, is that she was babysitting for a middle-school girl who had been shopping with friends. When Jax met her, the girl was in tears, after her friends had been telling her that her body wasn't good enough for a bathing suit she'd wanted.
Jax didn't like that, so she wrote the song, got someone to choreograph the dance outside a Victoria’s Secret (in California, I think), and produced this video:
Here are the lyrics to the chorus:
I know Victoria's secret
And girl, you wouldn't believe
She's an old man who lives in Ohio
Making money off of girls like me
Cashing in on body issues
Selling skin and bones with big boobs
I know Victoria's secret
She was made up by a dude (dude)
Victoria was made up by a dude (dude)
Victoria was made up by a dude
It's empowering, cool, catchy, and it was a nice hit. I laughed the first time I heard it, both because it’s funny and because given the kind of writing I do, I knew exactly who the "old man who lives in Ohio" was.
As some of you might know, this is Les Wexner, wealthiest person in the Buckeye State, who founded The Limited and many other companies, and whose L Brands bought Victoria's Secret 40 years ago, when it was still a small chain with just a few stores (for a few million dollars).
At age 85 now, Wexner is chairman emeritus, and his company has taken quite a few hits (long before this song). It certainly didn't benefit from revelations that Wexner was apparently the top client of Jeffrey Epstein, working with him from sometime in the 1980s to 2007.
It's also been widely reported that one of Epstein's go-to moves back in the day was to take advantage of his relationship with Wexler by luring women to his house on the ruse that he was in charge of recruiting Victoria's Secret models.
Anyway, it's this kind of stuff that makes the song work so well. But there is another part of the story that I also think people should know.
It has to do with the original, actual founder of Victoria's Secret: Roy Raymond, a Stanford MBA who said he first came up with the idea during the 1970s after he'd been embarrassed and felt shamed while trying to buy his wife lingerie in a department store.
Raymond borrowed $80,000 to launch the first Victoria's Secret in California in 1977, and it was he who actually "made up" Victoria, as he once explained.
"There must've been a couple hundred names we came up with," Raymond told The Washington Post in 1991, "but only that one seemed to have all the elements for the character we were trying to portray."
As for what happened afterward, here's an excerpt from a NYT story that sums it up quickly:
The store resembled a Victorian boudoir, with Oriental carpets, brass fixtures and antiques. Within a year, the company had sales of $500,000.
But even as Victoria's Secret grew to five stores and a San Francisco headquarters and warehouse, Mr. Raymond had trouble dealing with the financial end of the business ...
Suppliers went unpaid, the warehouse was often empty and efforts to find venture capital for expansion proved futile. In 1982, Mr. Raymond was forced to sell ...
So, visionary entrepreneur, but not a great operational businessperson. And “forced to sell” is the right phrase; Wexler himself later recalled that Raymond wanted nothing to do with him.
"He was very guarded. When I met him, it was as if he met the devil," Wexler said in another interview almost 20 years ago. "Six months later he called me and said he was going to be put into bankruptcy that week. He'd rather sell the company to me than go bankrupt ... [W]ithin 24 hours we negotiated the purchase."
By later accounts, it seems Raymond was driven by the idea that he had make up for what happened with Victoria's Secret. He poured his profits into a new business—an upscale children's store called My Child's Destiny. But, it failed in 1986, and he filed for personal bankruptcy.
From there, he tried a children's bookstore, a series of pre-Internet mail order companies, and eventually a company that now seems almost the opposite of Victoria's Secret, which was a boutique called Peggy Knight International (named after his partner), that specialized in fashion and lingerie for cancer survivors and women who had other health challenges that changed their bodies. From the same NYT story 21 years ago:
Mr. Raymond expanded the business to create a boutique environment much like that of Victoria's Secret, where a woman going through chemotherapy could shop for scarves, prosthetic devises and even lingerie, Knight said. "He experienced secondhand my pain of going through hair loss and understood what it must be like to lose a breast. He dignified the surroundings."
Raymond tried to raise money to expand Peggy Knight, but he failed, and by 1993 he was in financial distress. The IRS had filed a lien on his earnings, he owed large amounts in both federal and state taxes, and he envisioned a second bankruptcy on the horizon.
Friends, family, and his attorney later said that this prospect, and the sense that he would have failed again, led him to take his own life.
On August 26, 1993, he drove his Toyota onto the Golden Gate bridge, parked it in the middle of the bridge, and leaped over the side to his death. He left a 15-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter.
This was three years before Jax was born, by the way. Anyway, in the video for her song, she went out of her way to cast a model who uses a wheelchair, and to make sure she got a closeup.
Maybe she and Raymond would have had something to talk about. At the very least, he might have liked the song.
7 other things worth knowing today
The United Kingdom and the world bade farewell to Queen Elizabeth II on Monday with a state funeral that drew presidents and kings, princes and prime ministers—and crowds in the streets of London and at Windsor Castle—to honor a monarch whose 70-year reign defined an age. (AP)
How many people watched in the UK? Well, a two gigawatt power drop across the country—the equivalent of 200 million lightbulbs being turned off - was reported, as people stopped doing whatever else the would have. (The Independent)
One of the largest prison technology providers in the country illegitimately seized $121 million from inmates’ prepaid telephone accounts. Now, the company—Global Tel Link, or GTL—is paying out $67 million in refunds and credits, and the Federal Communications Commission is proposing new and expansive guidelines to ensure it does not happen again. (Protocol)
A U.S. Navy veteran who was abducted while working as an engineer contractor in Afghanistan more than two years ago, is heading home after being freed by the Taliban in exchange for a Taliban drug lord who had been in U.S. custody for 17 years, a senior administration official told reporters on Monday. (Task & Purpose)
Texas authorities are investigating Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over an operation to fly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts last week. "I have officially opened a criminal investigation against the individual(s) who lured and transported 48 migrants from the Migrant Resource Center in San Antonio, TX to Martha's Vineyard," Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, who is a Democrat, wrote on Twitter. (Fox News, Twitter)
Hey, it turns out those of us with at least some gray in our hair have a secret written language. Cursive was omitted from the national Common Core in 2010, which means much of Generation Z has apparently grown up without learning it. Perhaps you already knew this, but the numbers surprised this author. (The Atlantic)
New legislation in Albany might provide relief to workers who are on their feet all day. If passed, the legislation would require employers to allow employees to sit at work if it doesn't interfere with the nature of the work. It's called the SIT Act, short for the "Standing is Tiring Act." (Fox 5 NY)
General relativity for babies: a short video about a simple book about a complicated concept. (Twitter)
Thanks for reading. See you in the comments!