Victoria Beckham: Her transformation from Spice Girl to Britain's top entrepreneur

UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador, British fashion designer Victoria Beckham, at a press conference on the sideline of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on Sept 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador, British fashion designer Victoria Beckham, at a press conference on the sideline of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on Sept 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

As she stands tall in stilettos among fashion's elite icons, it is sometimes hard to recall that Victoria Beckham was once a pouty pop singer with a penchant for little more than skinny black dresses.

Today, the 40-year-old pop star-turned-fashion designer is revered for both her chic sartorial instincts and shrewd business acumen.

With a wealth amounting to £210 million (S$431 million), she was recently crowned Britain's top entrepreneur, adding to the slew of accolades she already has in her numerous Hermes Birkin bags.

This is a story of the fashion maven who started off as a girl next door, stumbled into the stratosphere of showbiz, and went on to carve out a successful career outside the pop music industry.

Bullied school girl

Born Victoria Caroline Adams in 1974, she was the first of three children to an electronics engineer father and a former insurance clerk and hairdresser mother.

As a child, she was often bullied in school.

"(Children) were literally picking things up out of the puddles and throwing them at me," she once told Elle magazine. "And I just stood there, on my own. No one was with me. I didn't have any friends."

But after watching the musical Fame, Victoria was inspired to break out of her timid mould and pursue a career in showbiz.

In 1991, at the age of 17, she enrolled in the Laine Theatre Arts College in Epsom and studied dance and modelling. For a brief period, she was even part of a pop group called Persuasion.

Posh Spice

In March 1993, Victoria responded to a magazine advertisement looking for girls who were "street smart, extrovert, ambitious and able to sing and dance".

She made the final five along with Geri Halliwell and Melanie Brown.

Called Touch, the band soon replaced two of the girls with Melanie Chisholm and Emma Bunton.

Renaming themselves, the Spice Girls were born in 1994, and as they say, the rest is history.

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The group broke into the scene with Wannabe in 1996, showing everyone how to "zig-a-zig-ah". The playful single peaked at No. 1 in Britain for seven weeks, and topped the charts in 31 countries around the world.

Their debut album, Spice, went 10-times Platinum. In a string of successful hits that dominated airwaves in the 1990s, the quintet went on to remind angsty teenagers to love their Mamas, crooned about how 2 lovers can Become 1, and urged every boy and every girl to Spice Up Your Life.

So infectious was their brand of Girl Power that it was made into everything from dolls and commercials to the 1997 musical comedy film, Spice World.

Their nicknames, coined by magazine Top Of The Pops, became household monikers - Geri was Ginger, Mel B was Scary, Mel C was Sporty and Emma was Baby.

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Because of her middle-class background, love for designer shoes and sophisticated attitude, Victoria became Posh.

But this relatively reserved persona did not always prove popular with the fans. While Geri had a flaming mane to match her attitude, and Mel C could do somersaults and vocal riffs, Posh Spice was a dark horse in a dark dress.

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As Holly Baxter wrote in The Guardian: "Posh Spice - curt, chic, standoffish, sophisticated, perpetually unimpressed - was my least favourite by far. If I ever achieved my dream of boarding the Spice tour bus, I didn't think we'd be friends."

She added: "In the films and music videos, Geri, Emma and the two Mels got to bounce around and play out all the most fun-looking dance moves while she was relegated to a few seconds of lip-pursing and finger-waving."

The fact that Victoria seemed to categorically eschew smiling did little to melt her ice-queen image.

The pop star would later tell Paris Vogue: "I looked moody. But I wasn't! I was shy, (and) not very sure of myself. I had to create a character and I thought of that: staring at people and pouting. My insecurities helped me invent the character in a way."

When Victoria met David

In 1997, Posh Spice met Manchester United football star David Beckham at a charity match. They started dating soon after, and the media eagerly packaged the celebrity couple as Posh and Becks.

Victoria would later say of their first meeting: "I didn't really know who he was. I was never into football."

Two years later, she gave birth to their first child, Brooklyn.

The couple married a few months after at the 560-acre Luttrellstown Castle in Ireland. Victoria wore a strapless champagne Vera Wang gown, complete with a 20-foot train.

The Beckham brood has since expanded to include two other boys, Romeo, 11, and Cruz, nine, as well as a three-year-old girl, Harper.

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Goodbye Geri, hello solo career

In August 2000, Geri Halliwell stunned the world by walking out on the Spice Girls abruptly.

