What next for David Beckham? Speculation is rife. Following his retirement from professional football, careers in Hollywood, pop music and politics have all been mooted. There were even reports (now denied) that he would open a restaurant in Las Vegas with Gordon Ramsay.
But among all the possible career paths, the most likely route leads to fashion. His wife Victoria has already won over the industry, and son Romeo has fronted an ad campaign for Burberry. The Beckhams seem to be a fashion dynasty in the making.
Few male celebrities have reinvented their image so frequently – certainly, no other athlete has. And fashion has been one of the most reliable ways that David Beckham has remained a talking point off the football pitch. It has paid dividends: according to Forbes, Beckham earned less than 20% of last year's income from football. The rest of his $46 million came from endorsements.
So where did this attention to style come from? Beckham prefers to trace his unconventional dress sense back to early childhood, when he says he once wore knickerbockers, knee socks and ballet shoes to a wedding instead of a suit. But by most accounts his interest in fashion really came to life when he met his wife Victoria (then famous as Posh Spice) in 1997.
Mix and match
The couple quickly learned that two brash outfits attracted more attention than one. Just take the black leather his-and-hers Versace catsuits in which they strutted before the paparazzi in 1999. Landing David somewhere between seedy fetish biker and couture car mechanic, the look stood out even more because, only a few weeks earlier, his closet seemed to be full of preppy sweaters and sleek trousers.
Speaking to H&M's consumer magazine last year, in an interview timed for the launch of his Bodywear range for the fast fashion brand, Beckham paused to reassess the infamous Versace outfit: "That's one when I look back and am like, 'What were we thinking?'"
Faux pas aside, each time he trawled the catwalks for some flashy new getup, Beckham refreshed his growing brand, establishing himself as an innovator. His hyperactive and haphazard pursuit of fashion trends generated valuable publicity. What mattered most to him was that the outfits were memorable.
But in fashion circles, sympathy for the ever-experimental Beckham soon ran out. Scathing attacks on the footballer and his wife came almost daily. When David sauntered into an elegant restaurant in 2005 wearing a poncho, arm-in-arm with Victoria in leather chaps, Susannah Frankel, then fashion editor of UK newspaper The Independent, captured the mood. "What a wally... At long last the world has a male fashion victim to laugh at," she wrote, asking readers to cast their minds back to some of his more outlandish outfits – like the now-legendary sarong.
As a global spokesman for mega-brands ranging from Pepsi to Armani, Beckham underlined his positive qualities as a footballer. Although some sports pundits said Beckham’s wealth and fame were out of proportion to his footballing talent, few can deny his dedication over a two-decades-long career.
During his time at Manchester United and the early years at Real Madrid, his dedication to clothes and grooming could easily have bean read as narcissism – consider the dozens of attention-grabbing hairstyles for a start. Yet the public seemed to see his fashion fervour as a sign of the same passion that made him a great player. His boyish charm, respectful demeanour and good sportsmanship probably helped too.
Later, with a more refined and relaxed wardrobe, David Beckham became a trendsetter. Gone were the headscarves and nail varnish that helped make him the defining metrosexual man of the new millennium. An older, more distinguished-looking Beckham – who led England as captain for six years – took on more classic, subtle styles as well as ambassadorial, patriotic and philanthropic roles around the world.
This more grown-up look is anchored by immaculate three piece suits and distressed denim paired with luxury knits, flat caps or beanies. After so many years as a fashion fanatic, Beckham seems to have settled into something less extravagant but still ‘fashion forward’. Now he propels long-lasting menswear trends, like the double-breasted suit, a look he helped usher in a couple of years ago.
With perfect timing for his next move, Beckham is currently wrapping up his many brand assets into something cohesive and interlocking: athletic sex symbol, family man and extraordinary everyman all rolled into one.
Lately he has been seen colour co-ordinating his coats with his younger children – casting himself as an endearing ‘cool dad’ rather than as one half of the tediously matching pair, Posh & Becks. And last month, just one photo he posted of customisable Adidas trainers emblazoned with the names of Victoria and the kids clocked up 200,000 likes on Facebook.
So even if a venture selling fashion in his own name never takes off, there are always the likes of Adidas deals to fall back on. Given that the value of that relationship has been estimated at $160 million over his lifetime, that's not a bad plan B.