How Victoria Beckham got the last laugh on fashion industry snobs

ALISON BOSHOFF: How Victoria Beckham got the last laugh on fashion industry snobs (yes, that means you Kate and Stella) to finally turn a profit

After 13 years spent embarrassingly in the red — with losses as deep as her pockets — Victoria Beckham’s fashion business has finally turned a corner.

The business, which has borrowed £30 million from other parts of the Beckham empire over the years, is at last showing a profit.

In an interview with industry bible Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) to celebrate the news, her brand’s investor, David Belhassen, has shone a rare spotlight on the inner workings of Posh’s empire.

He says that revenues are up by a huge 42 per cent to £58 million — and predicts that when the business files accounts for the 2022 financial year this coming December, the former Spice Girl will make her many critics eat their words.

She’s certainly taken her time to get here: the most recent accounts, which cover the period up to December 2021, show a loss of £2.2 million.

Victoria Beckham’s fashion business has finally turned a corner

Designer Victoria Beckham, Marc Jacobs and model Kate Moss pictured at a drinks reception at the British Fashion Awards 2011

So how has Posh — who is not a trained fashion designer — done it? Surprisingly, it’s not by selling clothes.

The key to her eventual triumph has lain in Victoria Beckham’s diversification into accessories — particularly her signature ‘watch chain’ pouch handbags — and in the runaway success of her make-up range.

Other big sellers include the Frame Buckle belt, costing £190, and the distinctive Shield sunglasses, from £300, modelled by Mrs Beckham at every opportunity.

It is these items — all keenly priced for the luxury market — and not her clothes that have helped her beat fashion’s bitchiest naysayers.

Sources at the company confirm that her new chain strap pouch handbag, priced from £650, has become a sought-after ‘hero’ item. It sold out after debuting in her Spring/Summer ’23 show in Paris last September, and now, such is the demand, there is a waiting list.

Recognising the hit on her hands, Victoria has had it made in a further three sizes. The jumbo size, priced at £1,290, is already sold out in a few colourways, having only just gone live on her website.

What’s more, after launching into the competitive world of beauty, Posh has won critics over with her smudgy Satin Kajal eyeliner, which at £26 has been selling strongly in most colours and is on its way to attaining cult status.

It’s quite a turnaround from a few years ago, when the very existence of the Victoria Beckham brand was in doubt.

Accounts for 2021 show losses of £2.2 million, at which point auditors said the company was facing ‘material uncertainty’ requiring ‘shareholder support’.

But now, following what sources at the company call an ‘entire reshuffle’, and as a result of Victoria’s undoubted tenacity, the brand is on the up.

NEO investment partners pumped £30 million into Victoria Beckham back in 2017 and its boss, David Belhassen, now says he expects the business will achieve ‘more than’ £100 million in revenue over ‘the next couple of years’, with half that coming from the beauty and skincare business which was launched in September 2019.

All of which prompted Belhassen to declare: ‘Victoria has been unbelievable — on fire — and taking on every single challenge.’

It’s a work ethic that was in evidence from the earliest days of The Spice Girls, when all five girls were put on a pop industry treadmill and expected to keep to an exhausting touring and PR schedule.

Even then, it was clear that Victoria Adams (as she was then), who had set her heart on a musical career after watching the film Fame in 1980, was more determined than most.

Planet fashion was much harder to crack, however. Few in that cliquey world thought she could succeed and at first Victoria herself was modest. ‘I was never going to be the world’s best singer, but I hope I can be a good designer,’ she said.

In 2006, she started to dabble in fashion, lending her name to a range of jeans by Rock And Republic, and bringing out a budget fragrance. There was also an association with the ultra-flashy designer Roberto Cavalli, which made the fashion elite snigger into their sleeves.

So how has Posh — who is not a trained fashion designer — done it? Surprisingly, it’s not by selling clothes

At the time, Victoria was in full WAG flow, with long, highlighted extensions, a marmite tan and giant breast implants.

The story goes that designer Tom Ford called up his PR in London to yell: ‘Get that woman out of my clothes!’ And the PR famously declared that she couldn’t, as ‘that woman’ was actually buying them.

Unkindly, it was said that Victoria was known as a ‘trend killer’ — once she wore an item of clothing, no one in fashion wanted to be seen dead in it.

That same year, she brought out a book (then lampooned by the Press, now largely forgotten) called That Extra Half An Inch, a chirpy guide to making the best of yourself. How hopelessly naff her tips — including what not to wear on the school run and why you should never wear ballerina flats with skinny jeans — must have appeared to the fashion crowd.

But one designer, flamboyant American Marc Jacobs, astonished everyone by taking her under his wing. He spotted her with a fake version of one of his graffiti Louis Vuitton bags and sent her people the real thing for her to carry instead. A friendship was born.

A fashion source said: ‘At the Marc Jacobs Paris September 2007 show, there was audible snickering and bitching and pointing when Victoria Beckham turned up in the Front Row. People had thought that he wouldn’t even let her in.

‘When she started out, Victoria was loathed by the cool end of the fashion business, and especially by the late Alexander McQueen and his entourage. She was perceived as tacky.’

The joke was on them when she was unveiled as the new face of Marc Jacobs’ latest campaign in January 2008, which famously featured pictures of her in a giant shopping bag.

