Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Geek Peek: Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham walks into the Peak Suite on the top floor of the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. Nine reporters watch as she teeters in, the heels on her six-inch Louboutin Daffodils as pin-thin and precarious as her own legs. Apologies for her tardiness -- a mere 20 minutes, standard waiting time for any interviewee, much less a former pop star-turned-WAG-turned fashion designer -- precede the strange query, "Is the floor slippery?"

We, the nine reporters, look at each other. Is this a rhetorical question? Have we been granted permission to address her fashion highness? Is the floor actually slippery? How would we know? Is she genuinely afraid of falling, or is this a carefully calculated question intended to show us she's just a normal gal?

Reporters, traditionally, aren't the reticent sort, but prior to the interview we have been sent strict directives regarding this group interview session: do not be late. Do not send us questions. These are the questions that will be asked. They will be asked by a moderator. If you ask questions, you will be promptly hung, drawn and quartered. (Actually, more like the interview will end promptly for yourself and everyone else, and you will be held responsible for ruining this opportunity for eight of your competitors who will thereafter shun you for life.)

I'm used to having questions banned, having eyes narrow when I ask the questions anyway, receiving post-interview emails from PR reps asking me not to run particular quotes, having stories run only after approval by the interviewee... but this actually makes my job easy. So I don't have to send in questions. I don't have to be prepared. I don't even have to try my best to ask questions in an engaging manner so that afterwards I can show off that I got a quote that nobody else could, or so that I can pretend Mrs Beckham is my BFF after a strictly supervised 15 minute Q&A session. This could be fun.

And it is. After ascertaining that she won't slip or trip in the 10 steps of space between the doorway and the wall of couches, VB crosses the distance, somewhat less confidently than you'd expect given her photo fierceness. She asks where she should sit before plopping down in our midst, instead of as we expect, on the single armchair adjacent to us. She suggests we start the interview while the models strut down the function room in her new Victoria, Victoria Beckham collection (that, by the way, is the reason for her visit to our fair town).

And so the PR Cher, standing just off to the side of us, begins addressing the questions. And in this specific context, Beckham is a dream interview. She's well-rehearsed, but casual. Her legs are crossed, and one Daffodil pump dangles off her foot. There's a Coke (Diet, I presume, but there's no way of knowing) in her right hand, which sits on the couch next to her. She clutches it rather tightly, either because she's worried it's going to spill, or because at any moment we could attack her with our hands, or worse yet, illegal questions. It's a fair concern.

The questions, yes, are generic, but that's because this is about Lane Crawford its launch of the Victoria, Victoria Beckham collection. And as much as we want this to be about how David is in the sack, or which Spice Girl she hates the most, and how she managed to affect a total image change from ironic Posh to actual posh (accent almost incuded)... it's really about the clothes.

And the clothes, they're good. The mainline Victoria Beckham is streamlined, minimalist, sleek and sophisticated. Victoria is younger, funner, with more prints and easier silhouettes. There's drop in waistlines as well as the price point, and while Beckham can hardly be credited with bringing back the pencil dress -- like Roland Mouret's garments, her pieces are perenially flattering, rather than seasonally important -- her drop-waist dresses could very well be her first step in trend-setting, which makes tons of sense because, as both designer and ambassador constantly in the public eye, she's in a very unique position to set trends herself.

The whole experience, by the end of it, has been rather... pleasant. At the end of the interview, the always outspoken Kawai, TimeOut's fashion editor, ventures a compliment. She loved VB's shoot with the avant-garde Chinese photographer Chen Man for Harper's Bazaar China. Beckham is just slightly taken aback, as if she cannot believe someone dared to breach the code. Except that Kawai hasn't -- yet. She's about to, though. Why did you decide to do that shoot, put yourself out there in China, she questions? It's a tame enough question, the boldness inherent just in the fact of asking. To her credit, she answers it politely ("I just wanted to do something different"), as well as the two other questions posed by other journos who've summoned nerve in the wake of the first transgression. Is it your first time in Hong Kong? No, but the last time was with my parents when I was 13. What's with the cat print? It's fun and girly. (But she has a dog at home). All the while, one of VB's team edges inch by inch into our vision, declaring, after the third stolen response, that they are grateful for our time. The interview is over. With a gracious goodbye and a repeated warning to beware the floor (a model tripped on it earlier, she clarifies), she is gone. Her final words are apt: "be careful" -- because despite risk-taking leaps in career and design, that's ultimately what Victoria Beckham is. A careful interview subject, in control of every bit of her empire. A considerate designer, no doubt born of years of being snapped by the paparazzi from every angle. A control freak, by her own admission. And without a doubt, a very savvy businesswoman.

The full transcript from the interview follows.

How different is the main line woman from the Victoria woman?
You'll see lots of dresses that bridge the gap between the two collections. I think it's the same woman, but then I also think there's going to be another customer as well, because the prices are more affordable. With the first collection of the Victoria line, in the space of a few days, Julianne Moore wore a dress, Michelle Williams wore a dress and Celine Buckens wore a dress. That's an example of three women -- different shapes, different sizes and completely different ages -- that can all wear the same collection. Julia Roberts wore a dress the other day. So that's the great thing about the Victoria line. It's my existing customer as well.

