• Without cash flow from David, Victoria's empire would have lost £4million (NZ$8.5 million)
• But few would have guessed at the reality behind her business' façade
• So can Victoria really claim to be successful entrepreneur in her own right?

For a woman whose idea of elegance used to be his'n'hers leather catsuits, she had come a very long way. And at the British Fashion Awards in London's Coliseum two years ago, Victoria Beckham was about to celebrate her emergence as a force in the fashion industry.

She was looking surprisingly understated - at least from the front - as she stepped up to receive the Best Brand trophy, wearing a chunky woollen pullover with a black-and-white satin pleated maxi skirt, both from her own collection.

From the rear, the look was less sophisticated. The sweater was so low-slung at the back it put the former Spice Girl at risk of builder's bottom, as well as displaying a fading tattoo in Hebrew letters snaking down her spine.


But no matter: the days when Posh and Becks paraded in matching Versace black leather, earning themselves the derision of the style police, were long forgotten.

The girl once considered such a brand-killer that designers were said to have been horrified when she was photographed in their clothes was now hobnobbing on equal terms with bona fide rag-trade royalty.

David Beckham and Victoria Beckham attend the British Fashion Awards 2015 at London Coliseum on November 23, 2015 in London, England. Photo / Getty Images
David Beckham and Victoria Beckham attend the British Fashion Awards 2015 at London Coliseum on November 23, 2015 in London, England. Photo / Getty Images

As she was being feted by fellow guests including Christopher Bailey, chief executive of super-luxe label Burberry, and Anna Wintour, the fearsome editor of American Vogue, her move into the fashion business looked like a huge commercial and critical success.

Just a couple of months earlier, she had been chosen as Entrepreneur of the Year by the respected Management Today magazine. The normally sober business publication gushed at her achievement in creating a company that was 'both real and wildly successful'.

Few would have guessed at the reality behind the veneer.

Technically, her fledgling fashion business, Victoria Beckham Limited (VBL), was registering only a small profit. Of course, most new companies don't make a huge profit from day one. It only scraped into the black thanks to millions of pounds channelled through its books from her husband's lucrative post-football career.

Indeed, beneath the ultra-successful facade, the truth was that her fashion business would have made a near £4 million (NZ$8.5 million) loss without the money flowing in from deals cashing in on the David Beckham name.

None of this was apparent until recently, when the 2014 accounts were finally lodged at Companies House.

Perhaps embarrassingly for Victoria, who first shot to fame singing about 'Girl Power' 20 years ago, her career as an entrepreneur has been built on support from two wealthy and powerful male backers: her husband and Spice Girls svengali Simon Fuller. Although her 'business acumen' is portrayed as an integral part of Brand Beckham, it is David's millions, earned from lending his name to a variety of products from drinks to watches, that provide the vast bulk of the family wealth.

Which gives rise to an intriguing question: can Victoria really claim to be a successful entrepreneur in her own right, or is her fashion venture merely a vanity project for a wealthy woman blessed with an indulgent spouse?

Her company is expected to make another loss for 2015, because it is investing for the long-term, including opening a new store in Hong Kong this week. She is also hiring more staff to work at her studio in Battersea, South London.

"She is creating jobs and paying UK taxes," says one associate.

"She is investing for the long term and doesn't need short-term profitability. Over time she will prove her critics wrong.'

The financial losses at Victoria's business may not create any hardship chez Beckham, but it is a rare instance when the family Midas touch has not delivered instant millions.

Not only did her company make a loss in 2014, it was also heavily in debt: its borrowings doubled to more than £17 million. Most of the increase was due to a sum of £7 million owed to other parts of the Beckham business empire.

Part of the explanation is that she is investing heavily in building her company. Like many an ambitious business owner, Victoria has lavished money on her flagship premises, though in her case this has been on a truly grand scale.

She hired world-renowned Iranian-born architect Farshid Moussavi, 50, to design her first shop on Dover Street in Mayfair. The floors are concrete and the ceiling is covered in mirrored stainless steel.