After releasing some singles as a foursome, the remaining members took a break to concentrate on their solo careers.

Victoria collaborated with True Steppers and Dane Bowers on the electropop hit, Out of Your Mind, which performed decently and debuted at No. 2 in the UK charts.

She released string of other singles including A Mind of Its Own and Let Your Head Go/This Groove, but was eventually dropped by her record label, Telstar Records.

No longer constrained by the "Little Black Dress" image so meticulously honed by her posh alter-ego, she began experimenting more with outfits, and even with modelling and writing.

The pop star made a guest appearance on the catwalk for Maria Gabbana in 2000, and was briefly a London Fashion Week model and an ambassador for Dolce and Gabba.

Her 2001 autobiography Learning To Fly became the third best-selling non-fiction title in the UK, selling more than 500,000 copies.

Foray into fashion design

In 2004, Victoria began designing a limited-edition line for fashion brand Rock & Republic. VB Rocks, as it was called, featured tight-fitting jeans, and proved popular for the upmarket label.

The fashonista also collaborated with brands like Linda Farrow, Coty and Samantha Thavasa.

In September 2008, she launched her eponymous fashion label, initially featuring a limited-edition collection of 400 dresses, which critics praised as "accomplished" and "impressive".

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Since then, the range has expanded to include accessories, eyewear and handbags that retail for as much as £18,000 (S$37,000).

She has become a permanent fixture at New York Fashion Week, with the press constantly raving about her classic aesthetics.

Celebrities who have donned her designs include Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyonce, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini.

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Earlier this year, her first flagship store opened in London's affluent Mayfair district, alongside fashion heavyweights like Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin.

Style icon

Not that she is any less busy off the runway and red carpets.

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The mother of four has appeared in television shows such as Project Runway, Ugly Betty and Germany's Next Top Model.

She even reunited with the Spice Girls for a world tour in 2007, and for the London Olympics closing ceremony in 2012.

By that time, of course, gone were the garish outfits and platform shoes of the nineties. Instead, her good friend, Italian designer Roberto Cavalli, stepped in to design the ladies' concert costumes. And Victoria was not going to step before the Olympic crowd without slipping into a sensual Giles Deacon gown and a pair of Louboutins.

A bona fide fashion icon, she has made the cover of Vogue across the world, including the British, Indian, Russian, Chinese, German and Turkish editions.

Last year, she was also guest editor for the December/January issue of French Vogue.

The prizes are as countless as her number of trademark, oversized aviators.

Among her many accolades are Designer Brand of the Year at the 2011 British Fashion Awards, Glamour Woman of the Decade in 2013 (an award which she picked up in a trendy Maison Martin Margiela jumpsuit), Harper's Bazaar's Woman of the Year in 2013 for Special Contribution to British Fashion, and even a Bambi award which she received from German fashion master Karl Lagerfeld.

Last month, she topped a London Fashion Week poll for greatest "style icon", proving that after almost 20 years in the public eye, she is more influential than ever.

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Top entrepreneur

On Sunday, British magazine Management Today named the former Spice Girl Britain's most successful entrepreneur of 2014.

Her fashion brand turned over £30 million (S$61.6 million) last year, up 2,900 per cent from £1 million five years ago, according to Management Today.

Her number of staff also leapt from three to 100 in the same period.

"She's got a real business, some design talent and some business nous," said Andrew Saunders, the magazine's deputy editor.

"She gets a lot of stick for being a celeb fashionista but I don't think that's fair. She has built something real out of her own celebrity which is quite a contemporary story. She deserves to be celebrated."

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The Independent's fashion editor Alexander Fury similarly noted that her talent and devotion to fashion must not be mistaken for her celebrity: "Victoria Beckham is taken seriously because she takes fashion seriously.

"Read any Beckham profile - or that weighty guest-edited issue of French Vogue - and she's described as a fashion designer. Because today, that's Victoria Beckham's job. One she does very well indeed."

Indeed, while many are keen to tether Victoria to her Spice Girl roots and celebrity cachet, the businesswoman has, in fact, long strutted beyond those boundaries.

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As she quipped in a recent interview with The Guardian: "First time around I felt famous, but now I feel successful."

Sources: Management Today, The Guardian, Glamour Magazine, Vogue, The Business of Fashion, The Telegraph, Roar News, Elle, The Independent

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg