At the season finale of her 92Y "Fashion Icons" talk series on Wednesday evening, Fern Mallis admitted that not all of her industry colleagues were on board with calling her guest Victoria Beckham, who never attended design school, an "icon." But there's no arguing that Beckham has made it in fashion, admired not only for her personal style but also, far more importantly, as a designer. Her seven-year-old ready-to-wear line is now stocked by the most prestigious retailers in New York — Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman among them — and her recent collections have received acclaim from top critics and earned her two British Fashion Awards for Designer Brand of the Year, one in 2011 and one in 2014.
What Beckham lacks in technical training, she's more than made up for in on-the-job experience. From her days as a member of the Spice Girls, wearing PVC catsuits and platform sneakers that "were bloody awful," to her brief stint as a model (for Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana) and her first design partnerships (for Rock and Republic and Linda Farrow), she learned enough to branch out on her own, which is what she'd always dreamed of doing. Ultimately it was the revenue from a successful Coty fragrance, launched in 2006, that enabled her to start her own label.
In 2008, her fashion career took a turn for the serious. Not only did she pose in her first luxury ad campaign for Marc Jacobs — which she enjoyed mostly because it proved that both she and Jacobs don't take themselves too seriously — she presented her first eponymous collection at New York Fashion Week with 10 signature dresses. "It was how I was dressing at the time — lots of fitted dresses... a few corset dresses," she explained, saying the range was meant to be very true to herself. "I did presentations at the Waldorf hotel and had groups of people come in, both press and buyers. I had two models — no stylists. The girls would walk towards where we were sitting and I would just start talking. I didn’t want to prove anything to anybody other than myself."
Eventually, she began hosting runway shows — despite being very afraid to do so — which are now some of the hardest tickets to get during New York Fashion Week. "I read every single review," Beckham said of her shows. "As much as people say 'I don't care what people say,' I think they're liars."
Beckham admits that the pace of the industry can be nerve-wracking, but that doesn't keep her from having a hand in every single one of her business operations: she visits the design studio each day, spends time in the London store to learn about her customers and helped develop the packaging for her e-commerce store. At the moment, her retail business is bigger than e-comm, and she's putting a focus on its expansion in 2015. Asia is her fastest-growing market, so a Hong Kong store will come next, followed by one in New York.
Simon Fuller, David and Victoria Beckham are the sole partners in her brand, but the designer said her company has grown to about 150 employees — and she still has a hand in bringing on senior hires. As for what's next, she hopes to soon branch out into children's wear, menswear and a full line of footwear, as well as to partner with a mass-market retailer to bring her designs to a wider audience. "I would like to reach more people and to offer clothes to people who can't or don't want to pay designer prices," she said. "I really want to make women feel great and feel empowered, even if they can't pay — I still want to reach that customer." Beckham admits that she's already been approached for collaborations, but the timing hasn't been quite right.
To this day, one of the most exciting things for Beckham is to see a stranger wearing her clothing or carrying her handbag, and she will often approach them and tell them how much she appreciates it. "That person has chosen to invest in me as a designer as opposed to somebody else," she explains. "You can see that women feel good and feel sexy in the dresses — that's good to hear."
As the momentum continues to build for the 41-year-old's business, she shows no signs of slowing down — although she does wish she could sit back and enjoy the moment more often — and she still has unfulfilled goals on her proverbial bucket list, including winning a CFDA International Award. It's a shame that Beckham (thanks to her aversion to smiling in public) has earned a reputation for being serious and aloof, because she had the audience in stitches throughout her entire interview. Aside from being low-key hilarious, she made it clear that her ambition, focus and true love for her work (and for her family) should be what shape her persona, both in the public eye and behind-the-scenes at her label. "Creative visualization, being positive, working hard — those are things I try to do every single day," she said. "I really think that you should dream big, and that's what I'll continue to do."