NEW YORK, United States — Several of the biggest retailers in the US, including Nordstrom and Macy’s, were named as clients by the president of a modelling agency with deep ties to Jeffrey Epstein, as allegations of sex trafficking swirled around the financier and the firm.
The agency, MC2 Model Management, is owned by industry veteran Jean-Luc Brunel. His relationship to Epstein is documented at least as far back as 2002, when flight logs place Brunel on Epstein’s private plane for a flight from Florida to the Bahamas. Jail logs show Brunel visited Epstein while he was serving a 13-month sentence for procuring an underage girl for prostitution. Brunel also housed models in Epstein’s Manhattan apartments, according to a sworn deposition by a former company bookkeeper.
By 2014, Brunel’s business partner Jeff Fuller was concerned that the relationship with Epstein could be damaging. In a letter reviewed by Bloomberg News, Fuller told Brunel that he was getting a “tremendous amount of worries from our clients” about the ties to Epstein, then went on to list as clients Nordstrom Inc., Macy’s Inc., Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney Co., Kohl’s Corp., Target Corp., Sears and Belk.The same year, a Nordstrom executive wrote a letter offering her “full and unqualified” support of Brunel’s application for a O-1 visa, the work permit the US government awards to “extraordinary individuals.”
Nordstrom declined to comment for this story; it last worked with MC2 in January 2017, according to a person familiar with the company’s model booking. J.C. Penney and Target declined to comment for this story. Neiman Marcus, Kohl’s, Sears and Belk did not respond to requests for comment. Saks doesn’t currently work with MC2, according to a person familiar with that company’s booking. Macy’s also said MC2 is not on its active roster, though it had been used “on a handful of very small projects,” company spokeswoman Blair Rosenberg said in an email. “The person who engaged them was not aware of the concerns.”
In December 2014, Brunel was accused of trafficking underage girls to “farm them out” to friends including Epstein, according to court documents filed by one of Epstein’s accusers. Brunel denied all trafficking claims in 2015 and hasn’t released a public statement since then.
Brunel and MC2 came back into the spotlight last month after allegations against Epstein resurfaced and cast a shadow on longtime associate Les Wexner, the CEO of L Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret. Wexner says his relationship with Epstein ended nearly 12 years ago. But the modelling agency and its owner had business relationships that extended far beyond L Brands. While the retailers that are said to have been clients of MC2 aren’t accused of wrongdoing, they join a long and growing list of powerful people and institutions in Epstein’s orbit.
It’s not clear how extensively or for how long the retailers worked with MC2, but the connections draw fresh scrutiny to the relationship retailers have with the modelling industry, which is largely unregulated. Retailers often work with several modelling agencies, using a casting director to determine who to book for fashion shows, catalog shoots and other projects. Sara Ziff, executive director of modelling advocacy group The Model Alliance, says retailers have the same obligation to models that apparel makers have to garment workers. “Retailers have an interest and responsibility to make sure that abuses aren’t happening on their watch,” she said. “It’s a workforce that’s uniquely vulnerable, and there’s a lack of accountability.” In fact, some stores have policies in place to protect employees, including contractors, like models, from abuse — a fact which concerned MC2 president Fuller, according to his email.
“It really worries me as some of those companies have disassociated themselves from what they believe to be questionable companies,” Fuller wrote in the 2014 email to Brunel. “So far that has not been a problem but it could come up in the future.”
It’s a workforce that’s uniquely vulnerable, and there’s a lack of accountability.
Brunel could not be reached for comment through multiple calls to MC2. He began his career in Paris in the mid-1970s; in the 1980s, he worked with Eileen Ford, modeling’s most prominent executive. She severed ties to Brunel after allegations of sexual assault surfaced in a 1988 report on his operations in Paris by the CBS News investigative program “60 Minutes.” In 1995, he founded an agency called Karin Models of America, which later became MC2, and at some point became friends with Epstein, who invested $1 million in his modelling business, according to a 2010 deposition by a former company bookkeeper. The agency has denied receiving such funds.
Brunel visited Epstein while he was in jail in 2008, according to visitor logs, and flight records show that he traveled on Epstein’s private jet along with Ghislaine Maxwell, the woman accused in civil lawsuits of procuring teenage girls for the financier. Epstein also allowed the agent to house models in a handful of Manhattan apartments, according to the bookkeeper’s statement.
One Nordstrom executive vouched for Brunel and his skills as a model scout. In 2014, Liza Maslow, Nordstrom’s lead model booker, sent a letter to US Citizenship and Immigration Services in support of Brunel’s application for a visa. In her letter, she wrote that “Mr. Jean Luc Brunel is an art director and talent coordinator of the highest caliber whose technical excellence and creative vision have lifted him to the top of his profession.”
Nordstrom declined to make Maslow available for an interview. Maslow didn’t respond to phone calls or social media messages seeking comment.
In 2015, Brunel sued Epstein, claiming that his former friend had ruined his reputation to the point that it was nearly impossible to run his modeling business. The suit was thrown out because Epstein was never served.
MC2 continues to do business out of offices in Miami and Tel Aviv. Brunel was searching for potential models on behalf of MC2 in Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia as recently as 2015, according to a promotional video recorded that fall. “My business partner Jean-Luc Brunel is one of the last legendary agents in the business and he’s highly involved in the recruitment and scouting of some of the best girls that we’ve been launching currently,” Fuller says in the video. “We’re launching just like a whole new crop of girls right now.”
Brunel has since disappeared from the public eye. His current whereabouts remain unknown.
By Kim Bhasin and Jordyn Holman, editor: Janet Paskin.