“I was a pop star, saying, ‘Hey, I designed a dress.’”
That was one of the more lighthearted ways that Victoria Beckham described her 10-year transformation from former Spice Girl to international fashion designer, during Tuesday’s Forbes Women’s Summit at Pier Sixty.
Wearing a short-sleeve pink dress and having literally let her shoulder-length hair down, Beckham occasionally made herself the punch line in discussing her current career with Jess Cartner-Morley, associate editor of fashion for The Guardian. Recalling how at her first presentation in a New York hotel suite a decade ago, Beckham convinced the fashion pack that she was “a force to be reckoned with,” the scribe said she is now positioned as “a key player in the fashion industry.”
The designer’s new chief executive officer Paolo Riva presumably would agree. The executive, who officially starts in September, was in Tuesday’s standing-room-only crowd. Riva’s appointment follows NEO Investment Partners’ investment last year and the arrival of Ralph Toledano as chairman of the designer’s company.
Singling out digital as an area that she is eager to build up, Beckham mentioned such potential opportunities as “a skin-care line that is quite scientific, “a fragrance at some point and more makeup, men’s wear and children’s clothes.” In keeping with her ideology of creating only what she believes in, Beckham said her business choices come down to being true to herself and what she wants in her life. “I don’t want to copy anything that anyone is doing. I want to to be true to me and very organic,” she said.
“I’m not sure where Paolo’s going to start because I’m not short on ideas. I just need the right infrastructure around me to turn that into a reality,” Beckham said. “I have done this with a great team of people but as a team we have been crying out for a leader, who can guide us all and that I can learn from.”
Before the lithesome Beckham walked on stage, attendees were asked to refrain from any photographs in abiding with the designer’s polite request. Questions from the peanut gallery were also not happening after the Q&A wrapped up. But the 20-minute chat allowed for plenty of time to discuss her new partnership with Reebok, which was one of the sponsors for the two-day Forbes Women’s Summit at Chelsea Piers. After Cartner-Morley clued the crowd in to how Beckham is the person she gets asked about more than any others, the guest of honor responded. “You make me sound way more interesting than I probably actually am.”
Teaming with Reebok made sense, considering her daily routine at home starts with exercise — walking her daughter Harper to school, followed by some treadmill work and then dancing to her playlist. “I work out every day. I’m a bit of a Sporty Spice underneath all this. I wanted to create clothes that I would wear in the gym. I think there is a gap for technical workout clothing that also looks good [beyond the gym],” Beckham said. “I have been known to wear a trainer of late. It was big news the first time I stepped out in a pair of trainers. Very strange.”
She added, “But more and more I do love a good trainer but not just to work out but for fashion as well. I love to mix sportswear with ready-to-wear. A trainer with a really cool loose-fitting track suit pants and an oversize men’s-inspired gabardine coat.”
As for her early days in design, she said, “I didn’t have a master plan at all. I always wanted to be in fashion. When I was younger, fashion was my passion. For a while there, I was in a little band called the Spice Girls, I’m not sure if anybody’s heard of it.”
When the audience offered a lukewarm reaction, she countered with a laugh, “C’mon — let’s have some fun. You’re all so serious. I know you’re all very serious businesswomen, but we can have some fun as well.”
Beckham emphasized how it was her business partner, Simon Fuller, and her husband, David, who supported her and encouraged her to do what she always wanted to do: create a small collection of dresses. Unable to find what she was after, the red-carpet regular did just that and then showed her compact line to a smattering of press and fashion buyers in a New York hotel suite. Narrating the assortment as a few models walked up and down the room, Beckham said she occasionally unzipped the garments to highlight their construction, corsetry and seaming detail. “I didn’t know if anybody was going to like what I had done. I was just being very, very honest. As a woman, I was creating what I wanted to wear,” she said. “The product spoke for itself. I was very aware that people would have preconceptions because I was a Spice Girl and I was married to a footballer. So I knew what people were thinking, but I really didn’t focus on that. I was very focused on what I wanted to do.
“I liked the fact that I didn’t know a lot. Because knowing what I know now about the fashion industry, would I have had the guts to do what I did then? Probably not. I think I was quite innocent and naïve,” she said. “There was a lot that I didn’t know. I think that was good because I probably would have been terrified. When people say, ‘Were you not nervous? The fashion industry is really scary.’ And I was a pop star, saying, ‘Hey, I designed a dress.’”
With three sons and a daughter and a highly entrepreneurial former pro soccer playing husband, Beckham was upfront about the elbow grease required to build a brand. “The boys and Harper know that Mummy and Daddy work really, really hard. We weren’t just given any of this,” she said. “Getting success is one thing but maintaining success is a whole other thing. They see that we go to work everyday and work really hard and they have to work hard at school and their passions whatever that might be.”
While Cartner-Morley didn’t delve into the state of the Beckham marriage, as some media outlets have in recent weeks, she asked about work-life balance and managing two high-profile careers. Regarding the former, Beckham said, “Like most women, I beat myself up. I’m trying most importantly to be the best mum that I can. But I’m also trying to be the best wife and the best professional. It is a juggling act and it’s not easy. Looking around, there are plenty of women who are in the same position as me. I’m trying and it’s hard. I have to remind myself, when I come home, ‘Put the phone down. It’s OK to not answer e-mails until the morning. Spend quality time with your children and David.’ It’s really about getting that balance and just constantly checking in with yourself.”
That said, the designer allowed, “I’ve been know to hide in the bathroom during the weekend to just send a little e-mail, but I’m trying…”
As for the Beckhams double-barreled fame, she said, “I’m so lucky that I have the support of an incredible husband. He has always encouraged me to follow my dreams and passion. If it wasn’t for him supporting me, at home as well, it would be very difficult. We really are equal in everything we do at home with the children. He makes it possible. He’s at home making the school run, cooking the dinner, doing the homework with the kids. He’s the most fantastic husband and dad. When I’m home, I do that as well. It’s about being partners.”
Just as the Spice Girls gave Beckham a platform to plug women’s empowerment, her fashion alliances do, too, especially in this age of the #MeToo movement. “I am still banging on that drum and I am not going to stop. I don’t think any of us want to stop. It’s a very important time for women right now.”
Through Reebok, Beckham hopes to connect with a new tier of consumers by offering a more accessible price point. “All around the globe everyone knows Reebok, so I will be able to reach out to customers in these parts of the world where I haven’t been able to. My brand is significantly bigger than my business. My business is still quite small so Reebok will really enable me to reach out to a whole new customer,” she said.
Her girl power message starts at home. “Every day when Harper goes to school, she walks up the school stairs and I give her a kiss. I say, ‘Harper, you’re a girl, you can achieve anything. You can do anything that you want to do.’ That’s my message to her constantly. She knows she can do everything and probably more than her brothers can. We talk about it a lot,” Beckham said. “She wants to be an inventor and she’s very proud of that. She’s a strong smart woman — little woman.”
In truth, the singer-turned-designer’s own inner strength has bolstered over time. “The older I get the more I learn to trust my instinct,” she said. “Any time I made a mistake or could have done something better is because I haven’t followed my instinct.”