THE VIC­TO­RIAN ERA

As Vic­to­ria Beck­ham cel­e­brates the 10th an­niver­sary of her epony­mous la­bel, she is de­ter­mined to look for­ward and go her own way. By Tim Blanks. Styled by Chris­tine Cen­ten­era. Pho­tographed by Bibi Cornejo Borth­wick.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

As Vic­to­ria Beck­ham cel­e­brates the 10th an­niver­sary of her epony­mous la­bel, she is de­ter­mined to look for­ward and go her own way, writes Tim Blanks.

In April 2008, the fash­ion world didn’t yet know what to make of Vic­to­ria Beck­ham. She had aspi­ra­tions as a de­signer, but so did a dozen other celebri­ties ea­ger to amor­tise their pop­u­lar pro­files. Then sud­denly, sur­pris­ingly, she fronted the lat­est Juer­gen Teller-lensed cam­paign for Marc Ja­cobs, the unim­peach­able crown prince of cool at the time. Teller shot her knees-up in a gi­ant Marc bag, like she was … gasp! … mak­ing fun of her pub­lic im­age as pouty, flashy, fash­ion-ob­sessed Posh. Fast-for­ward a decade, Beck­ham’s back in the bag and Juer­gen Teller is once again the pho­tog­ra­pher. She has re­claimed and recre­ated that 2008 mo­ment for her­self. This time, it’s her ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign, her name on the bag. And now the fash­ion world knows just who she is. In hind­sight, they could have win­kled out all sorts of in­sights from that orig­i­nal shoot for Marc Ja­cobs: her am­bi­tion and fear­less­ness, her in­se­cu­rity and naivety and, above all, her sense of hu­mour. That will keep any­one sane dur­ing the most try­ing of times, but it has stood her in par­tic­u­larly good stead. In my var­i­ous en­coun­ters with Beck­ham over the years, I’ve al­ways walked away wish­ing that the cyn­ics and naysay­ers who’ve dogged her since the heady heights of the Spice Girls could see and ap­pre­ci­ate how funny she is, al­though I doubt even the drollest droll would soften the most trolling trolls. In that, Beck­ham re­minds me of Donatella Ver­sace, an­other pub­lic fig­ure who has weath­ered the sling­shots and ar­rows of celebrity while man­ag­ing to main­tain a healthy, hu­mor­ous per­spec­tive. Come to think of it, both women have adopted a sim­i­lar sur­vival strat­egy, a for­mi­da­ble pub­lic per­sona – Donatella the Blonde, Vic­to­ria the Glum – that ar­mours them against the out­side world and al­lows them to hide in pub­lic.

Beck­ham is cel­e­brat­ing her 10th an­niver­sary in busi­ness this year. “What I’ve ac­com­plished within 10 years is far more than I could have dreamed,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been do­ing this a life­time. I live and breathe this brand seven days a week: I never switch off, I never go on hol­i­day and turn my phone or email off. This is my fifth child.” A decade ago, Vic­to­ria Beck­ham the la­bel con­sisted of three peo­ple in a stu­dio in Lon­don’s Bat­tersea, on the other side of the river. The first time she vis­ited Net-A-Porter’s head­quar­ters in West Lon­don, Beck­ham fa­mously won­dered why she couldn’t have all that for her­self. All she had to do was work – and wait. The an­niver­sary year has seen spec­tac­u­lar de­vel­op­ments: a new CEO, Paolo Riva; a new chair­man, in­dus­try vet­eran Ralph Toledano; new in­vestors; and a new HQ. It’s an im­pres­sive multi-storey block in Ham­mer­smith, four min­utes by car from her home in Hol­land Park. “I have a park­ing space,” she mar­vels. The first time Beck­ham drove past the build­ing with her chil­dren, they WOW-ed. A hun­dred peo­ple work in­side, and she in­sists she knows each of them by name. “I work closely with ev­ery­one.”