Indeed, Mrs Beckham’s sense of humour is something which even her detractors admire.

From the very name Posh to the very self-aware clips she posts on social media, Victoria has never lacked an ability to poke fun at herself. It was in 2009, with the backing of her (former) manager Simon Fuller, that she opened her own label. Insiders say other designers were jealous of the fact she was able to launch a fashion label without outside investment.

Her first collection appeared to some to be derivative of Roland Mouret’s sleek outlines — and he was at the time a business partner of Fuller, so tongues wagged. Mouret said: ‘I gave her some advice, some names, some people and allowed her to call me whenever she wants. That’s all.’

He added: ‘She is not a designer like me, but she has something I don’t have: that unique sense of wearing what she is doing, and that picture will go around the world and sell it.’

How right he was. Her own best champion, Victoria exploited the at times frenzied interest in her and her marriage in order to show off her designs.

There were a lot of naysayers, including, it was said at first, Vogue boss Anna Wintour.

However, ever the networker, Victoria made one-on-one appointments with the editors of fashion magazines in her private suite at Claridge’s hotel and won them over. Wintour has long been treated ‘like a member of the family’ by Victoria and she is said to be particularly fond of David.

At times, apparently, it even appears that the Vogue editor has a friendly crush on the handsome former footballer.

The Victoria Beckham Store in London

The late ‘Kaiser’ Karl Lagerfeld was a fan, saying in 2012: ‘I know her from her days as a Spice Girl. Her designs are not bad at all; they’re good. She’s totally unpretentious.’

But others resisted the Beckham charm, and she had to contend with supercilious behaviour from supermodel Kate Moss and her close friend Stella McCartney.

There was a desperately embarrassing incident at the British Fashion Awards in 2011 when Kate Moss declined to pose for a picture inside the event with Victoria. She only agreed after designer Marc Jacobs intervened. And as soon as the snap had been taken, she stalked off. Although there was an attempt to get the two women to make up in 2013 when the Beckhams returned to London from living in Los Angeles, it didn’t work out.

Kate, it seems, had the same view of Victoria and her talents as McQueen, who detested and openly mocked her.

A fashion source confirms: ‘I remember listening to Alexander McQueen slate her at a party at The Connaught hotel in the year before he died. He was notoriously bitchy and a good friend of Kate Moss — and she had no love for Victoria either.’

According to a biography of designer John Galliano, McQueen banned Victoria from even coming to his fashion show in 2005.

Fashion journalist Dana Thomas, who wrote the biography, said that McQueen ranted: ‘It’s about my clothes and the work that everyone backstage puts into it. It’s not about the t***** sitting in the front row.

‘The stars you see at my shows, be it Gwyneth Paltrow or anyone else, are there because I’ve got a connection with them. I design for intelligent women.’ From this group, Posh was very much excluded.

Imogen Edwards-Jones, the author of Fashion Babylon, told me: ‘You should never underestimate the intense snobbery there is in the fashion world. You are either in it or out — and she was out.’

And yet persistence, a thick skin and undeniable talent, too, has silenced the doubters.

Vanessa Friedman, the fashion director of the New York Times, said: ‘I was as ready as anyone to be cynical and suspicious about her becoming a fashion designer, but I have to say I take my hat off to her. She did it.

‘She was very brave at the beginning and she surmounted whatever prejudices the fashion world has about non fashion designers becoming designers.’

No, her journey from singer to designer was not conventional, and she employs teams of designers and cutters to whom she describes her ideas.

But Victoria insists: ‘Nothing comes out of that studio that I have not designed and approved at every stage.’

In an interview with the New York Times, she said: ‘I just sit with my team and talk to them about what I like, what I find inspiring, what I’m desiring.

‘We have fit models we work with [models used to check the fit of a garment] and we’ll either work the fit model or we’ll drape on a stand. I can draw, but badly. I think that’s OK. No one’s expecting me to do it the normal way.’

Slowly, she began to find favour. In 2011, four years after starting out, she won best brand at the British Fashion Awards. In 2017, she was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours for services to the fashion industry. In 2018, she landed the cover of UK Vogue, and gave an interview reflecting on her decade of learning, and striving, to make her business fly.

At times it seemed as though her ambitions were not matched by reality. In 2015, a newspaper set up a watch outside her store in Dover Street, London: over a four-day period, just 12 customers walked out carrying purchases.

From the very name Posh, pictured with husband David last year,  to the very self-aware clips she posts on social media, Victoria has never lacked an ability to poke fun at herself.

Victoria leaned heavily on her experienced staff to try to turn her fortunes around. Her CEO back then was Zach Duane, formerly of leading London law firm Harbottle & Lewis, and her chief financial officer was Barry Mulholland from Price Waterhouse. Since 2019, her CEO has been Marie LeBlanc, previously at Celine, Printemps and Sonia Rykiel.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, her firm lost £4.2 million.

That she has emerged into the black, finally, is enough to make the famously unsmiling Posh break into a grin.

All the family, including son Brooklyn and his wife Nicola Peltz, were with her to celebrate at Paris Fashion Week, where she presented a collection for only the second time having previously showed in London.

There she triumphantly told well-wishers: ‘I’ve really pushed myself. It’s all falling into place. Being in Paris re-ignited the brand. I do feel the pressure, but this has always been my dream.’

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