To celebrate 10 years of the brand, five top industry insiders reveal how Victoria Beckham won hearts and minds…
Never in the history of fashion had a designer’s inaugural collection been anticipated with such suspicion. And yet, Victoria Beckham (after ten years) has carved an incredible career that many refuted before she’d even sent her first collection out onto the runway.
Here, five top industry insiders reveal how she won over our hearts and minds forevermore.
2008 - 2010 Beginnings
Lisa Armstrong, head of fashion at The Telegraph: I was there at the beginning. I remember going to the presentation of her first dress collection, at the Waldorf Astoria in September 2008. At the time, she was a celebrity, and there were loads of celebrities doing collections.
Caroline Rush, CEO, British Fashion Council: She chose to show in New York. I think perhaps being away from home, somewhere she was not as well known as a pop star, gave her a bit more space than starting here.
Armstrong: It was unusual, because she would have groups of six or eight people up to her suite at a time. There was a rail of clothes and there was Victoria, and she talked us through it. She was obviously nervous, but it was quite discombobulating because she knew a lot about her clothes and how they’d been constructed. That shouldn’t have surprised us but it did, because we were so used to this endless cycle of cynically launched celebrity labels.
Nobody was under any illusions that she was sewing dresses herself, but as someone who had worn loads of couture, she knew how a dress should fit. She knew that when you wore something that was, say, strapless, it would need to have internal corsetry. She’d obviously made it her business to find out what needed to be done to make those dresses work.
We came out and people were saying, “God, that’s really quite nice – I would buy it.” But then, “Would you wear something by a Spice Girl?” It sounds so snotty, but Victoria didn’t have a particularly stylish reputation at that point, if you remember. But then her line was very well-made and very impressive; it was bodycon, but the dresses were elegant.
Lydia King, womenswear buying director for Selfridges: The silhouette of those early collections was ultra-fitted, from shoulder line to below the knee. The colour palette was monochrome with a splash of colour, fabrics were rich and the styling was influenced by Victoria’s personal style of that moment. We had customers constantly asking for these power dresses.
Guido Palau, global creative director for Redken: I’ve done the hair for nearly all of Victoria’s shows. At the beginning it was very stressful for her, and she was nervous because she was trying to establish herself. Who was her person, her muse? What would her model look like? She had to define everything about her brand and find her way.
Armstrong: She completely disarmed the press over those first few seasons. She spoke in quite a humble way and she didn’t seem to bear anyone any grudges – I’m sure we’d all written cheeky stuff about her style on our pages, but she’d obviously chosen to forget all that. She had time to talk to everybody. I think she was smart enough to know that she would have to prove herself.
King: She genuinely is passionate about her product and cares deeply. Not all designers do, actually. You know, she’ll come and explain the collection, she’ll take the feedback, she’ll look for ways to add in new categories.
Rush: She quickly went into leather goods – her first handbags launched at the end of 2010 – and she really started building on offering more than just a ready-to-wear collection.
2011 - 2013 Establishing the brand
Armstrong: Gradually over the seasons, she would do bigger presentations with more models, but she would still sit there and talk you through it, answering questions about the colours, the shapes and the fabrics.
Palau: Somehow I think she still doesn’t feel that she does big fashion shows. I think she feels that they’re still quite intimate gatherings. Her family often pop backstage. They’re very close and supportive. I think that’s what’s so nice about Victoria – she wears so many different hats and she does them all so well, and then she completely becomes a mum and a wife just before her show.
Armstrong: You see all the Beckhams turn up. She’s always been savvy enough to know that people would ask her about David, or about the children, or what her exercise routine was, and she would answer. It’s a clever combination of being about Victoria and the Beckhams, and also being a proper line that can stand on its own. And when you went backstage… crikey, it was easier to get to Victoria Beckham, who was at one point one of the most famous people in the world, than it was to get to some designers who no one had heard of outside the industry.
Palau: Over time her shows have developed a Victoria Beckham look, which is very minimal, still very rich, still glamorous but in a pared down way. I always think the beauty look at her shows is like an amazing cashmere jumper – it’s luxurious and it’s perfect, but it’s so effortless that people don’t know why it’s so special.
