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‘ 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.

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