David Beckham is so famous that his name signifies much more than who he is. Beckham the name became greater than Beckham the man years ago. It has been said that the former footballer’s brand is as instantly recognisable as those of multinational companies such as Coca-Cola and IBM. But he is no faceless corporation. Beckham is flesh and blood – a businessman, husband and father.
Beckham was born and brought up in East London. He spent his childhood kicking a ball around with his father in the park. It was an unremarkable beginning to an astonishing career in football. He went on to star for Manchester United and England, whom he captained for six years. Becks became a national treasure, the only Englishman to help clubs in each of England, Spain, the United States and France win league titles.
In 1999, Beckham married singer Victoria Adams, otherwise known as Posh Spice of the Spice Girls. The couple now have four children: sons Brooklyn, 18, Romeo, 14, and Cruz, 12; and daughter Harper, five.
Since hanging up his football boots in 2013, Beckham has become surely the most active retired sportsman in the world, fronting campaigns for Adidas, Biotherm Homme, Haig Club, H&M, and his highly successful fragrance lines with Coty.
Beckham and #legend speak on an unseasonably sunny morning in London. Beckham has flown in from Canada a few days before but shows no sign of jet lag. Rather, he is disconcertingly fresh-faced for 9.30am on a Monday. He shakes hands with everybody assembled for the photo shoot, introducing himself with a smile and a few moments of eye contact. He makes time to record a video message on a mobile phone for a mutual acquaintance, wishing her all the best on a forthcoming tour.
Beckham pads around the studio in green socks. He whips through the changes of outfit like the pro he is. Then, in front of the camera, he puts on his game face.
The crew and I observe from behind the monitor, where every un-retouched shot flashes on screen like a work of art or, at least, a page from a sumptuous coffee-table tome. One admiring onlooker remarks that watching Beckham in action, it’s hard to think that modelling wasn’t his original calling.
In each frame, he is a natural in front of the camera, adjusting his pose and expression as needed. Football fans mean something else when they say nobody can bend it like Beckham but bend it he certainly can.
Hours after Beckham spoke to #legend, he took to Instagram to post a loving birthday message for his youngest son.
The touching, heartfelt image reveals much about the man.
The words, however, can reveal quite a lot too. Here’s what he had to say.
You’re involved in so many types of businesses. With regard to the fashion industry and your partnership with Kent & Curwen, what parts are the most exciting or challenging for you?
There haven’t really been any challenging parts. I think, maybe, the only challenging part has been editing down the collection, which is not a bad problem to have. The exciting part has certainly been seeing Kent & Curwen progress into something that we’re all very proud of.
You appointed Daniel Kearns as creative director of Kent & Curwen. Why was he the right person for the brand?
I always felt that that was a really important addition to Kent & Curwen. It’s such an important position to bring someone into. It had to be the right person. It had to be someone that understood the heritage and the history, but also knew that we wanted to make it our own. Daniel is a very humble person, with an amazing family, and he’s just a hard-working guy that got it from day one. We’re very lucky to have found someone like him.
How do you two work together?
Obviously, Daniel has got an amazing team behind him, which he put together when he first came on. We speak regularly. When we’ve got new ideas and new collections, he either emails me or tells me to come into the studio. We share a common vision of staying true to the brand’s British heritage while creating iconic pieces that could belong in a modern man’s everyday wardrobe. My sons are also very into Kent & Curwen and constantly raid my closet. It’s also about creating collections with multigenerational appeal.
Do you have a particular period in history that you draw most inspiration from, style wise?
I’d say the 1960s. The sixties were such a great era for clothing. Personally, I just feel that a lot of the ideas, the jackets that we’ve picked with all the badges on and things like that, it’s very sixties in my eyes. That’s an era that I always gravitate towards.
I love that bomber jacket you wore for the shoot. The stitching reminds me of when my mum used to sew labels into my school uniform.
Yeah, it’s amazing, and that is how we wanted it to look. We didn’t want it to be like a perfect stitch. We wanted it to be like you’ve stitched it on yourself.
Your first collection with Daniel Kearns was launched globally on MR PORTER and was enormously successful, essentially taking a predominantly Asian business into a global market overnight. Was that an important part of the brand strategy?
The important part was to get the brand to a point where people were interested. Obviously, every brand wants that. We’re lucky with Kent & Curwen in that we have a huge business in Asia already, and China specifically. To have something like that behind us is great. But what we want to do is take it back to that real English heritage, where it began, to really keep that core and update those classic pieces in a way that feels appropriate and relevant for today. You know, there’s a big sporting heritage that runs through Kent & Curwen.
Such as the original cricket jumper?
The original cricket jumpers, even the rugby shirts. We want to really keep that. It’s such an important part of Kent & Curwen. That was vital to us.
What could British or American guys learn from Asian men in terms of fashion taste and general sartorial elegance?
