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Fashion has its quirks, which can make for quirky milestones. Just ask Victoria Beckham, she of the self-named fashion label which, since its launch in 2007, has surprised some observers and shocked others with its steady growth and its considerable chic. Beckham herself, whose entrée into fashion was greeted with the same critical eye rolls that accompany most celebrity fashion launches, has proven herself deadly serious — and an impressive designer and businesswoman. The lady knows what she’s doing, and what she doesn’t know, she’s taking the time and care to learn.
This story first appeared in the November 8, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The anchor of her business, her dress collection, has grown with each season and has found favor with major retailers from Net-a-porter — her number one — to Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Harrods, and she just launched handbags. As for that off-beat milestone, in a conversation following her terrific spring show, Beckham noted a unique consistency in her reviews: “When I looked at the reviews this season, very few even mentioned the Spice Girls, very few mentioned that I was a footballer’s wife.”
WWD: How do you assess where you and the company are now, both creatively and in terms of the business?
Victoria Beckham: We have grown as a business quite incredibly over the last five seasons. The first season we made 400 pieces. This season, we’re up to 2,000 pieces, so we’ve worked at a slow but steady pace. I travel a fair amount to London, every month, and then I also have a lot of my team come to L.A. — thank goodness for Skype — that helps out a lot. And adding a new product category [handbags] has been very exciting for me.
WWD: The bags look great.
V.B.: The response has been quite incredible. We’ve just finished our selling campaign [for dresses and bags] and the orders are great. We’re up 64 percent from last year. In the future, I want to add some more retail partners to our list; I want to be able to give my existing retailers more stock, because what we’re giving them at the moment is still not satisfying them.
WWD: You continue to produce in England, correct?
V.B.: All of the dresses are made in England. I want to keep the same quality — I don’t want to compromise at all. The handbags are all made in Italy. I’m trying to think what else has changed over the years — I’m still a pain in the neck to everybody who works with me. I am a perfectionist and a control freak. I give 110 percent when I go to work, and I expect that from the people that work with me. I have a fantastic team — a very, very small team, but a fantastic team.
WWD: Describe your design ethos, your aesthetic.
V.B.: I think it is constantly evolving. I have really enjoyed loosening up the clothes because that’s what I want to wear now — that feels more modern. I appreciate that my customers still want a fitted Victoria Beckham dress. That is very much our signature silhouette and that’s what my customer wants, so each season we produce those dresses, but I want something that’s looser. Is it because I’m getting older? I don’t know. I think it’s just because it feels more modern. It feels more comfortable, less uptight. I think I feel very satisfied with myself where I am in my personal life and also, professionally, so maybe that’s why I feel more inclined to really loosen it up. I’m happy to challenge my figure — it’s not all about “Do I look as small as I can look?” It’s just about wearing something comfortable and chic. It just feels like a much more modern attitude. Even with the styling, whether I’m wearing my own design or somebody else’s design, it’s less about being matchy-matchy. I like things that are quite often wrong — things that clash, or are a little less expected.
WWD: Your clothes are obviously very different from Donna’s and Vera’s. But it seems that in one way, your approaches are the same: You design clothes that work for you as a consumer.
V.B.: I design everything on myself. I’m not following trends. I’m not looking at what colors other people are using. I use the colors that I like, that I’m going to wear, and absolutely everything is made on me — that’s the way that we work. I don’t work with a fit model. That was part of what was so exciting for me when I saw the purple dress on the cover of WWD and I looked at where that dress started out — that started out as me with a meter and a half of parachute silk, standing in front of the mirror, literally draping it on myself, and tying it, tying it in a knot and saying to my team, “What do you think?”
WWD: You talked about adding different product categories. Do you see adding sportswear to the dresses? Knits?
V.B.: Obviously, we have the denim line. [Otherwise] I think at the moment I want to stick to dresses. I think that’s what my customer wants. I’d love to add coats, for example. And knits at some point. But it’s just about doing it in the right way.
WWD: What appeals to you and to other women about wearing dresses?
V.B.: To put on a dress is a lot easier than putting on separates because you don’t have to think about it. You can literally step into one of my dresses, you can zip it up, and you can go. Also, I think it’s good value when you buy a dress. And, I think a lot of the dresses work for day and also for evening.
WWD: Talk about the jeans line. The original label DBV no longer exists; everything is now under Victoria Beckham. Other changes?
V.B.: The jeans are doing really well, as are the sunglasses. I mean, the dresses are always going to be my baby, but everything else is doing very, very well. The denim is all made in Italy now. It’s good quality and people are really liking it.
WWD: Let’s talk about your growth as a designer. Do you feel that you’ve shed the “celebrity-designer” mantle?
