IT'S her first time going for drinks at the Chateau Marmont, but she negotiates the dark staircase up to the lobby like a pro, using the kind of sidestep one has to perfect when 4-inch Balenciaga heels are everyday footwear.
"Beckham, is it?" the bar hostess asks in a feeble attempt at acting nonchalant.
It's no use. There is just no way not to notice Victoria Beckham. She's dressed in a black bandage dress by Hervé Léger, her legs tanned the color of an Hermès Birkin. The pear-shaped diamond ring on her finger has to be the biggest bauble in Hollywood, or maybe it just looks like it on her child-size frame.
She strides into the garden, taking a table in the middle of all the action. Settling in for her first sit-down interview since her soccer stud husband signed a $250-million deal in January to play with the L.A. Galaxy, she orders a glass of Champagne and asks if it would be all right if she keeps her sunglasses on.
This week, the Beckhams and their three boys move into the $22-million, 13,000-square-foot Italianate house they bought in Beverly Hills. ("I didn't want anything too big and ostentatious," she says, by all indications being serious.) But for months, every detail of their arrival has been engineered to build buzz. The Beckhams hit the Oscar party circuit in February, then announced plans for a reality show in March, which Victoria began filming in May, popping up at the Grove, the Saddle Ranch Chop House and the Pleasure Chest sex shop — always with a film crew in tow and always in a head-turning get-up.
Unlike most celebs, she doesn't dress down in slouchy T-shirts, flip-flops and jeans. Beckham dresses, really dresses, for every occasion. Her wardrobe notes might read something like this:
June 11: Opening pitch at the Dodgers game — short-shorts and debut of Dries Van Noten platform sneakers.
Jan. 16: Dinner date with Katie at the Ivy — frilly organza Giambattista Valli dress, very ladylike.
June 3: MTV Movie Awards — vintage zebra-print Azzedine Alaia mini with pink satin bra peeking out. So 1980s, so MTV.
Her style isn't classic and it isn't driven by trends. It's daring, at times silly, and British at heart — think Princess Diana, who wore Moschino to meet the Italian president, Escada to Germany and Chanel to France, or the queen, with all those wonderful hats at Ascot.
Not that royal protocol would sanction a mini-dress for a coming-to-L.A. interview, especially a mini so short that you can't help but get the occasional glimpse of her pink panties. But Beckham is having a 1980s moment, inspired by her love of Léger, Alaia and British up-and-comer Christopher Kane, whose fluorescent bandage dresses were a hit at London Fashion Week in September.
"They dress down quite a lot here, don't they?" she asks. "It seems to be in keeping to go to Starbucks in track suit bottoms and Ugg boots."
Well, you can forget about that.
"I have one pair for non-photographic opportunities only. Underground car parks are fine, but aside from that, no."
"I don't want to change the way I dress," she says between nibbles of strawberries soaked in balsamic vinegar. "This is me, and if people like it, great."
But in many ways, she's already gone L.A. She's now highlighting her brown hair blond, launching her own denim line, promoting her own reality show, decorating a house in the hills, and gearing up for a reunion tour with her old band, the Spice Girls. Did she miss even one stereotype?
Well, she doesn't have a stylist — yet.
"I get quite bored with the way people look the same all the time, with the same makeup and the same outfit and the same kind of hair. I like to change things around quite a bit," she says, explaining that she works with stylists for magazine shoots only. But for personal appearances, "I prefer to do it myself."
Surprisingly, she comes off as pretty low-key. When we piled into her SUV with her driver, bodyguard and publicist to take the short ride from her manager's office to the Chateau, she dived into the way-back seat headfirst. A self-described "girl's girl," she has stick straight posture, knows exactly how to pose for a photo, and is quick to say she has to work at looking sexy.
She's worn nearly every designer you can think of and she's kept everything — the red Roland Mouret dress she wore to the Costume Institute ball at the Met, the white Alaia Academy Awards gown fitted by the master himself in Paris as a birthday present from David, even her Spice Girls costumes.
"Victoria is a true fashion lover," Mouret says. "She will never say 'no' to trying an outfit."
Hundreds of pieces will remain at her home outside London in a closet her friends compare to a Gucci store, with its shiny black fixtures and gray carpeting.
"I would love to have a record of everything I wore on every occasion. If I wasn't so busy with the children, I would love to do that." (The Beckhams have three sons, Brooklyn, 8, Romeo, 4, and Cruz, 2.)
At the house in L.A., she's made room for lots of jeans and handbags. She owns dozens from Hermès, including a fuchsia ostrich Birkin bought recently at auction. "I haven't ever used it," she says. "I think of them as an investment. And someday, when I'm lucky enough to have a girl, I will pass them along to her."
Her most sentimental piece is the original black dress she wore as a Spice Girl. "Everyone thought it was Gucci, but it cost about 20 pounds. Gucci got so much publicity from it, you'd think I would have at least gotten a bag," she says. The dress actually came from Miss Selfridge, a cheap chic chain in London.
Her first splurge was a pair of white sling-backs from Patrick Cox's Wannabe line. "I bought them with my sister. They were time-share shoes. I share everything with my sister."