The magic word in her new chap­ter is “strat­egy”. With a team of sea­soned pro­fes­sion­als ready to take her busi­ness to the next level, she says: “I feel I can re­ally put my foot on the gas. There is so much I want to do.” Look­ing around at her im­pres­sive new space, you can’t help but won­der what Beck­ham hoped for when she started. “I didn’t look that far into the fu­ture. I knew as a woman what I wanted and I couldn’t find it. There were just three of us; we weren’t de­vel­op­ing our own fab­rics then, and we had to be sen­si­ble. If we added a pocket de­tail, that put the price up. I was very much just go­ing sea­son to sea­son in­stead of look­ing at the big­ger pic­ture.”

Still, there was that fierce am­bi­tion. From the be­gin­ning, Beck­ham looked to the big Amer­i­can brands for in­spi­ra­tion, which is why she showed in New York. “The great thing about liv­ing in Amer­ica was show­ing in Amer­ica. Back then, it was a big­ger stage, there were more buy­ers go­ing to New York and you could start sell­ing im­me­di­ately af­ter the show.”

“There was a way in the in­dus­try of do­ing things,” she con­tin­ues. “I knew there were rules I had to abide by, but I wanted to be en­tre­pre­neur­ial and find dif­fer­ent ways of do­ing things. I was a pop star who turned into a fash­ion de­signer and I didn’t want to do things the same way ev­ery­one else was do­ing them. And prob­a­bly be­cause I was a lit­tle naive, I wasn’t scared to take on those chal­lenges in my own way.” I re­mem­ber when Beck­ham launched her first col­lec­tions, she would walk jour­nal­ists round the racks of clothes, en­thus­ing about the fab­ric and the de­tails like she was a fan rather than their de­signer. She won over the hardened press mavens.

One of the first items Beck­ham put her name to was nick­named ‘the sucky-sucky dress’, be­cause of the way it was fit­ted, to suck you in and hold you tight. “I wasn’t afraid to do that; it was prob­a­bly quite re­fresh­ing,” she says now. At the same time, she con­cedes that the way she dressed was prob­a­bly a sign of her in­se­cu­rity. “Now it’s less about me want­ing to be seen. It’s not so much about me, it’s about what I’m cre­at­ing for other women. When I used to go out, it was: ‘Watch what I eat for lunch, be­cause I’ve got a tight dress and I need a flat tummy.’ I mean, who can be both­ered with that now? I’m too busy. I’m older and things like that don’t mat­ter to me.”

This jour­ney – from in­se­cure fash­ion tyro to fig­ure­head of a busi­ness val­ued at £100 mil­lion when she sold a mi­nor­ity stake last year – has made Beck­ham em­blem­atic of her client base.

“I am my cus­tomer,” she agrees. And she ob­sesses over strik­ing the right bal­ance be­tween fash­ion and re­lata­bil­ity. “I’m very aware that peo­ple are go­ing to write about your col­lec­tion, and you need to have new­ness and fresh­ness, but when I look at the sales of my more ‘fash­ion-y’ sea­sons, my cus­tomer can’t nec­es­sar­ily re­late to those in the way the press can.” She men­tions a ven­ture into crushed vel­vet as one in­stance that didn’t click, but it’s those kind of risks that have brought her to her 10th-an­niver­sary col­lec­tion, where all things Beck­ham are dis­tilled into a highly re­lat­able pack­age.

She de­cided to show it in Lon­don, rather than New York, in Ga­lerie Thad­daeus Ropac, next door to her store. “It made sense for my 10th an­niver­sary. I’m from Eng­land, my brand is Bri­tish, I was ex­cited to cel­e­brate with fam­ily mem­bers who’ve never had a chance to see a show.” The show wasn’t a ret­ro­spec­tive, al­though it reg­is­tered the strong codes Beck­ham has es­tab­lished for her brand: the strik­ing use of colour, the wide trousers, the smart, busi­ness-y shirts and jack­ets, the sen­sual lay­er­ing, the im­pres­sive sense of a real wardrobe.

“I’ve al­ways said this is not a van­ity project for me: this is a busi­ness,” Beck­ham says deter­minedly. “Yes, I could very eas­ily put show­pieces in the col­lec­tion, but what’s the point?” Well, the point would be me, dy­ing to know what a Vic­to­ria Beck­ham show­piece would look like. “Oh, I don’t know. Drag out those old Spice Girls cos­tumes? Spice up your life!” She laughs heartily at the idea.

