Victoria Beckham is no longer an ex-Spice Girl who wants to be a fashion designer. She is a fashion designer. In the two years since she announced to a sceptical fashion industry that she had begun designing dresses, Beckham’s catwalk shows at New York fashion week have gone from being a curiosity to a hot ticket.
Her fifth collection, presented in an Upper East Side townhouse today, continued to impress editors and buyers with a slick collection of 26 elegant, desirable dresses. What’s more, by leaving behind corsetry in favour of more fluid shapes and fabrics, Beckham showed the ability to stay in step with fashion’s mercurial changes of mood which is essential for a label’s survival.
Beckham has revived an old-fashioned form of catwalk presentation in which she sits in the front row giving a commentary on the inspirations, fabrics and techniques employed for each dress as the models pass by. This not only maximises the impact of her celebrity, but enables her to demonstrate that she speaks the language of the design studio with the fluency of someone who really works in one.
She described how she created the initial template for a violet draped silk dress by wrapping one and a half metres of fabric around herself and tying it in a knot; explained how a shift dress was made in three sections, with the middle section cut on the bias “so that it really hugs and flatters the body”, and enthused about how cotton waffle fabric “really soaks up” the psychedelic shade of mandarin.
The label will include handbags for the first time this season, with a starting price of £1,200. Beckham has collaborated with Katie Hillier, creator of many It bags during eight years working with Marc Jacobs. “I knew what I wanted, but I needed someone with the expertise, who knew about factories,” Beckham said.
She cited the sculptor Brancusi as an influence for the dresses, saying she “wanted to celebrate curves.” Asked about newspaper reports at the weekend that she had banned skinny models from her show, she commented dryly that “it may surprise you to hear, I never actually said that. Models are thin. But I do take my position seriously and I wouldn’t want to use very skinny girls.” She has cited the US first lady Michelle Obama and the Mad Men star Christina Hendricks as women she would love to dress.
Sales of the label are currently around $7m (£4.5m) a year, through 22 stockists. These figures are expected to rise next year, but not dramatically. Quality is paramount – the dresses are made in England, the handbags in Italy – as these high-end pieces function as a glamorous advertisement for more mass-market lines of sunglasses, denim and handbags.
Natalie Massanet, founder of Net-A-Porter, picked up on Beckham’s use of parachute silk, which is emerging as a key fabric for next summer. “She is showing an aptitude for moving with the trends. The parachute silk trend is one of my favourites of New York fashion week so far.”
Sophia Neophitou, editor in chief of 10 magazine, agreed: “As a designer you have to show you can move on, and she did that today. I absolutely adored it.” Jim Gold, chief executive of high-end fashion store Bergdorf Goodman, said after the show that “we see a lot of dresses, but hers really stand out”.
Beckham has charmed many in the fashion world by showing them how much this new career means to her. Greeting guests before the show, she said she had been awake since 3am with “excitement and anxiety.” Yet this being the fashion industry, the general air-kissing hides less generous speculation behind closed doors. The conundrum at the centre of Victoria Beckham’s career as a fashion designer has remained the same over two years: because the clothes are so impressive, there is some scepticism about whether Beckham, with no design background, is truly creating them. The niggle persists: a fashion feature in the New York Times last week was titled, Victoria Beckham: Is She for Real?
With each season that Beckham continues to fluently answer questions about fabric and technique the idea that there is a designer behind the scenes pulling Beckham’s puppet strings loses its grip. Ken Downing, the fashion director of top fashion store Neiman Marcus, said: “Her knowledge of dressmaking is impressive”.
Charlotte Tilbury, the top-tier make-up artist who worked on this show, described how Beckham showed her images of Andy Warhol’s paintings of Liz Taylor, which she was using as colour inspiration for the psychedelic tangerine and purple shades in the collection. “She’s very impressive, very smart, she loves fashion and knows a great deal about it.”
Although Beckham’s collection is designed and made in the UK, the signs are the couple, estimated to be worth £125m, are to export Brand Beckham to the US on a more permanent basis.
Husband David’s contract with LA Galaxy has another three years to run, and should net the couple around £12m. With their sons, Brooklyn, 11, Romeo, seven and Cruz, five, attending school in Los Angeles, the family have been spending more time at their £11m Beverly Hills mansion.
They have reportedly had the country house and 24-acre estate they bought for £2.5m in Hertfordshire valued at £18m.
As one of the most photographed women in the world, Beckham can generate hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of advertising for her brand simply by wearing one of her dresses to a party.
Days after signing up to Twitter last week she had 136,000 followers. To this is added the firepower of being half of a famous couple. The Beckham “brand” adds value to the Victoria Beckham label.
Beckham is in the running for Designer Brand of the Year at this year’s British Fashion Awards, which will be announced on 7 December. The other nominees are Burberry, Mulberry and Pringle, three longstanding giants of British fashion.