V.B.: I do. I’m constantly trying to better myself. I will probably think that those preconceptions are there more than they actually are because I’m a perfectionist and I’m constantly trying to better myself. I’m constantly trying to evolve….I think the product has really spoken for itself, the sell-through has spoken for itself. Most pieces actually have sold before they’ve even made it to the shop floor.
WWD: When you launched, you did so with a W story that very much played on your marriage and who you are as a celebrity couple. Was that a conscious decision to flaunt your celebrity and then withdraw from it?
V.B.: No, not at all. We were moving to America. We were very, very excited to be coming and then the opportunity came up with W, a magazine that we both loved, and with Steven Klein, a photographer that David had worked with previously but I hadn’t, so I was very excited to work with him. It just seemed like the right thing to do then. Would it be the right thing now? I’m not so sure, but at the time, it really worked and I thought it looked great. I’m such a huge fan of Steven Klein and I think he really captured both of us and our personalities.
WWD: When you launched the dresses, you did so quietly, in appointments in a suite at the Waldorf rather than with a big splashy show. Do you think that the quiet approach helped in the credibility department?
V.B.: I think that I’ve benefitted from doing it in this way. It was really important because of my past that people really understood my involvement, my knowledge, and that they understood the clothes as well. Certain things are very much trademarks. [For example], seaming details. Goodness, a lot of these things I’ve gone on so much about, but if I wasn’t speaking about those things, people wouldn’t have been aware of them. They wouldn’t have understood the quality, which is such a huge part of what I’m doing. At some point, I would really like to do a big show. I’m just not ready for it yet. I’m very optimistic but I’m also really realistic.
WWD: Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani each had big shows early on. Did you consciously say, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t think it worked for them,” or was that not on your radar?
V.B.: I’m friends with a lot of these women, but no, I never really looked at what they did. I always had a lot of respect for what they do. I think one of the big differences is that they are predominantly actresses or singers, whereas this is what I do. I’m not doing anything else. This really is my passion. I’m incredibly focused on what I’m doing. It’s my family, and it’s my design work — there’s nothing else there. And I’ve done it differently from everybody else.
WWD: At what point did you know that you were a fashion girl at heart?
V.B.: Probably when I was at school and I used to customize the school uniform during recess. I’ve always loved fashion. It’s always been my main passion. The music was great. It was fun, but it was always really the fashion that captured my heart, from a very early age.
WWD: You mentioned earlier that you still wear other designers’ clothes.
V.B.: I will always wear other people’s clothes. I like to mix it up. There are so many incredible designers out there doing incredible things and I don’t want to wear my own clothes all the time.
WWD: Whose clothes do you wear now, other than your own?
V.B.: I really like Isabel Marant for during the day. It’s casual; it’s not too complicated; it’s comfortable. I’m always going to love Alaïa, Prada. It’s bits and pieces. I like to go out, have a look around the shops and pull things from lots of different designers. I also like to really support young designers. There [are] some great young British designers that I really enjoy wearing their clothes.
WWD: Can you name some of them?
V.B.: Richard Nicoll — he’s been around for some time now. I love to wear Giles [Deacon]. I’m trying to think on the top of my head.
WWD: Do you listen to the stores? Do you take retailers’ opinions to heart? Do you ignore them?
V.B.: I have a really good relationship with all of my stores. I love to do store events that aren’t press events. It gives me the opportunity to really get in the fitting room with my customer. I do that with the sunglasses, I do it with the denim, and I also do it with the dresses. I want their feedback. I want to give my customer what she wants each season. I also want to get to know the people that are selling my dresses. So it’s a very big part of what I do — traveling around to all the different territories and speaking to the people selling the dresses and actually, like I said, really getting on my knees and turning up the hems of the dresses. I take all the feedback into account and take it back to my team. I’m never offended by anything; I really appreciate constructive criticism. The one comment that keeps coming back is, “We want more” — more than advice on how I can improve what I’m giving them. A few of them, like I said, do want exclusives, and that’s always fun.”
WWD: That’s very interesting. Only a few years ago, you sat with the major retailers in the front row of many shows. After the spring 2008 season, you were on the cover of WWD Scoop at the Oscar de la Renta show. Do you miss going to shows?
V.B.: I always went to the fashion shows because I love fashion and I found it so exciting. I never, ever went to “be seen.” I never meant to be the celebrity sitting in the front row. I mean, I am a celebrity so that was often the way it came across, but I was there because it’s my passion and I love the energy. And I also love to support many of my friends. I’ve been to lots of Marc Jacobs shows. He’s a very, very dear friend of mine. So I go and support other designers. It’s increasingly difficult for me to do that now because I have my own collection. So what I’m doing, I’m doing in a very different way. I [show] at the start of fashion week. I do it in a very humble way, and I like to get out of the way of all the “big guys,” if you like. I’m very respectful that the industry has welcomed me and has been so kind.
