Victoria stays in fashion step

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 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. 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

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. 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.

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 her 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.

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.

 

Other Celebrity labels

Jennifer Lopez’s JustSweet
collection is the biggest celebrity-owned fashion empire, believed to be valued
at more than $255m (£166m). The actor and singer works in partnership with
Tommy Hilfiger’s brother Andy, and she does not play a design role, as Gwen
Stefani and Beckham do. But her influences are visible in the high-end
collections, which include Sweetface, Justsweet, a pre-teen line, and
fragrances.

Gwen Stefani’s four year-old label
L.A.M.B – Love Angel Music Baby showcases her signature style and has become a
regular money-spinner for the pop star. It sells in 275 retail chains as well
as through the brand’s online store, and revenue now tops a reported $100m
(£65m) annually. Stefani, who comes from a long line of seamstresses and
tailors, is hands-on with the designs. Price tags can be hefty, with one
sequined mini-dress coming in at $685 (£446).

The Olsen twins – Mary-Kate and
Ashley Olsen – have recently launched their successful couture range The Row,
named after London’s Savile Row. The US sisters, who were child stars at nine
months and who have built up a £100m-plus business empire including dolls,
accessories and a lucrative tween market through Wal-Mart, are now being taken
very seriously as designers in their own right.

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