Unlike most of the designers who were in New York and roaming the halls of 450 West 15th Street last week, Victoria Beckham was not there to discuss the particulars of her pre-fall collection, but rather real estate.
This story first appeared in the January 17, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Dressed in all black and accompanied by her chief executive officer, Zach Duane, Beckham was seated in a conference room at the KCD offices, ready to talk about the two major leases she has signed: The first for a New York office, located at 511 West 25th Street and opening in February; and the second, her first store at 36 Dover Street in London, slated to open this fall. At a total of about 11,000 square feet (4,000 for the office, just under 7,000 for the store) divided between two of the world’s most sophisticated metropolises, Beckham is staking a major claim in the fashion landscape. At this point it goes without saying, but she did it anyway: “I’m taking my business very seriously.”
Based in London, Beckham sells her collection in 60 countries. It’s a roughly even split, but the U.K. is her strongest market, with the U.S. coming in second, Asia third. Beckham and Duane hope to change that with local manpower. Thus, the Chelsea office. As Duane pointed out, the U.S. is still the largest luxury market in the world. “I want to focus on the U.S. this year,” said Beckham. “To take it to the next level, I need a team on the ground living and breathing everything here in America.” They’ve made three hires for the New York office, including a sales director whose name could not be disclosed due to his current employment. The staff will be dedicated to supporting the domestic department stores, eventually targeting Central and South America, two yet untapped markets for Beckham, and generally maintaining the company culture abroad. “You can’t just put your collections into the market and leave them there,” said Duane. “You realize that you need to be there to make sure that there is plenty of merchandise, that your team is being motivated, etc.”
Key to that is an inspiring workplace, so Beckham plans to decorate the office in a way that is “very open and quite minimal. I don’t like anything too fussy, but I don’t want it to feel cold.” As for the neighborhood, it was a matter of practicality over image. “I’d love to say it was a deliberate choice on our side but it was just about finding a space that reflected what the business needed,” said Duane.
They took a much more calculated approach to the store, for which location is everything. After two years of scouting, they were able to get a lease on their desired spot, which was previously a shop and office space. “It’s young and cool,” said Beckham of Mayfair. “There are great galleries in the area. There’s Dover Street Market directly opposite of us, which is not a bad thing.” Speaking of, Beckham spent the day before this interview at Dover Street Market New York, a bastion of the inspirational retail experience designers aspire to. “The people there were lovely,” she said. “They showed me around the store — there are seven floors! They explained the collections. You can tell everyone in there is very excited, and it’s very cool.”
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While the New York office represents a commitment to American growth, the London store is arguably a bigger deal. Other than her Web site, “It will be the first time that the people will really be able to see the brand through my eyes,” said Beckham. She’s hired architect Farshid Moussavi, whose projects include the 2012 London Olympic Park. “She is a woman that loves fashion as well,” said Beckham. “She has quite a conceptual eye, which I like. We want to make something different without making it overly complicated. I just want it to feel real for me.” Specifics of the store’s look are yet to be determined, but Beckham is set on connecting the three-floor space by “drilling a massive hole through the middle.” The store will house all of the collections under her brand, including Victoria Beckham, Victoria Victoria Beckham, denim, optical and accessories. For the first time, she will control the buy, about which she feels confident.
“I think the time is now because I know my customer,” said Beckham of opening the store. Indeed, she has put in her time with her clientele, routinely going on the road for trunk shows. She’s also tested retail on her own terms with her Web site, which launched e-commerce last year with accessories and the Icons collection, a selection of best-selling dresses from past collections, a savvy move that offered her exclusivity over her wholesale partners while piquing their interest. Last month, Selfridges asked to include Icons in a Victoria Beckham pop-up space, which itself was a big step for Beckham. There are more shops-in-shop to come, with their first permanent one at Printemps in Paris opening Feb. 28. For Selfridges, she and Duane recall that they had two weeks to come up with their design concept and 24-hours notice to merchandise the space, which fell at a rather inconvenient time when her team was in New York to sell pre-fall. “The only person there to go unpack boxes, steam clothes, and do the merchandising was me,” said Beckham. “I was at Selfridges at 6:30 or 7 in the morning, or some rather unsociable hour, unpacking boxes and steaming clothes.” They beat their weekly target by 60 percent.
All of this momentum comes as Beckham marks her designer label’s fifth anniversary. Asked if the state of her business matches up with her original five-year plan, Beckham said, “I did believe in creative visualization and I always had high hopes. I believed what I was doing and I think I have a strong point of view. I always hoped. I like to look at the big picture and I like to build things in the right way. I never went into this thinking that it would be a flash in a pan.”
Beckham has come a long way from her days taking appointments at the Waldorf-Astoria, and nearly every step since has been filmed, not just for posterity but for marketing purposes, which will be put to use for the Skype Collaboration Project, an interactive editorial experience that highlights the intersection between tech and creative. Beckham’s segment goes live later this month.
“We had a sense that we should be recording behind-the-scenes,” said Duane. “There were times in London when we questioned the purpose and asked, ‘What is the purpose?’ Now, we see the purpose.” Plus the practical payoff of filming day in and day out has triggered a little nostalgia. “I’m always so busy moving on to the next thing and I always want to do better than the previous season. I’m very ambitious and we move at such at a fast pace, so what’s great about Skype is actually looking back at our story,” said Beckham. “I get emotional actually watching it.”