WWD: I read something you said a while back, that you think the fashion-music connection has weakened in recent years, that there’s little good fashion in music these days. Do you still think that’s true?
V.B.: Absolutely. I can’t think of anybody that is particularly relevant, fashionwise, in music. I think there are lots of music artists out there who are trying to be relevant fashionwise, but I can’t think of any that I would necessarily want to dress [or] that really excites me.
WWD: What do you think of Lady Gaga?
V.B.: I think she is obviously incredibly, very, very talented. She writes all of her songs, she can really sing. She is a phenomenon.
WWD: How about fashionwise?
V.B.: I have a lot of respect that she can walk in those shoes going through airports. I mean, goodness, people think I dress up to go to an airport! I think she’s really doing her thing. That’s her. If I’m being completely honest, is it fair to say she may have become a little bit of a parody of herself? Is that fair to say? I don’t want to seem like I’m being negative in any way, because I have so much respect for her.
WWD: Apart from Lady Gaga, do you think fashion’s obsession with celebrity has lead to a watering down of fashion — the tail wagging the dog, and it’s often a boring tail?
V.B.: No. When I see a celebrity wearing one of my dresses, I’m really, really excited. I want to make women look and feel beautiful. When I have a lady who is not only looking and feeling beautiful but is photographed, and people have a lot of respect for what she wears, I’m really excited about that. I guess it depends on the caliber of actress or singer that you have your clothes on.
WWD: Do you have any fashion pet peeves?
V.B.: I do not like all these big shoulders. And I’m always going to be slightly freaked out by cropped tops. I think when you get above the age of about seven you should not do that. I just think it’s really important to really dress in an appropriate way for who you are and for your age.
WWD: You come across as a very happy person. Do you have to work at it or does it come naturally?
V.B.: I am just a really happy person. When I get up in the morning, I get up, I get the kids ready for school, we have breakfast. I’m a really good morning person. I like to set everybody up for the day. So I get the kids excited for the day….David is with a sore head in the morning and I’m the complete opposite. I want to start as I mean to go on. And we have music on in the house. I’m very, very upbeat; I’m a very positive person. I’ve got three amazing kids, a wonderful husband — they all really make me laugh.
WWD: Do you pay attention to the tabloids?
V.B.: No, I don’t. I mean, it’s very difficult, because — there’s lots of great stuff in the tabloids. I try to not pay too much attention to it because when it’s positive, it’s great. But then I’ve also been on the other side of it where it’s not so positive and it’s not so great. So I really do take it with a pinch of salt. I have a great team of people that do pay attention to the tabloids and they go through them with a fine-tooth comb. But I’m not that person at all. I really do focus on the kids and David and my career and I don’t want to see all of that crap, I really don’t. Because like I said, when it’s great, it’s great. But I have seen many different sides to fame and a lot of it is not particularly nice. So I take it for what it is and I really focus on what matters.
WWD: Are the children, aware of your career and what you’re doing?
V.B.: My middle one, Romeo, he absolutely loves fashion. And the other two, they know what I do. I think it’s a very important message to give to children, that both myself and David work.…It’s really important to have a man that is comfortable and confident enough in himself and supportive of a woman who wants to have a career. That’s why I’m very lucky with David. He’s very supportive. People say, “My goodness he’s so good-looking; He’s so talented” — he is all of the above. It really makes me feel lucky for the fact that he is that guy who respects what I do, and supports what I do and would never dream of holding me back in any way.
WWD: What’s next for Victoria Beckham — personally, professionally, either, both?
V.B.: This time next year I would love to have e-commerce. That’s something that I’m really researching at the moment, doing my homework.
WWD: But you haven’t rushed into e-commerce.
V.B.: Well at the moment, I couldn’t handle the volume. But I’m trying to figure all of that out. But that is definitely something that interests me. Having my own store would be great. I want to continue to keep my presentations intimate, but I want to continue to make them interesting. So each season I try and take myself to the next level, a little bit more each season. I’m focusing on that. I’m really enjoying working with the handbags, so growing that side of the business, the accessories side of the business as well. I mean, there really are so many things that I want to do.
WWD: If you did a store, would the first one be in London or somewhere else?
V.B.: I don’t know. I’m very proud to be English and an English designer, and I think that my style is quite European. But I live in America. America is a big territory for me — would it be London? Would it be New York? I don’t know. New York sounds quite fabulous.
WWD: Are the Beckhams to remain U.S. residents for the foreseeable future?
V.B.: Absolutely. We love it here. It’s a great place for us to live as a family. The boys are really happy. David’s really happy.
WWD: Are the boys losing their accents?
V.B.: They have American accents, which is really cute. They’re very happy at school. They have very nice friends. We love America; we’ve loved it from the minute that we arrived, so we have no plans on going back to the U.K. at all.