THE HIGHS, THE LOWS – AND WHY HER NEXT MOVE MATTERS
‘ She’s a mix of nerves and knowledge’
Next week is Victoria Beckham’s 10th anniversary as a designer – a move she’s marking with a hot-ticket show at LFW. Laura Craik, who was at her first ever presentation, gives an insight into the success of her fashion empire
If I’m honest, I can’t really remember the clothes. Ten years is a long time, and I’ve watched thousands of outfits trotting up and down catwalks since 5 September 2008, the date when Victoria Beckham unveiled her first collection, for spring/summer 2009. But I do remember one thing. She was nervous – far more nervous than we’d expected a Spice Girl who’d routinely performed in front of thousands to be. Then again, this was a performance of a different sort. There may only have been a handful of us, but we were fashion editors. And if there’s one thing fashion editors don’t take kindly to, it’s celebrities moonlighting as designers when they really should stay in their lane.
Victoria Beckham didn’t stay in her lane, though – instead, she created a new one. In the Venn diagram of Pop Stars Who Have Successfully Gone On To Helm a Credible Fashion Label, she stands alone. The fashion world is littered with failures. So how did she succeed? Plenty of people are wealthy, but their fashion brand isn’t stocked in 400 stores in 50 countries. Plenty of people are famous, but they haven’t translated fame into a £36m* business spanning womenswear, shoes, bags, denim and eyewear.
The first thing to note is that Victoria was always careful to work with the best in their fields. Roland Mouret introduced her to two of her early team members, who did design and pattern cutting. And in the years since, she’s tapped into Katie Hillier’s bag expertise and Joe Mckenna’s styling prowess. Christian Louboutin collaborated on footwear, as did Manolo Blahnik. But collaborations alone do not a successful brand make. Crucially, Victoria was always at the heart of it. ‘She has had to overcome a lot of preconceptions,’ says WGSN’S Anna Ross. ‘Her success boils down to a steady formula of determination, great design and a strong team. She prides herself on being
intimately involved in every process – she’s not just a name on a label.’
Having watched her fashion evolution, I’d put her success down to the three Hs: honesty, humility and hard work. From her very first collection, Victoria has been an endearing mix of nerves and knowledge and knew the cut, construction and fabric details of her collections inside out. ‘I should bloody hope so, she designed them,’ you might cry. But you’d be surprised by how many big-name designers feel exponentially more removed from their own design process than she.
For Victoria, honesty has always been the best policy. In admitting her nerves, worries and failings, she endeared herself to the fashion press and customers alike. ‘Do I draw?’ she said in 2008. ‘No. Then again, nor do lots of designers. But I put it all on and walk around in it. I know what feels comfortable. I know how a dress should sit.’
Her humility has been crucial in conquering an industry where the right to appear arrogant must be earned. It was smart to make her first presentation so small: compare this with the Paris extravaganza that was Kanye West’s first fashion show, almost universally panned because the clothes failed to live up to the hype. But it was Victoria’s second show that was arguably the most deftly handled. A much grander affair with hundreds of guests, proper models and a catwalk, it started with her describing the first look over a microphone before she was ‘accidentally’ cut off by music. The faux pas was endearing and the show was well-received, leaving her free to pursue the same format as her designer peers – only with the added bonus of the Beckham family photogenically installed front row. That their presence coincided with Twitter and, later, Instagram, truly taking off created a perfect storm of positive publicity. In September 2013, when a tiny Harper made her debut appearance on the FROW, Victoria could have put a sequinned merkin down the catwalk and the audience would have cheered.
Back in 2008, Victoria had no more clue than the rest of us how social media would come to dominate our lives, or how the built-in narrative behind her brand was so
perfectly poised to drive it. All brands know the importance of ‘storytelling’ these days. Few have such compelling stories as Brand Beckham. A Spice Girl who married a footballer, quit singing, built a successful fashion empire and popped out four kids? It doesn’t get more social media-friendly than that. So what if the tabloids haven’t always been kind? On Instagram, a celebrity can always be on-message and on-brand.
If anyone is the best advertisement for her brand, it’s Victoria Beckham. ‘ We often see the best reaction to styles Victoria herself has worn,’ confirms Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net-a-porter, which has stocked the brand since 2012. ‘ Victoria has a great sense of style, which really impacts our sales.’ Anyone who remembers Victoria and David’s matching head-to-toe leathers will agree that it wasn’t ever thus. But even Wag-era Victoria is now regarded fondly: her transformation is relatable, even if her jet-set life is not.
And in the flesh, Victoria is surprisingly relatable, too – the opposite of the frosty, unsmiling character of the tabloids. Witty, self-deprecating and sharp as a tack, in the restaurant of life, you’d want her on your table. In all the times I’ve met her, she’s never been less than friendly, funny and open. (Apart from when I asked about Meghan and Harry’s wedding – she knows when to be discreet.)
In two weeks, she will unveil her S/S ’19 collection at London Fashion Week – in front of a tougher audience than she’s used to in New York. Showing in London makes sense: she lives here, her studio is here, and the fact she is slated to appear on the October cover of British Vogue proves she is being welcomed back with open arms. With new CEO Paolo Riva (most recently of DVF) and a beauty line in the works, insiders say the change of show location marks a new chapter, as well as cementing her status as a serious player.
Is she nervous? Undoubtedly. Will she ace it? Undoubtedly. She’d be the first to admit she never felt fully happy as a singer (‘I was never going to give Mariah any competition,’ she famously said). But on the catwalk, Victoria has definitely found her voice.