Like the Von Trapps reimagined for the athleisure era, a quartet of Beckhams is posing in the lobby of a white-walled art deco house in West Hollywood, all wearing Reebok merchandise. Imagine a set of Russian dolls in sportswear and you get a sense of the effect as Beckhams of various sizes – Cruz, 13, Romeo, 15, and Brooklyn, 19, in hoodies, along with Victoria, in a white Reebok T-shirt tucked into leather trousers – smize for the cameras.
This tableau has been arranged at a dinner to promote Beckham’s much-hyped collaboration with Reebok. More specifically, tonight’s event launches a “teaser” range designed by Beckham with 90s basketball legend, and long-term Reebok ambassador, Shaquille O’Neal. The first drop, of hoodies and T-shirts, will go on sale in May on Beckham’s website and will serve as a buzz-builder for the collection proper, due towards the end of the year, which will centre on performance workout wear, including bras, leggings and trainers.
According to an impassioned speech given to assembled journalists by Reebok’s CEO, Matthew H O’Toole, tonight’s launch is about much more than hoodies. It is, he says, “one of most incredible nights in the history of Reebok”. The company – which recently announced a plan to transform its bottom line by homing in on the fitness market – has “always been about empowering women … this is an incredible step forward in what’s possible for that”.
In the 90s, a plotline in which Victoria Beckham became an icon for female empowerment through fitness would have been deemed so implausible that even the creators of Spice World: The Movie might have rejected it. Back then, her personal brand was set up in opposition to sport. She was Posh: she pouted and swayed in mini dresses and heels; Mel C was the one karate kicking in tracksuits. Later, in the 00s, far from being papped wearing trainers, her impractical footwear was one of the aspects of her image that the popular press most criticised. She wore towering heels to take the kids to an amusement park; she wore tiny white shorts with wedge trainers to throw the first pitch for the LA Dodgers. In 2008, she coined a phrase that has become a meme: “I can’t concentrate in flats”, and said: “I’d love to go to the gym, but I just can’t get my head around the footwear.”
“Goodness,” Beckham says at dinner (she says “goodness” a lot), “I have said quite a few things as a joke that people have taken maybe a little too literally.” Actually, she says, she has always exercised, “though I didn’t exercise as much as I do now when I was in the Spice Girls because there wasn’t the time to do it”. Now, she says, she has more of a routine, which includes an hour on the treadmill before taking the kids to school, still wearing her workout gear, after which a trainer takes her through a Tracy Anderson-method dance-based hour-long workout. At the school gates, she says, “most of the mums and dads are wearing workout clothes. People are busy. They are either just coming back from the gym or just going to the gym.”
Does she think exercise is empowering? “For me,” she says, “that’s where I go in the morning, that’s ‘me’ time. It’s not just about how it makes you look. It’s how it makes you feel. It really gets me ready for the day. It clears my mind. It’s also where I have lots of ideas. It’s a time when I’m not on the phone, I’m not with the children, I’m not with David; I can literally just be left alone.”
The former queen of bodycon is now most likely to use words such as “comfort” and “ease” while talking about clothes. Sportswear and trainers are huge business at the moment, she says, because “I think people want to be comfortable”. She likes it when people mix sportswear with tailoring, when they “do it and it looks effortless as opposed to too contrived”. She bats this point over to the three team VB employees who sit on a plush sofa parallel to ours, observing our interview and occasionally chiming in. “That is one way that I don’t love sportswear, actually,” she tells them. “I don’t love sportswear with a heel because it doesn’t look effortless and I think the whole point of bringing sportswear into the wardrobe is that it should look easy.” If her entourage are not physically making notes as she says this, they must be doing so mentally.
Beckham’s approach to design – which is accomplished enough that it has long won over the traditionally snobby fashion industry, even if the perception in the wider world sometimes lags behind – seems genuinely intuitive. She has a sense of the zeitgeist based on the clothes she wants to wear. “I’ve wanted to create workout clothes for a long, long time, you know,” she says. “I work out every day and I want to make clothes that I want in my life.” That said, she is also very earnest. Of the process of working with a sportswear brand, she says: “I want to push them and I want to be pushed as well. I want to learn and create something different.” She speaks with enthusiasm about function, technical fabrics and “bonding details”.
Later, by the time food is served (at a long table canopied with fairy lights and groaning with floral displays), things are more relaxed. The army of men and women who have been stalking the corridors, hissing “VB is coming” into their iPhones between interviews and photo calls, have dispersed. Salt-N-Pepa’s Spinderella is on the decks. Around the dinner table, superstylist Rachel Zoe chats with actor Eva Longoria; hairdresser to the stars Ken Paves mingles with tattoo artist to the stars Dr Woo and spin instructor to the stars Angela Manuel-Davis. All have glowing complexions that speak of money, yoga, green juice and veganism. Beckham sits next to her business partner Simon Fuller, singing along to 90s R&B tracks; O’Neal is opposite, with two of his incredibly tall sons. David Beckham is at O’Neal’s right, his hoodie boldly advertising long-term sponsor, Adidas. That might appear awkward until you remember that Adidas owns Reebok, and the very Beckhamish synergy of the whole endeavour becomes even more mind-blowing.
As this gathering of taut, glossy, hoodie-clad power brokers attests, Victoria Beckham’s decade-long transformation from flat-shoe-denier to trainer designer certainly reflects the times. If she can harness that shift into a successful workout range – the price points of which will expose her to a much wider audience than her four-figure catwalk line – she could even win over a few more of the naysayers.
Certainly, the time is right to try. After all, if a Posh character was cultivated for a girl band in 2018, they would be the one rising every day at 5am to down a protein shake before boxing with their personal trainer. Today, having the ability – whether by dint of wealth, success, childcare or discipline – to cultivate triceps that look incredible in cap sleeves has become much more aspirational than any big-ticket fashion purchase. Unlike Birkin bags or Louboutin shoes, exercise is about more than money. It’s about money and discipline; it’s about mastering one’s time every day – and maybe even prolonging one’s life in the process. Right now, life doesn’t get much Posher than that.
Hannah Marriott travelled to Los Angeles with Reebok.