“You need new­ness and fresh­ness, but when I look at the sales of my more ‘fash­ion-y’ sea­sons, my cus­tomer can’t re­late to those in the way the press can”

And that in­tro­duces the ele­phant in the room. As much as she was an­tic­i­pat­ing her first show on Bri­tish soil, Beck­ham also ac­knowl­edged her strange re­la­tion­ship with the UK press. “Would I have the ca­reer I have now if I’d shown here first?” she mused. Rather than a pop star who turned into a fash­ion de­signer, it may make more sense to con­sider her the other way round, as a fash­ion de­signer who turned into a pop star. But the Spice Girls are never go­ing to go away, how­ever much Beck­ham be­came the woman who left the Spice Girl be­hind. She recog­nises as much when she says: “I knew as a woman what I wanted …” She pauses, looks slyly at me and adds: “…what I re­ally, re­ally wanted.” (By the way, she claims Wannabe was never a favourite.) “I al­ways wanted to do fash­ion, so I was lucky that mu­sic was never my main pas­sion. For the other girls it was. Ev­ery day some­one says: ‘Are you go­ing on tour? You’re the one who’s stop­ping it.’ For me, there was al­ways some­thing else I wanted to do. Plan B, phase two. Even when I was in the group, on tour, I was al­ways more in­ter­ested in not just the cos­tumes but the light­ing and the set de­sign. It was never just about get­ting on stage and danc­ing around.

“I was with El­ton John this week­end and I told him: ‘You’re the rea­son why I stopped the Spice Girls.’ I went to see him in Ve­gas in do­ing The Red Pi­ano, where David LaChapelle cu­rated the most in­cred­i­ble show with him, and I re­mem­ber sit­ting there very near to the front and look­ing at him singing those songs he’d sung time af­ter time, year af­ter year, and his pas­sion and his en­joy­ment was in­cred­i­ble, even af­ter all that time. And a few nights later, I was on stage at Madi­son Square Gar­den with the Spice Girls and I thought: ‘It’s al­most like a waste that I’m given this op­por­tu­nity. I ap­pre­ci­ate the time I’ve had with the girls, but I don’t have what El­ton can have af­ter all these years.’ There was noth­ing there, other than that my kids were in the au­di­ence and I wanted them to see Mummy do­ing the Spice Girls.”

Mummy’s been do­ing a lot of Spice Girls since then. Her seven-year- old, Harper, is ob­sessed with them. “While we were on hol­i­day, Spice World was on heavy ro­ta­tion on the iPad. When I filmed that, they made me wear a lit­tle army dress in­stead of the com­bat pants ev­ery­one else was wear­ing and I was re­ally up­set at the time be­cause my weight through­out the Spice Girls went up-down-up-down and I re­ally didn’t want to wear a tight lit­tle cam­ou­flage dress. But now Harper looks at it and she finds it re­ally hi­lar­i­ous. ‘Mummy, why are you wear­ing that minidress?’ You have a whole other ap­pre­ci­a­tion for that movie when you watch it years later.”

Beck­ham says Harper has also latched on to Spice World’s Posh-defin­ing Gucci dress mo­ment. “She does the dance and she says: ‘Is it a Gucci dress? Is it a Gucci dress? I want a lit­tle Gucci dress.’ And then she asks me: ‘Mummy, what’s a Gucci dress?’”

It must be quite bond­ing to have some­thing like Spice World as an aide­mem­oire for your kids, es­pe­cially when the hair and make-up of the 90s con­spired to make you look older than you do now. Maybe it’s kind of heal­ing as well. Beck­ham gets to sing and dance along with her daugh­ter to Spice Girls favourites. Her own per­sonal pick is Too Much, be­cause, she says, “you can get a nice, easy, lit­tle groove go­ing”, al­though she re­ally gave her all to Spice Up Your Life at a much-shared dance-off dur­ing her af­ter-show party at Mark’s Club.

