“This has been a crazy week—it’s probably the most I’ve traveled in a year,” designer Veronica Swanson Beard says, when we talk in January. She is half of the duo behind the eponymous brand she runs with her sister-in-law Veronica Miele Beard. The Naples native just flew from Florida, where she still spends holidays with family, to Boston for the opening day of the newest Veronica Beard retail shop, the 13th store launched since creating the brand a decade ago. “Brick-and-mortar is how a customer really understands our brand,” Swanson Beard says. “It’s like going into someone’s house and seeing the art they collect or candle they’re burning. How someone lives in their home is how we approach our stores—you walk into our world.”
Swanson Beard—who lives with her family in Locust Valley, outside of New York City—was born in Naples. Her father, W. Clarke Swanson, Jr., of Swanson food fame, was one of the founders of the Community School of Naples, which she attended.
She studied art history at Tulane in New Orleans, before moving to New York and briefly attending Parsons School of Design. Close family friend Marissa Hartington, of Marissa Collections, helped Swanson Beard land her first fashion internship at Oscar de la Renta, and she later went on to be Marissa’s contemporary fashion buyer in New York City in the early 2000s. “That was where I got a lot of the education on [Veronica Beard’s] space in the market,” says Swanson Beard, who refers to Marissa as her “fashion fairy godmother.”
After her time as a buyer, Swanson Beard and Miele Beard, who was taking a break from working in finance on Wall Street, started discussing the concept for what would become the soon-to-be-born brand’s centerpiece Dickey Jacket, a play on a men’s suit jacket. They wanted to create a truly multifunctional piece—something that would instantly make an ensemble look polished the second you slipped it on. They started designing out of Swanson Beard’s New York City apartment and leaned on both of their backgrounds in business and buying. “It was this yin and yang of strengths and weaknesses we both had, so we really relied on each other to start,” Swanson Beard says.
The idea of creating a “uniform” is what initially inspired the birth of the brand, based on timeless closet staples. The signature Dickey Jacket is still the No. 1 selling item today. Reflecting on the past 10 years, Swanson Beard says they were “going so fast, we didn’t even know it. It’s crazy to think back on the pace we were living, to be on a plane twice a week; event after event, sales campaigns, photo shoots. It was so fun, but it’s like that saying, ‘a body in motion stays in motion’—and it really does.”
The “Amazon effect,” coupled with the pandemic, caused more than 15,000 stores to close in 2020, including major retailers like J. Crew and Neiman Marcus that filed for bankruptcy. But the designers behind Veronica Beard took the past year as an opportunity to pause and pivot. “This was a chance to look at the parts of our customer’s life we weren’t addressing or designing for,” Swanson Beard says.
The pandemic allowed for more family time, something important to both mothers (Swanson Beard has three boys, and Miele Beard has five children), but the designers also started to think in more casual terms and conceiving an “off-duty” look. They started asking themselves what the new uniform could be. “In the years to come, we will continue to listen to what our customer wants, how she’s dressing and where she is going in this new post-pandemic world,” explains Miele Beard. “There’s a lot more she will need, and we will create it as she demands it.”
Now that more customers are buying cover-ups as dresses, the duo are growing categories, such as swimwear. They launched a workout capsule in February, debuting tabletop, and designing “a lot of Zoom tops,” Swanson Beard says with a laugh. Their seasonal Nantucket store will reopen in April, around the same time a new Veronica Beard shop will debut in Chicago. Last November, a shop-in-shop opened at Marissa Collections, which, for Swanson Beard, feels like coming full circle at the same spot that helped launch her foray into fashion.
The designer also hopes to return to Naples this spring for a collaboration to benefit the Community School, as part of the brand’s efforts through VB Gives Back. “My parents taught us from an early age to be grateful for what we have and always give back,” she says, explaining how growing up, she and her sister would raise money to buy Christmas gifts for the children of the migrant workers in Immokalee. “I remember thinking, this is so amazing, to see how much it meant to these kids, especially when this may be their only gift. When you’re having success—whether it be business, financial or personal—you want to pay it forward.”