Suzy and Victoria Beckham discuss fashion, family life and support from her husband David Beckham
Suzy Menkes: Victoria, it has been quite a journey from your work as a singer to be respected as a fashion creator. How has it been for you and how do you feel about it now?
Victoria Beckham: I love what I do. I love fashion. It is what I always wanted to do and I feel very lucky that not only have I had one successful career, being in the Spice Girls, but I have another career. I am learning so much and I love what I do. I want to empower women. I want women to feel like the best version of themselves, I want them to feel confident, and I feel very blessed that I have a job that I love, to work in an industry with such great people. Like I said, this is a journey for me and I am continuing to learn.
S: With women designers, they are almost always designing in the image of themselves. This is not a criticism. Coco Chanel did it. Do you feel that your clothes are for someone who has your lifestyle — or does it go a bit wider than that?
V: I am designing clothes that I want to wear, but I am also designing clothes that I would imagine myself wearing. I am not as young as I was and I am not always going to be able to wear all the clothes that I design. But I feel that I know my customer very well and I am designing what she wants. I like to think of my customer and make sure that season after season she is getting what she wants. Ultimately, I suppose I have an image of myself. That is the person I am designing for — a woman who loves and appreciates fashion and luxury, and somebody who wants to feel empowered with the best version of themselves.
S: So is it also for a woman, perhaps not quite like yourself, but one who has four children and a lot of commitments outside. Going out and being glamorous is part of your job, does that come into it? Do you think ‘That would be useful when I am looking after the kids’?
V: Absolutely! When I am working on the accessories, for example, I think if I am creating a bag that a woman is going to use every day. How much of the kids’ rubbish can I fit in!
S: Let’s go back to those very early days. How did you dress yourself when you were part of a girl group? Let’s go back to the 90s — tell us about it.
V: I wore a lot of PVC in those days, a lot of push-up tops and PVC catsuits, and lots of high heels and short skirts — but I don’t cringe too much about that. Everything was good at the time, and it is made me who I am now. I wouldn’t wear those things now necessarily.
S: Tell us why? Is it because you are now 41?
V: Because they were awful!… That is to start with!
S: Age has nothing to do with it?
V: You get older, you change, and I have four children, and I am not leaping around on stage and I don’t have to worry about stage outfits like I did back then. But you know, I was 18, I am 41 now. I dress completely differently, but I was always the posh one that liked the designer clothes, so I have always liked and appreciated luxury and fashion.
S: You also have a famous husband, so is there an element in your clothes that you also have to dress for his many events as well as your own?
V: I created a signature look very early on, when I first started working in fashion. It was a fitted dress that really pulled you in and pushed you up in the right area, with a sexy zip down the back. For a lot of designers, it takes a long time for them to create a signature look but I created that very early on because it was a look that people really associated with me.
I still think those dresses are perfect for date night — they are fitted, sexy, and they make you feel confident. They are flattering, and give you a little wiggle because they are very tight, and when you mix it with a sexy high heel, I think that is the type of dressing that men like. David is out there somewhere so he will tell me, but I think he does like it when I dress in that way — well, he tells me he does.
S: You have your store in London now, and that was another big step. I saw how hard you worked on that. I found you there on the stairs working away in just a T-shirt and a pair of sneakers! Tell us about the store and if there are going to be any more.
V: The store has been open for almost a year and it has been a huge, huge success. I worked very closely with Farshid Moussavi, the architect, and we created the store together. I had a vision and she did too. Farshid had never worked on a retail space before and that was one of the things I liked about her. She is a strong woman, with a strong vision, and she loves fashion. So I feel like it is a different shopping experience when you come into my store.
It is everything I ever dreamt my flagship store would be. There will be more stores. The second is going to be opened in Hong Kong in the first quarter of next year, and we are also going to be in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Paris. But at the same time we are also creating shops within shops, so I have just opened a store within Harrods, and we have a couple in Paris as well. So this year we are really focusing on retail.
S: Have you learnt a lot from retail? Is it different now that you can really see from close up what women want to buy? I know you are actually there sometimes and you can even talk to them and find out.
V: It is great. I find not just in my own store, but working with my retail partners around the world wherever that might be, whether it is China, America, Paris, I work very closely with my retail partners but also my customers, because as I said, I do what I do because I want to give my customer what she wants. I could say ‘what she really, really really wants’!
I want to know how she feels in the clothes, how she feels in certain fabrics, what does she like about her body, or not like. And I enjoy doing that sort of thing, it is something I have done right from the beginning and I will continue to do this.
S: This is not meant rudely but it is a fact: London has produced an enormous amount of talented designers who have gone through fashion schools, Central Saint Martins is an obvious one, but there are many others as well, I have just been seeing all those different collections. You haven’t done any of that, have you? Do you feel that that is a lack? Would you ever think of going back and doing that kind of course now?
V: I like to think outside the box, and I learnt as a designer working for other brands before I was ever positioned to be able to bring things in-house. So I was working designing sunglasses with Linda Farrow, and producing denim capsule collections with Rock & Republic, so I learnt an enormous amount for a few years before I was in a position to bring anything in-house.
