Shortly before she joined the Spice Girls in 1994, Victoria Beckham landed a job in the perfume department of House of Fraser at Lakeside Shopping Centre in Essex. It’s fair to say she has huge respect for the art of scent. As a child she collected empty Chanel perfume bottles from her mother’s friends. In 2005, post Spice Girls, she launched a celebrity fragrance that made her so much money, it helped fund the launch of her fashion line a few years later.
“But this,” she says of her new odiferous project – three scents named after pivotal places in her and husband David’s story – “is very, very different.”
It’s also very good. I was surprised. The scents are full bodied, but rounded and sophisticated – none of the overpowering sweetness one associates with the hit-and-run celebrity offerings that clobber you in duty free, adding to the cumulative sense of airport nausea. As for the vivid green, yellow and white bottles that look as though they’re enamelled hip flasks, they were inspired by a vintage necklace with a perfume bottle charm that she found years ago. They manage to be stylish and different, I tell her.
“Thank you,” she deadpans. They took eight years to develop. The packaging is as environmentally friendly as she could make it and still retains an aura of luxury – no plastic and post waste materials.
Dressed in a black boatneck knit and black tailored trousers, hair in a sleek ponytail, she’s talking to me from a white wood panelled office in London, the city where the family still live part of the year – mainly when 12-year-old Harper is in school.
The holidays are spent in Miami, close to David’s football team. But Victoria also travels frequently to New York, where her beauty team is based. The Friday after we speak, she’ll be in Paris for her show. It’s quite the schedule. Presumably with all those homes and suites on hold, she travels with hand luggage? “Are you joking? It’s a nightmare – I travel with so much luggage, but I like to have options.”
Beckham always wanted to launch a beauty range. As a child with problematic skin, she was encouraged by her mother to go to school in a full face of make-up. Her techniques have become far more subtle. But passionate as she is about beauty products, she wanted to do her own range properly. A decade ago, when Estée Lauder approached her to join them in a beauty collaboration, “it was a dream come true. Not only that, but the success of that made me realise there was a market for my own beauty line,” she says.
She knew she wanted it to be clean, after she smelt strong chemicals on Harper’s scalp having used supposedly gentle baby shampoos on her. “So that meant I had to do it myself, down to all the research and development. It’s definitely harder, because it has to work, and it has to feel luxurious, so that makes the development time on everything significantly longer. We’re really pushing our labs. But I love the challenge.”
She is nothing if not tenacious. She could have taken the relatively painless road of lending her imprint to an off-the-shelf formula – the so-called white labelling in which so many famous names, including designers, engage. Not only that, but these perfumes have been developed using her own company’s money; there is no external investment. “Never take the easy route,” she laughs.
By her own admission, she’s not a scientist, but she’s a consumer, big time. So is Harper, the youngest of the Beckhams’ four children, who according to her mother, “went into summer 2023 a child and has emerged looking much more grown up”. The pair spend happy hours experimenting with cosmetics. The reason her latest mascara is excellent is, she says, “that I tried everything in the Miami humidity. Ours is the only clean mascara that doesn’t end up halfway down your face.”
As for Harper, “She’s like a pro when it comes to putting on make-up,” says her mother. “But she also knows what’s appropriate. I wouldn’t want her going out wearing lots of make-up. But nor would she. Maybe just a small, natural-looking amount.’
It’s this love of the end product that has, ultimately, proven to be Beckham’s strongest card. She didn’t train as a fashion designer, but years of buying and wearing designer clothes honed her eye. At her son Brooklyn’s wedding to Nicola Peltz last year, Victoria’s un-mother-of-the-groom slip dress caused a sensation, and may have indirectly sparked the current slip dress revival.
This season she says, she’s got her eye on two bomber jackets from her collection. “I like it when you can wear something lots of different ways – make it casual or smart,” she says. Devouring fashion magazines in her teens and 20s educated her about the best stylists and photographers – many of whom she has since worked with on her own brand. She discovered Jérôme Epinette, who has formulated her perfumes, after she began wearing his Do Not Disturb scent.
“Scent is so personal – it is to David and me anyway.”’ They both love wearing the stuff (he has his own fragrance deals with Coty); her store in Mayfair is a scented oasis (Diptyque’s Figuier); and at home they like hyacinths.
As someone who’s reasonably comfortable in the spotlight – she’s bathed in it for more than half her life – she’s sufficiently self-aware to know that anchoring her scents in hers and David’s romantic history would give those recherché formulae a certain commercial relatability that has always helped her connect with customers both within and beyond her traditional fanbase.
San Ysidro Drive is named after the Beverly Hills road the Beckham family relocated to in 2007. She recalls, “It reminds me of Malibu and hiking and surfing with the kids. The life we had there.” Portofino ’97 recalls holidays spent in the Italian comune. Priced at £170 each, she knows this is niche, but that’s what she always intended. After all, she’s been down the mass road before.
The black cherry, leather and tobacco scent of Suite 302 – her brief to Epinette was to capture a whiff of leather and tobacco – is a nod to when she and David were spending a lot of time in Paris in the 1990s. “We would either stay at the Hotel Costes or the Ritz. I can still remember the feel of everything. The heavy burgundy curtains, how dark it was in the Costes, how we’d come out of the hotel and there would always be paparazzi in the street. I was wearing lots of Dolce and Gabbana, all the big hair… it was very sexy.”
Now married for 24 years, the couple still go on date nights. “I wouldn’t say I dress to please David when we go out,” she says. “I definitely don’t dress to seduce. But I will take into consideration what he likes.” These days that’s seeing his wife in a tuxedo, or a dress with a jacket over her shoulders – and always heels. “Hold-ups always work too,” she adds helpfully.
Next April she turns 50, a milestone that doesn’t appear to faze her. “Honestly, I’m not obsessed with looking young.”
I almost believe her. I don’t think it’s entirely possible to be in the public eye and not become hyper-attached to a certain image of yourself. But I think she is sincere when she says that what she most values is having young people around her. She means primarily her children (the boys are now aged 24, 21 and 18) and their friends.
They’ve always been a notably close family, more dependent on one another than an extended circle of friends. “I think the secret to a happy family is probably communication,” she says. “Respecting each other and their ambitions. Both me and David are very ambitious, as are our children in their different ways. You also have to be realistic. Sometimes work or other things (does she mean in-laws?) mean you can’t always go on holiday together as a family. That’s why it’s important to appreciate the family time you do have.”
For someone who has a show in Paris in a week’s time, she seems pretty relaxed. “We do a lot of preparations beforehand,” she says. “Paris is the crème de la crème. It definitely raised my game, but weirdly I feel less nervous showing there than I did in London or New York.”
Maybe the fact that finally, after more than a decade in the fashion business, and in the face of huge scepticism, the brand announced earlier this year that it was in profit. That, she notes, was a huge fist-pumping moment.
“I have an amazing CEO in Marie Leblanc (who previously worked at Printemps, the Parisian department store, Isabel Marant and Celine). She really ironed out all the kinks and restructured us. That’s huge – during the pandemic every day felt like we were putting out fires. Now sales in the store are up 80 per cent on the previous year. “Right now,” she says, “I’m just feeling very proud.”