Next on the agenda is Aus­tralia. David is go­ing to the In­vic­tus Games in Syd­ney, so they de­cided to make a fam­ily out­ing of it. “The only time I’ve been there be­fore was with the Spice Girls, 24 hours in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne,” Beck­ham says. “When you’re young and trav­el­ling the world like that, you’d sit in your ho­tel room and watch TV. When you’re older, you want to get out and see things.” She claims she’s a lit­tle ner­vous: a long jour­ney with kids, not know­ing what to ex­pect at the other end, al­though she says she has very good cus­tomers in Aus­tralia, some of whom made the trip to see her an­niver­sary show in Lon­don. I don’t know why she’s wor­ried. The Beck­ham brood was al­ways fa­mously the best-be­haved in the busi­ness. Brook­lyn, now 19, is in­tern­ing with pho­tog­ra­pher Nick Knight in Lon­don. Romeo, 16, wants to do “some­thing in tennis”. Cruz, 13, plays gui­tar and pi­ano, and writes his own songs. And Harper, ac­cord­ing to her mum, wants to be an in­ven­tor. Not one of them is in­ter­ested in foot­ball, Beck­ham adds a lit­tle rue­fully. You have to feel for David.

Their fam­ily is tes­ta­ment to the strength of a re­la­tion­ship that has been as ruth­lessly scru­ti­nised as any other in pop cul­ture. Track Beck­ham’s life through the tabloids and it’s clear she’s one of those pap mag­nets who is a per­ma­nent tar­get. Is that some­thing she’s been able to ig­nore with age and wis­dom? “I have a lot of PR peo­ple I just trust to deal with it,” she says with a tinge of droll res­ig­na­tion. “What you do have to take into con­sid­er­a­tion is the older you get the older your chil­dren get, and they go on­line and see things that are hurt­ful, es­pe­cially when it’s per­sonal stuff. It’s frus­trat­ing when things get twisted, be­cause peo­ple can make you out to be a real arse. And I don’t like it when it de­tracts from what I’m ac­tu­ally do­ing.”

I would imag­ine be­ing a com­po­nent of Brand Beck­ham would con­stantly in­vite that sit­u­a­tion.

“As in the two of us to­gether, or me and the as­so­ci­a­tion with the Spice Girls, it does ab­so­lutely,” she agrees, “be­cause then you get the tabloid frenzy and it takes it some­where else. I had a lunch with the Spice Girls a few months ago to see how ev­ery­body was, things spi­ralled out of con­trol, and I had my lawyer try­ing to beat down sto­ries that were com­pletely lu­di­crous. It was a re­minder of how aw­ful that was. I work re­ally, re­ally hard and if I’m re­ally proud of what I’ve done and the head­lines are some­thing ridicu­lous. It is frus­trat­ing, be­cause it’s not just me, it’s the hard work of a lot of other peo­ple.”

Still, time has passed. There aren’t 40 paps fol­low­ing the Beck­hams on the school run ev­ery morn­ing any longer. “And I think peo­ple know me so much more through so­cial me­dia,” she says, “rather than back in the day where they’d see a pic­ture of me walk­ing out of an air­port look­ing mis­er­able. For so many years, peo­ple thought I was this mis­er­able stuck-up bitch who thought she was bet­ter than any­one, so when you are not that per­son, it’s quite dis­arm­ing.”

Dis­arm­ing. Yes, that’s the word. Ar­rive with a pre­con­cep­tion and Vic­to­ria Beck­ham will strip it away with a smile. I ask her if there was ever a mo­ment in the past 10 years when she felt she’d made it … re­ally, re­ally made it. “I still don’t think the penny has dropped,” she an­swers. “There have been great mo­ments along the way, win­ning awards, sell­ing well, but for me, get­ting suc­cess is one thing and main­tain­ing it is some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. I’m al­ways head down, fo­cussed, on to the next thing.” She’s still the girl in the bag, fear­less, a lit­tle in­se­cure and funny as hell.

“For so many years, peo­ple thought I was this mis­er­able stuck-up bitch who thought she was bet­ter than any­one, so when you are not that per­son, it’s quite dis­arm­ing”

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