Once someone is indelibly etched into the public consciousness at large, is it ever possible for him or her to redefine themselves? After all, Madonna may be the queen of reinvention in pop music, but she is still known by the epithet “Material Girl”, and that song came out nearly 30 years ago. Thus, Victoria Beckham will first and foremost always be a Spice Girl as far as the public are concerned. However, does her early-adulthood decision to earn a living through singing and dancing mean that she is unable to do anything else to a standard that will please the masses?
Victoria Beckham was the Posh Spice. This nickname and persona was conferred upon her because of her image – of being a moody faux-sophisticate who was skinny and always wore black. As if this image didn’t scream “fashion” (and let us not forget how much fashion trades in images) enough in and of itself, Victoria then acquired a footballing icon for a boyfriend, cementing her celebrity status and giving her enough clout on her own terms to pen two books, begin a solo music career, film multiple reality shows and guest star on a hit US sitcom. During each of these business ventures, Victoria was roundly mocked by the media and declared incapable of truly standing on her own two feet without her husband or her original group backing her up (evidence – as if we needed it – that sexism and gender stereotyping still very much exists today). As a result, although none of the above projects failed, they never quite took off the way that they could have done.
In a way, Victoria Beckham is now producing work directly connected to her obvious calling: fashion. Building her brand through denim and eyewear collections, as well as a fragrance range with husband David, Victoria debuted her own eponymous collection at New York Fashion Week in 2008 to critical acclaim. Among which was the phrase “not a single dud”: I detect an undertone of raised eyebrow. How could it be that a Spice Girl, no matter how much she has previously demonstrated an active interest in fashion and an entrepreneurial spirit, could create a respectable collection? Much has been made of Victoria’s dresses bearing similarity in cut and style to the famed Moon Dress by Roland Mouret. Her appearance in a figure-hugging, fuschia dress served to “popularise” Mauret’s fashions.
However, upon creating her own line of dresses, Victoria Beckham was praised, but again with an element of reservation because she dared to use a cut and style of dress similar to Mauret’s. Even Mauret quickly tired of being asked whether he had had a hand in designing Beckham’s first collection of dresses: “Oh my God, that question. Politicians, movie stars, it’s always the first things they want to know and I’m like, why? Why would I want to design a collection for Victoria Beckham? Yes she is a friend and yes she asks for advice and yes I told her the name of a pattern cutter, but she has lots of friends she asks for advice – Marc Jacobs. I like to help people that’s all.” It’s insulting to reduce the significance of a major fashion designer’s major piece of work by prefacing it with someone else’s name, and it’s certainly insulting to imply that a celebrity who has already proven her interest and business savvy in the fashion world in prior enterprises would still have needed someone else’s help to launch a successful collection of her own.
Is it a crime to create dresses that wear their influences on their capped sleeves? In every artform, people are openly inspired by their predecessors. Sometimes this veers too far into blatant plagiarism, but at the same time a nod to those who have paved the way for us is only respectful. I feel that there was some kind of unspoken code that was broken by Victoria Beckham’s successful foray into fashion. As long as she remained an ambassador liaising between brands and the public consciousness, this was acceptable and Victoria was a human promotion vehicle. Likewise with the Moon Dress – as long as Beckham remained a mannequin, this was fine. Don’t speak, don’t create, don’t do anything dangerous. And just in case you try to, the press will be watching with bated breath to tear you down should it not be absolutely perfect.
The fact that Victoria Beckham’s clothes are well-respected presents the public and the journalists with a new quandary. How to accept the now indisputable fact that Victoria Beckham has proven herself a successful career woman beyond the Spice Girls and without her husband? An article from the Daily Telegraph speaks thus:
When Victoria Beckham first announced she was moving into women’s fashion design, there was a collective gasp of horror that could be heard echoing around planet fashion for days. Did this pointing, pouting popstar, so very fond of hair extensions, fake tan and pneumatic cleavage seriously think she could segue over to the fashion business with any credibility?
Because no fashion designers have ever worn fake tan (Donatella Versace, anyone?), and hair extensions are not the business of serious fashionistas. That’s why there are whole areas dedicated to hair extensions and styling at Fashion Weeks across the globe.
When her debut collection turned out to be hot stuff, bitchy rumours circulated that her ‘good friend’ Roland Mouret was the real talent behind the collection, with the sexy, sculpted silhouette which featured so heavily throughout being so reminiscent of Mouret’s signature style.
But her subsequent collections have continued to quietly impress, and with Beckham clocking-up a British Fashion Award nomination and a Vogue cover featuring the ex-WAG in her new incarnation as soft and stylish designer-of-the-moment, the constant sniping about the level of Mouret’s involvement had died down.
Victoria Beckham ended up winning that award. It’s hard for the media to thus down a woman who, regardless of their own prejudices and portrayals of her, has been given the seal of approval by her own industry. Why does it matter what the press or public think of her? She is successful, and she is taken seriously. Why am I so vexed, I hear you ask? Because at the end of the day, it’s not fair to try to destroy somebody (ever, really, but especially) without giving them a chance to prove their worth first. They might just pleasantly surprise us, whether we should be surprised or not. But even then, if someone exceeds our expectations, instead of being happy for them and pleased with the fact that what they have created which has enriched our world, we are disgruntled by the fact that we were wrong. There is no pleasing some people, and it’s this aspect of human nature that really pisses me off at times.
Fashion insiders who have taken the time to speak to Beckham about her designs will vouch for her hands-on approach to her fledgling business. At her last presentation at New York Fashion Week, she even took to the floor to talk the jaded fashion-pack through each and every look as it came out – not a task anyone who didn’t know every stitch intimately would be foolish enough to take on.
For her part, Beckham has discussed her design process in the interview which accompanies her February Vogue cover, and is refreshingly honest about her skills: “I don’t draw, but nor do lots of designers. I tie things around me, I experiment with ideas and I try to work out a way to make everything flattering and make a woman feel beautiful.”
There is more than one way to design a dress, evidently. The fact that Beckham justifies that she “doesn’t draw” means that she is well aware that the media and ignorant public doubt her credentials, because “how can a fashion designer not draw?” Let a fashion designer tell you. The press presume that they know better than the professionals about their own profession. Let journalists design some clothes, and then we’ll come back.
So, it looks like the case of the WAG who went from Wannabe to world-class designer is closed. Better go find someone else to pick on, fashion bullies. Has anyone got Geri Halliwell’s number…
I added a dash of punctuation to this last sentence, because I know how to write. (Yes, I realise that was snarky, but hey.) And the whole problem begins again – Victoria Beckham has proved herself to be an unlikely (or not – this distinction is half the point of my article) survivor of mass derision, and so we move onto the next target whom we presume is easy. A triumph for Victoria, a triumph for the world of fashion’s substance and style over stylisation and stereotyping. But the battle against journalism’s discriminations and human nature remains to be won.