A 4m-wide flight of stairs leads up to a plain white wall that is used as a backdrop for projected images of the collections.

Garments are not crowded together on common-or-garden rails, but instead are hung on 'blonde gold' chains suspended from the ceiling.

Shoppers have to pay by iPad, since Victoria considers tills an eyesore.

She is investing for the long term and doesn't need short-term profitability. Over time she will prove her critics wrong.


Naturally, none of this comes cheap. Under the ten-year lease signed in 2013, the annual rent is £650,000.

By the end of 2014, she had spent £4.28 million on the website and store, including fixtures, fittings and computers. Only one thing is missing from the three-storey temple to fashion: customers. They are reported to be thin on the ground.

Victoria's team have denied there is a lack of clientele. But as others who have tried to make their name in luxury fashion have found to their cost, it is a hard market to crack.

For example, financial difficulties were cited as one of the possible reasons for the suicide of Mick Jagger's designer girlfriend, L'Wren Scott, and former Jimmy Choo tycoon Tamara Mellon recently saw her latest business venture fall into bankruptcy.

Fortunately for Victoria, she is not dependent on her fashion business to maintain her lifestyle.

She controls a large stake in the main holding company for her and David's business ventures, Beckham Brand Holdings (BBH).

Ownership of the firm is split equally between Victoria, David and Fuller's company XIX Management. BBH contains Victoria's fashion business along with another branch of the couple's complex financial empire, DB Ventures Ltd, whose raison d'etre is to license and profit from the David Beckham brand.

A spokesman from BBH said: "The group performance so far is strong and to plan. Sales at Victoria Beckham Limited are up 30 per cent and DB Ventures had one of its best-ever years.

"We are very excited about the potential of VBL and will continue to invest in the business to build a British luxury fashion brand with long-term value.'

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Profits at BBH rose to £12.6 million after tax in 2014, from £1.54 million the previous year, thanks to David's stellar earning power.

The company paid out more than £30 million in dividends - £9 million during the 2014 financial year and £21.6 million after the year end - meaning payments of £10.2 million each for David, Victoria and Fuller. On top of that, Footwork, a separate company also set up to cash in on David's name and image, made £9.8 million profit after tax in 2014.

It paid a dividend of £6.5 million to David, who appears to be the sole shareholder. The company was holding nearly £5.8 million on his behalf in a director's current account.

As one leading accountant says: "Just being David Beckham is a licence to print money.

"He has generated millions of pounds of revenue and virtually all is profit. There have been tens of millions of profits and dividends - while Victoria has lost under £4 million. All in all it is not bad business for them."

No one disputes that her elegant and stylish clothes have won deserved praise in the notoriously bitchy world of fashion.

Even her fans, though, concede she has no formal design credentials, unlike rivals such as Stella McCartney, who benefits from being on the celebrity circuit thanks to her father Paul, but graduated from the respected Central St Martins College of Art and Design in the mid-Nineties.

Harold Tillman, former head of Jaeger and chair of the British Fashion Council, says: "I am a very big fan of Victoria's in terms of her ability to create a business out of her own taste, with no training or expertise.

Hamish Bowles and Victoria Beckham attend the CFDA Awards in New York City. Photo / Getty Images
Hamish Bowles and Victoria Beckham attend the CFDA Awards in New York City. Photo / Getty Images

"She has done it by sheer force of will and my belief is she is now taken very seriously. It isn't just a case of 'keep the wife happy, let her open a boutique'."

He adds that making a loss is "fairly normal" in the growth phase of a business.

"I would call it a 'development cost'. Her quality is superb and she doesn't cut corners in any way."

More cynical observers have wondered about the exact nature of Victoria's contribution to the clothes.

There has been speculation that fashion designer Roland Mouret, another star from the Fuller stable, was the real creative genius behind the brand.

Both she and Mouret have denied this, but he has acknowledged that he helped Victoria with advice and contacts, including an introduction to Melanie Clark, her head designer.

What is for certain is that her creations have been worn by celebrities including actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz and Kate Beckinsale.