You design for yourself. Is this practical approach part of your success?
One-hundred percent. I'm designing things I want to wear -- I think I know what women want to wear; how they want to feel and look. I think that that is an enormous part of it. And women can relate to me. I'm a designer who loves women, and I want to give my customer what she wants.

Do you think that you have already proven critics wrong at this stage in your career?
I never went into this wanting to prove anybody wrong. I just wanted to do what I love to do. I'm very lucky to have a job I love. I think the reviews have been great, I think the industry has welcomed me and I'm very appreciative of that. I'm constantly wanting to better myself.

How do you handle the pressure of the industry?
I think there's pressure on everybody, no matter what industry it is. It's a lot of work, but then I love what I do. I've got four kids, and I work. But it's no different for me as how it is for other women that have children and work.

When did you find yourself as a designer?
Probably in the last few years. I don't look back at anything and cringe. I look back and think that everything was good, at the time.

What are your fashion rules -- your dos and don'ts?
Fashion rules...I think to dress in a way that suits you. To be appropriate for your shape, size, age, is important. I never like to get too much out -- if I'm wearing a short dress, then I like the top to be covered. If I'm wearing something that might be a little more daring or challenging on the top, then I don't like to get too much out. But I think that's just modern, as well. Is it modern to wear something that's super, super short and super, super plunging? I don't think so at the moment. Leave something to the imagination.

How would you define your own style?
I would say that it's quite European, though I do like to get influenced by all the different countries that I'm fortunate enough to travel to. It's not overly complicated. I'd say that it's quite chic -- I'd actually say that it's quite French, my taste and my style. And I want to stay true to myself. I'm not trying to be anybody other than myself.

And what are the things or people that inspire you?
Goodness, I get inspired by so many places. My family inspire me, my husband inspires me. I meet so many amazing people, I'm really lucky.

What do you think of the Asian customer?
I'm really excited to be in Hong Kong. We've been in Beijing for a week and I'm excited to be here. Asia is a very important market for me. I love Asian women, I find them very chic, at the forefront of fashion. They understand fashion; they appreciate fashion. I think this market gives me the opportunity to have fun as well. I'm very aware when designing clothes how much everything costs. I have to be very aware of that sort of thing. And I was talking with Andrew Keith from Joyce, and he was saying that I have the opportunity here to do exclusives, which is very exciting. I want to have fun, I want to experiment with different things that maybe in other territories I can't do for various reasons. It's an exciting place. I woke up this morning, and the view out of my window is incredible. I wish I was here longer, I definitely want to come back and bring David and the kids because it's really quite breathtaking. I want to get out and see more. I definitely think Hong Kong could influence what I'm doing, and I'm just scratching the surface at the moment. One day, obviously, retail would be a dream come true. The first one would obviously be London, and we're also looking at e-commerce, but I'd love to have a store here one day. I get the feeling from the women that I've met here in Hong Kong and Beijing, they really love fashion and they're passionate about fashion, and they want something different. And they look great. I did an in-store event with Joyce in Beijing, and there were a few Chinese celebrities that came and the best customers. And I was absolutely blown away by how the women look. Though what I do caters to a lot of shapes and sizes, the women here, they have the most incredible physiques that actually work really well with my designs.

The last question -- as a working mother, is there anything that you haven't done that you'd like to? Where do you get the energy to do it all?
There's lots of things that I want to do. Business-wise, I want to expand in every category that I'm currently in. I'd love to do knit, I'd love to do separates, I'd love to do tailoring. There's lots that I want to do, but I want to do it properly. I'm very hands on, I own everything I do, I don't have any licensing at all. And so, I want to do everything in the right way. I'm a control freak, but in the nicest sense of the word -- not a mean one, I'm a nice one. And I'm just really passionate about what I do, and I want to reach out to as many women as I can, whether that's Asia, whether that's America, whether that's Europe, and just make women feel good about themselves. To make women feel beautiful. There's lots of things I want to do. I've just designed a Range Rover Evoque with Range Rover which has gone down phenomenally well. People have responded really positively to that. I like to think outside the box and do different things, that make people say "Why a car? You're not a car designer." Why not a car? I came from a different industry, it wasn't the fashion industry. Why not do a collection? I think it's a very modern approach, very innovative to think outside of the box, do different things. And that's what excites me, that's what I like to do. But make sure it's done properly, done in the right way.

Image of Victoria Beckham shot by Chen Man for Harper's Bazaar China from Makeup4all.

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  1. Love the way you wrote this piece. Gives a more personal view and its definitely more interesting than just paraphrasing the standard answers!

  2. Such a great article, thanks for this. She is a woman and a half, love her dresses.

  3. I just came across this! This is super well written! I had fun reading this. Feels like I'm brought back to the recital all over again :) Tbh I really felt Victoria in real life was very sweet. And she's always scrutinised by the media and I don't blame her for wanting to protect herself.

  4. KAWAI! Where are you nowadays? (And did you find this because you were googling yourself, haha.) You are still my idol for breaching the code.