Skip to Content

Major Retailers Had ‘Tremendous’ Concerns About Fashion Model Scout’s Ties to Jeffrey Epstein

Several of the biggest retailers in the U.S., including Nordstrom, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Ave., and Neiman Marcus, were named as previous clients by the president of a modeling agency with deep ties to Jeffrey Epstein, as allegations of sex trafficking swirled around the financier and the firm.

Additionally, store officials five years ago were worried about Epstein's association with the agency, according to an internal agency letter.

The agency, MC2 Model Management, is owned by industry veteran Jean-Luc Brunel. His relationship to Epstein—who committed suicide last week— 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 U.S. government awards to “extraordinary individuals.” 

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.

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.”

Nordstrom shares rose 2.2% to $25.87 on Monday at 9:38 a.m. in New York. J.C. Penney was little changed at 61 cents and Target climbed 2.7% to $86.52. Macy’s rose 0.6% to $16.08, and Kohl’s jumped 2.8% to $46.76. 

Earlier accusations against Brunel

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 modeling agency and its owner had business relationships that extended far beyond L Brands.

Advocating for models

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 modeling industry, which is largely unregulated. Retailers often work with several modeling agencies, using a casting director to determine who to book for fashion shows, catalog shoots, and other projects. 

Sara Ziff, executive director of modeling 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.”

Brunel's ascendency as model scout

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 modeling 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 U.S. 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. 

More must-read stories from Fortune:

Walmart reports strong revenues under gun debate cloud
New era of fashion logos is driving creativity and business
H&M and Zara are closing stores to get ahead
—Hanging out with influencers at the Taco Bell Hotel
—Listen to our audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily
Follow Fortune on Flipboard to stay up-to-date on the latest news and analysis.