That’s what’s great about fashion. You go to the United States and there’s a certain style with the way that men and women dress. It’s the same in Europe. You go to Milan, you go to Paris, you go to London: each city is so different and so diverse. It’s what makes fashion so special. But, again, you go to Asia, you go to China or places like Tokyo, you just have to walk around the streets and you see different fashions. You get so much inspiration from just walking around. That is all over the world.
Tell us about some other business successes you have had so far, aside from Kent & Curwen. What was it that made them so special to you?
I think what makes the businesses that I’m part of special is the time that we give the businesses. It’s important. Your customers, they’re savvy. They know when things are real and when they’re not real. The businesses that I’ve been part of, like Diageo and Haig Club, people realise the time that I’ve put behind them and I think they appreciate that. Whether you like whisky or dislike whisky, there’s something about Haig Club that’s special. It’s the same with Adidas. I’ve been part of them for 19 years. There’s an authenticity there and when you have that authentic side of a business, people want to be involved or they want to have a part of that. Kent & Curwen is an extension of that. It’s not just me being the face. I’m a partner in this business and it’s something that excites me.
You’ve spoken about shifting your role from someone who endorses brands to being a business partner with brands. Could you elaborate?
Probably six, seven years ago, when I was…not coming towards the end of my career, but obviously getting slightly older in my playing career, we decided that it was important to shift our business model and not just do sponsorship deals. We still have one or two of those and we still do those from time to time, but I think owning businesses and being partners in businesses is something that we are a lot more interested in. We’ve got so many different exciting projects coming up.
For instance the team in Miami, that’s something that’s authentic because I’ve been a professional football player for 22 years, and to be involved in a football club or to have my own football club is something that I never thought would ever happen. It’s something that we’re excited about and I think the business side has always interested me. Whenever I’ve gone into a partnership, even when it’s a sponsorship, people have my focus and my commitment, 110 per cent. I’m always like that with whatever I do. I like to be involved with the small details.
If you had to describe the Kent & Curwen man in three words, what would they be?
Authentic. Stylish. Modern.
Tell us about some people in the fashion industry who inspire your approach to business, and why?
I’ve always respected Ralph Lauren. To change it up and to still be at the top of his game for so many years is incredible. People like that inspire me. Obviously, my wife is in the fashion industry and I think what she’s achieved in such a short space of time – gained the respect of the fashion industry in less than 10 years – that’s pretty amazing. But I’ve seen how hard she works, so that is an inspiration as well.
You’ve pioneered a lot of fashion trends. If you could click your fingers and make a certain item of clothing or accessory a part of every man’s wardrobe, what would it be?
I think every man should have a tailored suit.
A three-piece suit?
No. Two-piece. One or two buttons only. For me, a well-cut suit is an important thing to have in your wardrobe.
You’ve been travelling to Hong Kong for decades now. What sort of changes have you noticed over the years? Are people dressing differently, shopping differently?
Hong Kong has always been one of those leaders in style and in fashion.
It changes from week to week, month to month, year to year. There’s always something changing. I think Hong Kong is such a great place for so many different reasons. The food is amazing.
Do you have a favourite dish?
In Hong Kong? I’m a big foodie, so I like to try new things and different restaurants. I’ve been lucky to have travelled around the world for quite a few years and have been able to experience so many different tastes, smells and cultures. I think that’s the great thing about travelling and Hong Kong is one of my favourite places to visit.
Do you think there is a difference in style between British and Chinese men?
I’ve walked around Hong Kong and seen amazing-looking businessmen in great suits but I’ve also seen young kids in very cool clothes. That’s something that I think [both places] have in common. You know, I’m 41 years old, but I still like to dress – not too young – but I still like to dress in a pair of jeans, a pair of trainers and a T-shirt.
Do you think people in Hong Kong are more conservative in their dress sense?
Maybe slightly more conservative than, say, Tokyo, for instance. You walk around Tokyo and you see a lot of young kids in clothes that I’d see my 14-year-old in or my 18-year-old in. It’s definitely a lot more conservative around Hong Kong and I know it’s a very business-orientated part of the world. I love to see a man in a great tailored suit and I see that more in Hong Kong than anywhere else. There are so many great stores, like The Armoury for example. It’s one of the reasons why I love going to Hong Kong.
Photographer / Rick Guest for East Photographic, London
Creative Director / Paris Libby
Producer / Candy Field
Digital Operator / Roland Gopal-Chowdhury
Photo Assistant / Frankie Lodge
Make-up / Sally O’Neill for Joy Agency
Hair Stylist / Alain Pichon for Streeters Agency
Fashion Stylist / Cathy Kasterine for CLM UK
Stylist Assistant / Benjamin Canares
Production Assistant / Amie Willenberg
Location / Alva West Studios, London