Sales revenues for 2014 are healthy, with a rise of 34 per cent to £34 million. Unfortunately, her costs also rose, and profits after tax fell slightly to £1.23 million.

As the accounts note: "The company has made a loss in respect of continuing operations."

The loss would have amounted to £3.8 million if £5.2 million from so-called "discontinued operations" had not been injected.

The £5.2 million is understood to be income from deals that cash in on David's brand. These cash-flows have subsequently been transferred to DB Ventures.

The move is part of a restructuring exercise so that, in future, Victoria Beckham Ltd will focus purely on her fashion operations.

"I wouldn't say there is anything sinister going on here," said one accountant. "They are just simplifying the business.

"But what is clear is that he is the major earner in this marriage - her fashion company is yet to break through to significant profitability and she still seems to be in the investment phase."

All this aside, Victoria, 41, has undergone a remarkable transformation from pop star Posh Spice, through the footballer's wife years, to her latest persona as fashion queen.

With her brunette bob, perma-pout and tight black dresses, she was always more stylish than her fellow Spice Girls.

But that was not hard considering Ginger Spice's penchant for knicker-revealing Union Jack dresses and Scary's leopard- skin numbers.

Posh cemented her role as queen of the WAGs while in Baden Baden, Germany, for the 2006 World Cup, where she wore tiny hot pants and low-cut tops. Orange fake tan and waist-length hair extensions completed the look.

It is hard to imagine the Victoria of a decade ago producing a collection described by Suzy Menkes of American Vogue - one of the world's most respected fashion writers - as "colourful, classy and adult". That, however, is not enough to guarantee a profitable business.

Habitues of the catwalk front row may coo, but back in the real world, many women would balk at Posh's prices.

Her website features kangaroo leather slippers costing £625, and shoppers would have to shell out nearly £1,500 for a platform sandal in matte gray python.

A plain black, fitted dress with three-quarter sleeves sells £1,250 while a floor-length lipstick red crepe gown will set you back £2,650.

For the kind of woman who finds a Sainsbury's Bag For Life is not sufficiently stylish, there is a navy python "simple shopper" lined with lamb's leather for £1,850.

When the world economy is booming, wealthy women or the men who squire them around Mayfair, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and Paris's Rue Saint-Honore, might not flinch at these price tags.

But along with others in the luxury fashion market, Mrs Beckham is up against a tougher global economy.

The slowdown in China, coupled with fears of a new financial crisis in the U.S. and this country, have put a brake on high-end fashion.

The rich are less inclined to blow thousands of pounds on an outfit, and when they do, Victoria's relatively new business, which began in 2008 with a very small collection, is in competition with the established luxury labels such as Gucci, Hermes and Burberry.

Her £3.8 million loss is small change to a couple whose vast joint wealth was estimated last year to £470 million and rising.

David, now aged 40, has seen the money continue to flood in since he stopped playing professional football, when at his peak he earned £30 million a year.

He has been able to pour millions more into the family coffers thanks to deals including a lucrative contract with drinks multi-national Diageo to launch a new whisky. Even their older children are showing cash potential. The eldest, Brooklyn, 17, has appeared in fashion magazines and has 6.4 million Instagram followers, boosting his leverage for marketing deals.

Romeo, 13, has worked on an advertising campaign for Burberry and it may only be a matter of time before 11-year-old Cruz and four-year-old Harper are making money, too.

"The Beckham brand has been used to advertise everything from designer clothes to satellite television and whisky," says the London School of Marketing's Anton Dominique. "What's also interesting is that the family name is almost as influential as any individual family member."

Supporters of Victoria point out that as a mother of four and the wife of one of the richest men in the country, she has no need to work at all and could instead recline in the family's grand West London townhouse enjoying a life of leisure.

In her foray into the world of commerce, she has advantages most entrepreneurs could only dream of, and she may ultimately turn her brand into a world-beater.

For the moment, however, Victoria Beckham Ltd still has more style than substance.

Additional reporting: Dan Newling

-Daily Mail