King: She launched her diffusion line Victoria, Victoria Beckham in 2011, which opened her brand up to more customers. She’s been very discerning, because sometimes with diffusion lines it can look like a cheap copy of the real thing, but I don’t think that’s the case here. It’s more about a casual wardrobe, whereas her main line is more of a sophisticated take on workwear and evening dressing. Other designers have misjudged it and have seen one of their lines decline as a result, but she hasn’t.
Rush: In 2011, she won Designer Brand of the Year at the British Fashion Awards. Our awards are voted for by the industry, so it was incredible to see her having gone from facing a little bit of cynicism to really being celebrated. I could see how touched she was. I think she’s become braver over the years as she’s felt more comfortable. If you see the collections now, they’ve become more experimental, more relaxed. That reflects changes in the way that women dress anyway, and I think Victoria’s very good at being in tune with that.
King: Around her brand’s fifth birthday in 2013, she started to explore menswear silhouettes; the highlight was the coats. The best came in a checked tweed on top and Yves Klein-blue pony hair below the hips. It was her first exploration into knitwear, separates and trousers, and the biggest surprise of all was her embracing longer lengths, which have been a hit with customers ever since. I think that’s when she really opened another dimension to the collection. Her colour choices also really evolved – you know, she’s worn mustard recently, for example, whereas in the beginning it was hotter colours like fuchsia. On a personal level, I’ve found her really relaxed. She strikes me as quite a woman’s woman. There’s always going to be tabloid chat, but I don’t think a modern woman would look at her and draw the conclusions that a tabloid might. So what if she’s not always smiling? Maybe it’s because she knows that she’s going to be on the front page the next day.
Palau: She has a great sense of humour. I know that’s often not how people see her, but she really has. In a very British way, even in a tense situation she’s able to see a fun side to it, so she’s great to work with. We’re always having a giggle.
2014 - Looking to the future
Rush: A lot of designers get to the 10-year mark before they think about their own stores, but Victoria opened her boutique in 2014 [the same year she also won the prestigious Brand of the Year award at the BFAs]. It’s a beautiful store and entertaining space on Dover Street in London. You could see how proud she was at that opening, walking us through all the details and the consideration that had gone into how her customer was going to interact with it.
Farshid Moussavi, architect of Victoria Beckham’s flagship store: It’s quite a different store to others I see, which are treated too much as a depot for all the pieces they have produced for a particular season. The Victoria Beckham store has really been designed with a visitor in mind. It’s playful but also generous and inviting.
Victoria was always there and very much involved. She seemed excited about taking this step, and she wanted to do it the right way, and make it as high quality as possible. But quality doesn’t mean you throw a lot of different kinds of marble in there. It was about doing the right thing for the brand. She has a clear idea of what she wants, which I think is needed, but I was impressed by her openness and also her ability to make decisions, to take risks.
King: Her brand comes from an authentic place. She encapsulates that busy working mother. She’ll say, “This fabric doesn’t crease” or “I’d like a pocket here” – she identifies with a functional yet sophisticated female customer. Whenever she wears something from the collection, we get inundated with women asking for it. We have a waiting list for the cape dress she wore to the royal wedding.
Armstrong: She’s got currency. When she did a collection for Target [in 2017], it sold out; when she did the collaboration with Estée Lauder [in 2016], the make-up was really good. When she linked up with Sotheby’s to host an Old Masters exhibition, it got lots of publicity. After 10 years, she’s shaken off the Spice Girls image and I think her future is bright.
Rush: We’re absolutely delighted that she’s coming back and celebrating her 10th anniversary at London Fashion Week.
Palau: She’s a British designer, so it’s really great that she’s showing in England. She’s a big designer now and I think it’s great for London Fashion Week.
Palau: She’s immensely strong. She has faith in herself. To have had that other career and turned it around, it’s very admirable. A lot of people would’ve run away from that challenge, but she rose to it. She’s surprised a lot of people.
Images: Getty / Rex Features
Photography: George Pedersen