What a strange parable of parenting, fashion and fame, as the Beckhams use their son to validate their own barmy choices
It makes sense for fashion to go child. Children are small and fashion loves a tiny body mass, fresh and ripe. I have spent many years pondering exactly why, and asking wiser souls, who speak of “showing the clothes” and models all having the same hips or something, but I still persist in believing it has something to do with Karl Lagerfeld‘s own childhood and self-hatred more generally. The fashion world is so anxious for “new” (new being nothing we already have, or therefore are), I feel certain it would put human cells on the catwalk if they could scowl with photogenic malice.
The easy toxicity of the fashion crowd has to be seen in what I will generously call person (that is, without airbrushing) to be understood; the spectre of my first couture show, when girls in beige swayed like sticking plasters tacked on to mental illness stays with me still, even in the cold ponds of Topshop.
This brings me to the reveal of the week before Christmas – which is a time for children to be happy, at least in fiction. It is that Romeo David Beckham, the middle child of the global hair and teeth conglomerate Posh and Becks, has been sold by his parents to star in the new Burberry international advertising campaign. Burberry, for those who do not suck on the pavements of Sloane Street, sells the kind of mackintoshes that private eyes used to wear when chasing cinematic adulterers, and it is also dog couture for rich idiots, who think dogs can be improved with accessories.
Beckham is wearing a trench coat, designed for the trenches of the war to end all wars, and I’m sure there is a joke in there, although I can’t find it. Beckham is 10, and British Vogue, for perhaps the first time in its spindly history, announced that it will not feature him in editorial, because he breaches its “health initiative criteria” by being under 16 – which is a welcome reminder that the Vogue health initiative criteria still exist. Even so, Vogue will publish the ad because, even at Vogue House, courage – and presumably the desire for health – has its limits. If you were cynical, you would say Vogue’s criticism was editorial; for those who care about fashion, in private, too young is never bad.
Romeo’s fate was foretold when he appeared at No 26 in the GQ Most Stylish List in 2011, when he was eight, not an age to beg for rubber gilets and chain-mail knickers, unless prompted. I still have the puff quote, because it was frightening – “our list goes right down to a frighteningly tuned-in (and well-connected) eight-year-old” – and it was quite obvious that the Beckhams were using Romeo (it’s a good name for a victim) to validate their own barmy choices, which involve mostly scowling at every camera they can eat.
This time, we are told, Romeo was talent-spotted by a man called Christopher Bailey, who works for Burberry and, rather strangely, looks just like Beckham, only slightly larger: if this were a mini-series rather than a polemic, I would ask if Bailey were his real father and only by modelling Burberry could they be together. Except that Romeo looks like David, too – the wide eyes, the blond mop, the jaw so rectangular it could be a microwave that will never see a ready meal. He is only given away as a child by his height, the fact that he is allowed to smile, and, therefore, also his teeth: they are tombstone teeth, howlingly innocent.
Now, as Cecil B de Mille pointed out in Sunset Boulevard, a dozen press agents working overtime can do terrible things to the human spirit. Victoria Beckham, who once mistook a popped balloon at the Brit Awards for an assassination attempt, should beware before she takes her child anywhere near balloons, or people who will give him a false vision of himself – and fashion people, unfortunately, rarely offer anything else, because fashion is about snobbery and ravenous vanity and, ideally and ultimately, about being someone else.
Scarlett Johanssen may knock newspapers as the font of all dishonesty, and therefore misery, in her new advert for Dolce e Gabbana perfume (“How do I know it was a lie? Because I read it in your newspaper… “) but celebrities should, in truth, look to the other side of the lens for the cause of their unhappiness. It is very difficult to be a celebrity, if you are reluctant; just wear the same clothes every day, and close the door.
The Beckhams, in their thorny, monetised wisdom, obviously believe that the age when a child can legally stand trial for murder is also a suitable age for a child to swell on a billboard, and carry the scowling flame onwards. But fashion? Really? One of the more charming things about children is their enthusiasm to be only themselves. So this is a strange parable of fashion, fame and parenting, with menaces – if your parents are fashion drugged, you may be kidnapped by a fashion house. A global campaign is a poor Christmas gift for any child; and how does one explain to Romeo’s brothers, who also know what mirrors are for, that they are too ugly to be a spokesmodel for Burberry – but the one in the top bunk is not?