When Victoria Beckham launched her ready-to-wear collection in 2008, she knew what industry people were thinking. A Spice Girl-turned-soccer wife had dared to put herself in the same sentence as designer? “I’m very aware of people’s preconceptions,” said Beckham in a question-and-answer session with executive editor Bridget Foley Monday night at WWD’s Apparel and Retail CEO Summit. “But the product spoke for itself.”
She went ahead with her vision of empowering women with flattering, sophisticated and luxuriously made clothes, all done with the sage advice of a well-seasoned friend in mind. “When I was starting out I remember Marc Jacobs saying, ‘As long as the quality is great, then people can say it’s not their personal taste, but they can’t say that it’s rubbish,’” said Beckham. “And that’s very true.”
Eight seasons in, no one is rolling their eyes at Victoria Beckham. The collection has expanded into handbags, eyewear and a more affordable line, Victoria, Victoria Beckham, that hits retail for spring. “In the first collection we produced 400 dresses and we had nine retail partners internationally, and now we’re producing about 5,000 pieces with all categories in just over 300 stores worldwide,” said Beckham. “Though I’m trying to take baby steps, the business is growing very quickly. Our turnover year-over-year has increased over 120 percent. I think to anyone’s standards that’s very impressive.”
Even before she was Posh Spice, Beckham wanted to be in fashion. In 2005 she formed a branding partnership with David Beckham, her husband, and Simon Fuller, the British music mogul who created the “Pop Idol” and “American Idol” franchises, and owns XIX Entertainment. When the trio was given the opportunity to launch dVb, a denim and sunglasses line, under a license in 2006, “I jumped at the chance,” said Beckham. “I just wanted to design. It was a great learning curve. I learned so much about how I like to do things, how I don’t like to do things, the pros and cons of having someone to answer to. And as soon as we could — myself and Simon and David — afford to bring everything in-house, I jumped at the chance to do that. I could bring in the correct experts for each category and now it’s a dream come true. I have two partners who give me free rein to do pretty much what I want to do creatively. No one is breathing down my neck.”
Read between the lines and it’s obvious that the licensing model was not ideal, but Beckham prefers not to rehash the downside of the deal. “I’m a very positive person. For me the glass is always half full,” she said. “And though there were challenges in the beginning, we’re in a position now where everything is in-house.” That was made possible by the success of the Beckhams’ fragrances with Coty — the only element of the Beckham brand that still operates on a license.
In the name of quality and control — Beckham professes to be a control freak — Victoria Beckham is produced in England, Victoria in Portugal, and the handbags are handmade in Italy. In 2009, the jeans and sunglasses were relaunched under the Victoria Beckham Denim and Eyewear labels.
The rtw collection started with an ultra-body-conscious aesthetic. Dresses were whippet thin, structured and sold with a corset to maximize a flattering fit from all angles — something Beckham is hyper-aware of after her many red-carpet moments. The style has since evolved toward voluminous looks, coats and, for spring, sportier elements. “Now that I’ve been doing it a little bit longer I can take more risks, working with volume away from the body, which is very different from where I started out,” said Beckham. “I never try to follow a trend or fashion; I just do what feels right. Everything that I make, from glasses to a handbag to a dress, is something I would wear and carry myself. People ask who my customer is — I love to do in-store events with my retail partners, I love to meet my customers and get feedback — but I’m my customer.”
Beckham is also a married mother of four — the most recent addition, Harper, was born in July and is the family’s first girl. Beckham lives in Los Angeles and shows in New York, while her team is in London. That’s a lot of coordination for someone who does not need the money, so why bother?
“There are quite a few video conferences at 5 a.m. with me in my dressing gown, holding baby,” said Beckham. “For me it’s no different than it is for a lot of women out there. It’s like juggling glass balls. I love it.”
She stressed the importance of focus, yet when asked what her five-year plan is, she came up blank. “I have big dreams and high hopes but I don’t know what’s next.” In the short term, e-commerce is a priority, with a site aimed to be up and running by mid-2012. The rest is in the hands of her partners. “I trust Simon 100 percent,” said Beckham. “I’ve known him since I was probably 18 and in the Spice Girls, and he’s always believed in me. When I was about to show my own collection, I called him and said, ‘Simon, I’m really nervous.’ And he said, ‘You have nothing to be nervous about. Just enjoy yourself and have fun,’ which was great. He never put any pressure on me.
“I’m really getting the best of both worlds with Simon being a fantastic, genius businessman and a very good friend,” said Beckham. “He’s really good about thinking outside the box, which is important as well. You know, I’m proof that you don’t have to play by the rules all the time.”