It was minus sixteen degrees in New York on 14 February, with a wind sharp enough to flay the skin off your face, as Victoria Beckham’s autumn/winter 2016 show opened with an outfit of full tweedy skirt below strapless bustier, toned midriff exposed through a chopped-out piece over the navel. Authorities were bringing the homeless into shelters given the bitter cold; Mayor Bill de Blasio advised New Yorkers, officially, to stay indoors, as the fashion press sprinted into the old Cunard Building to see Beckham’s lightweight separates and unlined coats. I reiterate, this was a winter show. Is Beckham disconnected from reality? Or is she just tackling a different one - the reality of today’s fashion consumer, whose demands seldom extend to insulation against polar vortexes and instead wants things that are light and easy to pack but visually impactful? I suspect the latter.
Victoria Beckham - woman and brand - is opening her second store, in Hong Kong. By which we can draw the presumption, frequently challenged, that people are actually buying these clothes, and it isn’t just a vanity project. I mean, it is a smidge of a vanity project - but isn’t any designer who hangs their name on clothes, over a catwalk and above shop windows a little bit vain?
This collection was an introspective little bit of Beckham, looking backwards to the clutch of ten dresses she started her alternative career as fashion designer with. “It’s about the evolution of my personal style,” said she at a preview the day before the show. Harper Seven clawed at her legs; David flicked through his iPhone behind; the extended family descended on the showroom at one point. Beckham seemed a bit exasperated, as she had plenty of work to do.
There was something heartwarming and spontaneous about the scene - cynics will say it was a choreographed Brand Beckham power-play; but I like to give her the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think Beckham feels the need to either impress nor distract like that. Rather it felt unpretentious and natural, as did her winter clothes.
Beckham based her winter collection around the corseted silhouette of her oft-derided opening clutch of almost constipatedly-restrained cocktail dresses, folded from fabric with bits of girdle fabric cleverly inserted to suck and tuck your flesh. They’re still best-sellers, even if Beckham shows lots of other stuff, like waffly-patterned coats and tulip-shaped skirts.
The corset shapes this time were rendered in ribbed knits, relatively unstructured, no boning or especial stiffening although they were layered, pulled over sweaters and maybe buckled on top of coats, to add definition. “I think women like corsets,” said Beckham. She’s probably right: Beckham’s success, in part, is that she’s a normal (very rich and fashionable) woman, who knows what other normal (very rich and fashionable) women would like to put in their wardrobe at any particular time. She’s increasingly confident of that position. It means she’s producing clothes less immediately redolent of other designers’ work, and more intuitively keyed to what she actually wears. Like her silhouettes’ Beckham has relaxed. Like her layers, she’s lightened up. It means she’s now producing stuff that justifies the attention it will nevertheless always receive.
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