Victoria Beckham is much nicer than anticipated. With the nonpareil combination of Spice Girl ubiquity, marriage to an adored ex-footballer, and now credible fashion designer, you might presume this got-lucky ex-pop star to be beyond modesty, but that certainly isn’t the case. Whatever your assumptions, be prepared to warm to this most blessed of modern celebrities.
I first met Victoria—not that we’re on first name terms—in 2014, on a closed-set shoot for Vogue Paris, where a revered team of image-makers styled her into the type of bon chic, confident woman she has since morphed into. Husband David lingers on the sidelines, as shy and demure as she is confident and vocal. He is unfailingly lovely, cracking bad jokes and making builder’s tea for the workers, an ear pressed almost permanently to his rose gold iPhone. Wherever the Beckham’s roam, it’s invariably a family affair, and the kids are in tow today. They are undoubtedly the celebrity brand, but as witnessed this day, they are very much a family first. Her PA confides to me that Beckham is her most relaxed when surrounded by this good looking clan; and in private moments, with the paps at bay, she wears a permanent grin, born one presumes, from the fruits of her success.
The woman formerly known as Posh was all smiles on this occasion, bounding up to greet me like an old friend with a secret to divulge. “I’m going to be 40-years-old soon!” she blurts. “What the hell is that all about? David can’t stop reminding me, which is making it worse, but I suppose I’ll get used to it.” I tell her it’s impossible that she is forty, which goes down rather well, but it’s true. She is silly and giddy and bends over laughing at her own jokes. It’s endearing to witness. She’s the kind of girl you could have a few drinks with, then ask to spill the beans on Elton.
The voice is estuary nasal and distinctly unmodified. Posh Spice was never really posh at all. Her father, Tony, a former engineer, once owned a Rolls-Royce, so the ‘stuck-up’ tag was an easy one to bestow. Plus she was the Spice Girl who wore all the designer dresses, and where that leads to, heaven only knows? We chat about the pictures, the clothes she’s wearing—her own designs, Isabel Marant trousers, a soupçon of Gucci—and the fact the make-up artist has been singing 2 Become 1 all afternoon, “to put me off, no doubt”. Looking disarmingly short in her bare feet—she is 5'4" sans stilettos—but infinitely happier and more natural than I’ve ever seen her, here was a women celebrating career, life and family. Like you would if you were Victoria Beckham.
Fast forward two years, and things, on the surface, look relatively as good. Victoria Beckham the high fashion brand has confounded the critics with its wearability and press adulation. Editors who once scoffed at this unfashionable interloper are now beginning to warm to her designs. “Victoria knew she had to prove herself as a creative designer in the fashion industry,” says Glenda Bailey, editor in chief at Harper’s Bazaar. “She did it the right way, starting really small, surrounding herself with the right people … an excellent design team who helped her turn that passion into a successful business.”
Sales of Beckham’s clothes reached critical mass, in terms of both volume and press attention. Four years earlier she won Best Designer Brand at the British Fashion Awards, and since then her bodycon dresses have evolved into a more varied and larger collection that aims to compete with rival Brit-girl designers Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo. She established both credibility and gravitas. Elle UK called her “a blend of cold insouciance and smoldering, wouldn’t-you-like-to-know glamour”.
In February 2017, rehearsing the Autumn/Winter collection in New York, Beckham looks less confident. She stands in the wings, pulling on the neck of her cashmere roll neck, then lifting it nervously over her chin like a comfort blanket. Nothing is assured with a fashion show and the tension today is palpable. The clothes look sharp—both edited and editorial. These, she says repeatedly “… are real clothes for real women. I think my customer truly appreciates quality within design—a clever cut, the feel of a fabric, how something fits on the body. But I wouldn’t limit my customer to one specific type of woman. I like to think I offer something for a whole range of women, all leading different lives. Ultimately, I would say my customer is a strong woman who appreciates fashion. Whoever she is, I just want to make her feel incredible in what she’s wearing—beautiful and empowered, that’s what really matters to me.”
Empowered. Beckham likes that word. It’s been her recurring bon mot this season. I think she’s referring to the fact that her customer base feel stronger just by dint of looking good. Which makes a kind of sense. She talks about “being conscious of the body, rather than body conscious,” about the clothes she designs being clothes that she would genuinely want to wear herself. “It’s all about the working woman,” she says, “someone always on the move, with the sense of escapism that brings. These are clothes for tough times, there are no show pieces here. I’ll say it again, these clothes are for real women.”
After the show, I venture the subject of Beckham’s plans to reposition herself for a new market. “I’ve been thinking how great it would be to work on clothes for a customer that either doesn’t want to, or can’t afford to, pay designer prices for a while now. We recently announced that I’m doing a collection with Target … which will really open the brand up to a wider audience. Target is a company based on accessibility and inclusiveness, so I’m very excited to be able to share my fashion vision with a broader customer base.”
There’s a lot of airy fashion speak being offered, but business is business after all. The admirable thing about Beckham is her resilience to criticism. Lesser spirits would have been crushed under the weight of vilification, the main charge being, how can an ex-pop star become a designer with no formal training, aside from wearing clothes herself? But isn’t that the point? You don’t need to make patterns to design clothes, ask any number of her peers, most of whom are rarely levelled with the same amount of scepticism.
She’s right though, her clothes are becoming less formal and structured, more thrown together. They appear effortless and easy going, and yes they could be for the working woman, if that woman works at an uptown architectural practice, or happens to be Victoria Beckham herself. I note the transition from vertiginous heels to flat pumps. Who could imagine this spindle-heeled shoe maven coming down to earth? Wearing a simple leather sandal today, she unearths a sweet sexuality that’s far more authentic than those former dominatrix spikes. “Sexy is about the way you wear something and being confident,” she observes. “I’ve said right from the beginning it’s very important clothes are flattering. I want a woman to look and feel like the best version of herself.”
Beckham is notably appreciative of the team around her—a crack squad of professionals who guide her work into a cooler, more edgy context. Stylist Joe McKenna adds subtle, louche touches of his own look into the mix; make-up is by the intuitive Pat McGrath; while hair guru Guido Palau works an air-dried natural look. “Victoria listens to other people’s opinions and has learnt that team work is key in this industry,” says Palau, who has worked on Beckham’s shows from the beginning. “No designer I collaborate with—whether that’s Marc Jacobs, Miuccia Prada or Donatella Versace—decides everything, that would be foolish. The most intelligent designers hire people they admire and trust.”
The end of 2016 saw Beckham lambasted in the press for talking about her OBE before it had been officially announced. A series of pernicious articles followed, questioning her suitability for such a title. What had she done to deserve this? The underlying tone was jealous snobbery. Victoria’s glitz-pop background and mastery of the fame game was deemed tacky and déclassé. Nobody can be that successful, surely? With her usual aplomb, Beckham navigated the minefield with poise. It was business as usual.