VICTORIA Beckham is not a terrible singer, nor was she the worst dancer in the Spice Girls, but her passion for fashion made her stand out in the group. None of the other Spices’ outfits have stood the test of time but many of Victoria’s looks — the little black dresses, skinny trousers, court shoes and strappy tops — are still very wearable.
In her 2001 autobiography, Learning to Fly, Victoria traces her trendsetting back to a schoolyard fad she started for layering two pairs of socks, one bagged at the ankle over the other. She also showed early symptoms of logo-mania, carrying her schoolbooks in a plastic Gucci bag until the bottom gave way.
Her first designer purchase, a pair of white-patent Wallabee heels by Patrick Cox, was shared with her younger sister. There was an element of “fake it till you make it” in the creation of Posh Spice. The little black dress she wore in the Wannabe video was from Miss Selfridge (not Gucci, which she couldn’t afford and Virgin Records wouldn’t cover).
Donatella Versace gave the Spice Girl her first front-row seat at a fashion show in October 1997. Beckham recently described this as “the most exciting thing I’d ever done”. She has also denied telling her then-fiancé David how to dress. Still, his sartorial experimentation in the late 1990s was on a par with hers.
Victoria’s fashion career began in 2003, following the cool reception to her post-Spice solo efforts. She modelled for Maria Grachvogel. A stint as Dolce and Gabbana’s UK ambassador got her an invite to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s glamorous Costume Institute Gala. As half of a celebrity power couple, she was on fashion’s radar, but far from chic. Designers like the late Alexander McQueen refused to let her attend their shows, fearing a distraction from their work.
A change of image took a hands-on approach and help from Victoria’s former manager. Simon Fuller’s company, 19 Entertainment, secured various licensing deals for jeans, sunglasses and handbags.
A little black dress collection was designed under her own name in 2007 and following the Beckhams’ move to LA that year, her personal style had begun to appeal to the New York fashion set. Fashion’s growing courtship of bloggers also made celebrities valuable assets in the fight to maintain relevance.
Between transatlantic flights and daily Skype calls, the London-based Victoria Beckham team perfected a first collection of just ten dresses. She presented this to key people during New York Fashion Week, receiving them for salon-style appointments at the Waldorf Astoria. The reaction was resoundingly positive. With tiny, grosgrain-ribbon waists and demure pencil skirts, her dresses charmed and surprised attendees.
The label was no one-hit wonder and is now a red-carpet favourite. Reviews of collections are replete with comment on her design evolution, competence and coherence. The signature look is established as body-skimming tailoring with female-friendly, discrete details like under-bust contouring and channel seaming.
The Victoria Beckham range expanded to include eyewear, a handbag line and coats. The designer’s second label, Victoria by Victoria Beckham, makes her figure-flattering looks slightly more affordable.
At a talk at top New York design school Parsons in February, Victoria hinted that footwear and men’s collections will be her next steps. She’s also said she has no plans to party on her 40th, beyond a quiet family dinner. Like most fashion-conscious women, she loves her work.
1. Miss Selfridge little black dress, Wannabe video. This innocuous little number looked more expensive than it was, and, along with a sharp bob and court shoes, inspired Top of the Pops Magazine to christen her ‘Posh Spice.’
2. Dolce and Gabbana made Victoria their brand ambassador in 2003 and, as is tradition, escorted her to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute gala as their date.
3. A supporter and muse of designer Roland Mouret, Victoria was among the first to wear his ‘Galaxy’ dress (otherwise known as ‘the dress of the decade’), seen here at the Pride of Britain Awards in 2005.
1. Victoria has committed far more crimes against make-up than against fashion. As queen of the WAGs, she was first to work the spray-tanned, gel-nailed, extension-heavy look, complete with two oft-denied enhancements (she’s since had them removed). Hip-length tees, trucker hats and shoe-swallowing jeans were standard.
2. The Beckhams’ move to LA inspired a peroxide-blonde chop and some of the tightest, skimpiest looks known to woman. The playsuit she wore to the 2007 Glamour Awards was a particularly over-the-top outfit.
3. Even everyone’s favourite new design talent can have an off-day. Posh goes overboard with nut-brown tan, OTK boots and corseted Marc Jacobs, at Bergdorf Goodman’s in September, 2009.