When people ask if I have any advice for young designers, the best advice I could ever give to somebody is to work for someone else, when you are playing with someone else’s money. It is very expensive when you start doing it on your own. I learnt so much from the professionals that I was surrounding myself with, and I continue to learn a lot, I have never pretended to know everything, I have a great team of people I work very closely with, and I continue to learn.
I would love to go back and go to fashion school, I would love to, but with the business the size that it is now, and of course having four children that would just be impossible. I kind of did it the other way around. I think it is quite cool to do that, to think outside of the box and do it a different way.
S: You are very active on social media and seem to have made it work for you. Was that deliberate, or did it start from the fact that you are such a celebrity, you have such a huge following?
V: Across all platforms we have a reach of over 30 million people now, which is huge, and I think the reason that people have responded in the way they have to my brand, and also the way that I interact with my customers and fans on social is about being very true to myself. I am not trying to be anybody else, I am being very honest.
S: You are talking about silly pictures of dogs and cats and things?
V: Yes — I mean I will post a picture of my dog wearing nail varnish, and then at the same time I will be informing my customer that a new collection is arriving in store, so it is important that my customers and fans get to know me, because that seems to be what people like. It is real. I am not trying to be anybody else.
S: You also try to help other people in that behind what we see as this golden couple, the fame, and the limelight that you are in, you do a lot of charity work that we don’t hear so much about.
V: Yeah, charity is something that myself and David have done a lot of over the years. I was a part of the Elton John AIDS foundation for many many years, I think it was for around 20 years that David and I were working with Elton and David, and then I was coming up to my 40th birthday, and thinking I didn’t know what to do for it and in my head I knew I wanted to do something and I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to give back. But I just didn’t know how to do it.
And then I was actually having breakfast with Anna Wintour in her office, I was telling her I was going to be 40, and she was pretending to be really surprised, and I was saying how I really wanted to do something and get involved with a charity, and at the time we were actually working together on a project called Born Free, and she said to me, ‘Well my team are going to Africa next week, why don’t you go, too?’
And so I jumped at the chance, I went to Africa, and whilst I was there I met with a few other organisations, and I started working with the United Nations UNAids, and after working with them for some time, they invited me to be a Global Goodwill Ambassador, which was a huge honour and something I really enjoy. I am educating myself, and going on various field trips, and just trying to figure out what I can do to make a difference, I am really, really enjoying it.
And through all of this I have to say David has been a huge inspiration because he does an enormous amount for charity — he had done an enormous amount for a long, long time, he really inspires and guides me, and helps me decide what I should be doing, and so I have him to thank as well.
S: Could you just be a tiny bit more specific about what are you actually doing?
V: Well, the last field trip I was on, I was working with organisation called Mothers to Mothers. And what they do is raise money to employ mentor mothers, and these mentor mothers work at the hospitals and when women go to the hospitals because they find out they are pregnant, these mentor mothers encourage the pregnant women to be tested for HIV so they can find out their status. They then work very closely with the pregnant woman and educate her, so she knows her status and she knows her options in regards to medication.
I think it is very difficult for these women, and what I loved about going to Africa and working with the women so closely is I felt empowered. The women are so strong, and incredible, and I learnt so much from them. So that is a part of what I do, but I also work closely with the UN on other projects as well, but it is all AIDS and HIV focused.
S: Tell us a little bit about the rest of the Victoria that we don’t know. For example, are you an art lover? Do you spend half your life in museums?
V: I would love to but I have 100 children so I can’t. I recently went to the V&A, obviously going to see Savage Beauty which was incredible, and Brooklyn has been studying for his GCSEs in art and photography, so I brought him here and we came to the Horst and Constable exhibitions, and I visited the Spray exhibition the other day. So I do love going to museums and galleries, but I don’t get to do that as much as I would like because I am either working in the studio or I am at home with the kids.
But the children do enjoy it as well. I took all of them to the Tracey Emin exhibition not too long ago, which they loved, for about 10 minutes, then they wanted to go jump on their skateboards. But David and I do love to take the children to see exhibitions.
S: I don’t know how many students are here, but if you had three things to say to people — either women who are looking to find out how they want to dress themselves, or potential designers, students who want to get, not just the fame but the business that really works – are there three things that you could say are absolutely the crucial points of reference?
V:I think it is very important, like I said, to work for other people, and just learn, and not to pretend to know everything, and surround yourself with the right people. It is absolutely key to have good people around you. When I first started I didn’t do big shows, I did small presentations, and you know, Suzy, you were there. And for anybody that doesn’t know, I started in a small hotel suite in New York with two models that were putting on the dresses, and sometimes I had a room full of people, and sometimes there would just be one person in the room.
S: That was me!
V: That was Suzy! And it all happened very naturally. I talked through the collection, explaining the fabric and construction, just because I like talking and I was just grateful and thankful that someone wanted to listen to me.