During her time here she's been shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch at the Grove, Barneys and Kitson, "but it's been for work," she says, referring to the NBC show "Victoria Beckham: Coming to America," airing Monday at 8 p.m., which was produced by Simon Fuller, the "American Idol" creator who manages both Beckhams (and the Spice Girls before them). What were supposed to be six half-hour episodes have dwindled to a one-hour special because, she says, David got called back to play for England's national team and she wanted to be there to cheer him on.
Victoria Beckham, 33, has loved fashion since grade school.
"I tried to customize my school uniform, because I went to a very strict Church of England school. I used to get sent into the toilet every single day at school to take off my makeup and brush my hairspray out.
"My hair was so big in the 1980s," she continues, "I went to the theater once and the person behind asked if I could flatten my hair because they couldn't see."
Olivia Newton-John in "Grease" was an inspiration. "Remember when she wore those tight black satin trousers? One of my mom's friends promised me those and she never came up with the goods. I still look at her and say, 'You cow!' You should never promise a child something and not come up with it."
So she's designed a pair for the holiday collection of her dVb line.
But for now, she's launched only jeans — cut skinny, sometimes with fluorescent or metallic stitching, with a star or the dVb signature embroidered on the back pocket, at about $285 a pair. They're nothing remarkable, but they are being stocked at Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and, of course, Fred Segal Fun and Kitson in L.A.
"They make the leg look long, and are thin enough around the knee and loose enough around the waist. They are flattering during the day, but you can put them with a heel and look good at night," she says.
Her sunglasses, in stores since April, are based on vintage styles inspired by Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis and Farrah Fawcett. And now they're being worn by some of today's most stylish women, who happen to be Beckham's pals, including Katie Holmes, Elle Macpherson and Jennifer Lopez.
"This is just the beginning," she says. "I want to still be doing this in 20, 30, 40 years' time. I was never going to be the best singer or dancer or actress. I worked hard at it and I did a pretty good job. But with fashion, I'm good at it."
As Beckham pops another strawberry in her mouth, her enormous diamond scatters the California sunlight. The bill is already paid and the car is idling downstairs. All eyes are on her as she gets up to leave. Walking through the lobby, she steals a glance at the magazines on the newsstand. No Beckham covers, not today.
VICTORIA: GIRL TO GIRL
A sneak peek from "That Extra Half an Inch," Victoria Beckham's style guide published in Britain last year. Plans are underway for a U.S. release. But for now, put up your "Party Feet" and listen up.
Looking effortless is actually fashion code for "this involved lots of thought" and it's a tragic truth that this generally is the best strategy.
However you're built, be mindful of the rule that if you get your boobs out, put your legs away and vice versa. I guarantee you will look better and feel a lot more confident and comfortable.
The most useful (shoe) you can possibly own is a pair of tan high-heeled shoes, with either pointed toe or open toe. Not only do they elongate your leg, because it looks as if you're not wearing shoes at all, but they will go with pretty much any outfit and dress it up.
I am a real high-heels girl .[and] the price of wearing high heels is a painful one. But you can now buy Party Feet by Scholl, which act like invisible pillows beneath the balls of your feet.
Make sure [cropped trousers] end about three-quarters of the way down your calf, just at the point where it starts to narrow towards your ankle. This is the most flattering cut-off point on your leg: any higher and it ends at the widest part of your calf, and your legs will look like sausages, any lower and it will just look like you shrunk your trousers in the wash.
I always make sure my jeans have a bit of stretch to them (but not too much that they bag), are narrow around the leg and give shape to the bottom instead of squashing it down. If you're quite curvy with hips and a bum, Miss Sixty is the label you want. Whereas if you have more of a straight up and down build, go for Habitual, Grass Los Angeles or Acne.
The most important thing to remember if you're wearing a dress that won't let you wear a bra, such as one with a low back or, in particular, a deep-plunge front, is to make sure you have lots of toupee tape to keep everything in place. Don't bother with [nipple tape] go to a proper wig shop and get the real stuff as it's much tougher and nothing will go anywhere when you've got that on. Word of warning though: be careful when you take it off that you don't rip a nipple off too!
One of the things Geri [Halliwell] taught me when we were in the Spice Girls was that just before you get out of the shower, you should turn the temperature down and get a blast of freezing-cold water. It makes your skin look really taut and smooth too and is great for the circulation, but it is not very pleasant, I have to say.
Personally, I won't go anywhere without my hair straighteners, my Mason Pearson hairbrush, my rollers and hairpins, a small makeup bag, toothbrush and toothpaste, Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream and eye cream . If I'm going for a week, I'll bring three pairs of jeans. Then I try to stick to the formula of bringing something casual (plain T-shirt), something a bit more rock 'n' roll (vintage T-shirts and minidresses or miniskirts), something classic (nice V-necks, a pencil skirt and a plain dress) and then something a bit more out there for some fun. For example a pair of leather chaps that I took to L.A. last year.
I just throw on the Chanel sunglasses, which really do, as the fashion magazines say, hide a multitude of sins.