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Victoria Beckham lacks the full fluency of the fashion language other more traditional designers could call on. “What are we calling this fabric, again?” she checked with an assistant as she guided me through a preview of her spring/summer16 collection three days before her show in New York on Sunday morning. “It’s a crushed duchesse satin,” she discovered. A springy knit was woven in — “What is it, cotton?” She talks of her process like a diligent student performing lines before the school assembly.
We were standing in her New York studio, and the designer was still agitating over a moodboard of looks she could not quite reconcile as final. “It’s an eccentric collection,” she announced of its intent, before clutching my arm. “No. Sorry. I don’t mean that. I mean it’s eclectic,” she laughed. “Besides, it could all change. We’ve looked at so many variations at this point, it could all look completely different on Sunday.”
Reader, it didn’t. Victoria Beckham SS16 was a clean collection with breakout colours and lots of ideas: ruched leather collars, primary coloured ribbing, floral prints on nappa leather jackets, wide culottes and long knit gowns. Eclectic maybe, but controlled. It was built around a base of creamy white, with African-inspired prints, “bouncy ginghams” and a theme of “urban surf”, for which she had developed a print depicting aloha-style sunset surfers. “I’ve done a lot of travelling this year,” she said of its themes. Prints had been cut and deconstructed into abstracts. A skirt found her surfer dismembered in a patchwork of satin squares.
Weight is a big concern for Beckham (no kidding). A first trip to Singapore fashion week, and new store plans for Miami, have made her more mindful of her customers in hot countries. The collection was light, and fabrics had been thrown out and redeveloped to shake out their stiffness. There was a focus on ease and fluidity: long culottes and pull on skirts were super simple and three-quarter length. The aforementioned wrinkled satin had an easy breezy elegance.
“We’ve got our selling collection sorted, this catwalk is more about presenting our vision for the season,” explained Beckham of the comparative lack of mini lengths around — although short dresses in clashing suedes with a swirly asymmetric neckline did hint at her saucier sensibilities.
Beckham is no fashion innovator: there were many ideas here that echoed already established trends. Gingham has been everywhere this summer, and was first a key look for Céline AW14. Ditto harness belts. And tropical florals. The zipper jackets echoed Louis Vuitton’s menswear line. The debts were clear. But Beckham’s clothes are a compelling — and highly desirable — contribution to the party nonetheless. Finessed and loosely knit in cotton, her bouncy gingham had a renewed freshness and, well, bounce. Her large half-moon shaped bags were deliciously rendered in caramel and navy leathers.
Her team understands well the trend for loose, efficient, modern womenswear that travels well and looks work appropriate without seeming tired. Whether the diminutive designer will choose to wear the clothes is moot. She had “tried on everything”, and it felt “great” but at the preview she doggedly stuck to her daily uniform of skinny jeans, a Sweater Girl knit and spike stilettos: many of the SS16 designs would certainly swamp her.
In truth, Beckham’s commercial strength is in the selling pieces she was keeping in the closet and which will arrive in store next season without fanfare (a fact of most modern design houses). But her show is still a standout of spicy élan in New York. She may not be fashion’s greatest interlocutor, but she’s an excellent editor.