And so I started off, and I think I am still doing this in a very humble way. It is about the product, it is about the collections. It is not about me as a celebrity, and right from the beginning the collections have spoken for themselves. The sell-out right from the beginning was huge, the clothes were selling out before they were even hitting the shop floor. So it was always about the product, it wasn’t about me as a celebrity.
It is important to start off in the right way and always be very humble, grateful, thankful, and appreciative.
S: I agree with you that I remember so clearly those places, small places, usually a Sunday morning somewhere in Manhattan, and you would be in this little space talking away, and it was very interesting to hear it all. But I must argue with you slightly when you say that it wasn’t fame that brought you, not success, but brought people to you, because surely your name did resonate with the big stores in New York, and obviously they would not respond if they thought the stuff was no good, but they must have responded in a certain degree to your name and fame — do you agree?
V: I think people came to see the presentations, whether they were retailers or press, just to see what it was going to be about, and probably think they were going to come and have a laugh. And that was OK, because I never went into this thinking that I wanted to prove anything to anyone except myself. So I think you are right, the fact that it was me which got people to come along, but then it really was about the product. I have always said, what I appreciate about the industry was that people left their preconceptions at the door.
Marc Jacobs also argued that they didn’t, the product was good. They didn’t leave their preconceptions at the door. I think they did, because everyone was very nice, but he said that I was being silly, the product was good and that is what it was about. But you are right, that is the reason that everybody came initially.
S: Now I know I promised that I wouldn’t ask anything about David.
V: It’s not about his pants, is it?
S: I am sure we would all like to know, what is the Beckham household like when we aren’t there? Suppose you are standing in the hall waiting for the car to come, you are going to an event, and here you are two celebrities, has David ever made a comment and said, ‘Oh, that is saucy dress,’ or, ‘Are you really going to wear that out?’
[David Beckham is laughing]
V: You remember that David wore a dress once, right? I think that David is great, he is very supportive of everything that I do and sometimes he must think ‘Good God, what is she wearing?’ when I come downstairs, but he always says, ‘Oh you look really great.’ He is great. We are very lucky to have each other. We really support each other in what we do, we are business partners so he is as much in my business as I am, and that works very, very well. He is always very nice about the clothes that I am wearing. I am probably sometimes a little bit too honest as well, if I don’t like something he probably doesn’t appreciate it too much. But he always looks great so what can I say?
S: This is my very last question before we open questions up to the floor, and it is this — Victoria Beckham, do you always wear heels that high all the time?
V: I put them on especially for you. I have to say, since moving to London I do wear a lot of flat shoes. If I know that I am going to be photographed, or if I am going to wear a nice dress, then I will wear a heel, but most days in the studio, running up and down from my studio to the atelier then I will be in a flat shoe. Just because I couldn’t do it every day, we are so busy in work, there is so much going on, and when you combine that with taking the kids to school it is very difficult to wear a heel all the time. But it is nice to put on a heel every now and then.
S: Looks good!
V: I made an effort for you, Suzy. I knew you would be really devastated if I turned up in pair of trainers. David did suggest I wore a pair of trainers tonight — but I said no.
S: Haven’t you designed a pair of trainers yet?
V: I haven’t designed a pair of trainers. I do design shoes and produce a very small amount of show shoes every season. I enjoy working on the shoes and I think that would probably be one of the next categories I will go into at some point.
S: Well, we look forward to Victoria Beckham trainers.
V: Me, too!
David Beckham: Hi, I’m David. My question would be – this is not scripted, by the way — you have been very successful as an artist, you have sold over 75 million albums and your brand, our brand, is unbelievably successful, which you have worked very hard at. If your daughter, our daughter, wanted to go into either of those businesses how would you feel about it and what would you prefer she went into?
V: That is a good question — no one has actually asked me that. I don’t know. I would love one of my children — our children, we keep doing that — to go into the fashion industry because I think it is a great industry to be in with lots of great people, whether that is going to be Harper or one of the boys I don’t know. Harper loves putting on my high heels and playing with my make-up, but she also has football boots and she runs around in the garden with her brothers so I am not so sure whether she will follow what you do or what I do.
But I think what everyone wants for their kids is just for them to be happy, whatever that means they do. I would rather her go into fashion than be in a pop group I have to say, but I did have fun doing that.
Brooklyn is an incredible photographer, he is really talented, he has a really great eye. As well as being great at football he’s very good at photography and art so I would imagine that he would do something creative. But what a lot of people don’t know about David is how creative he is, he is a great photographer, he is a great at art, and he has a great business sense, too.
So who knows what the kids are going to do but as long as they are happy. We will see. They will definitely work though. They won’t be these children that stay at home and don’t do anything. They will definitely work.
V&A’s ‘Spring 2015’ programme remaining events:
Friday 3 July Sandra Choi, Jimmy Choo creative director, in conversation with the Telegraph’s Lisa Armstrong
Monday 6 July ‘London Society Fashion, 1905–1925’ — which looks at Edwardian couture fashion through one society woman’s collection (given by V&A curator author of a book on the subject)
Monday 13 July Heston Blumenthal in conversation with Polly Russell of the Financial Times/British Library