Tory Burch

Tory Burch.jpgPhotograph by François Halard. Published in Vogue, October 2004.
In an impressively short time, Tory Burch has created a multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand based on . . . herself. Raised in a historic Georgian house on rolling acres in Pennsylvania, she was a tomboyish kid more likely to be found up a tree than in a dress. Still, she soaked up plenty of style from her parents, who were among the Main Line gentry: Her father, heir to a paper-cup fortune, designed his own clothes and lined his suit jackets with Hermès scarves; her mother favored the easy patrician chic of Jacqueline Onassis. Burch credits her family as a primary influence on her taste, along with the decorator David Hicks, whose color-charged graphics from the sixties and seventies still look “very fresh”[1] to her today.

Burch studied art history and then honed her public relations chops with jobs at Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, and Narciso Rodriguez. As a designer whose approach is informed by her foundation in marketing, rather than fashion school, she is an interesting case study. Over the years she envisioned the Tory Burch empire to come, amassing tear sheets from magazines and old photos in an ever-burgeoning scrapbook. She launched her first collection out of the Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan that she shared with her then-husband and business partner, Chris Burch. A downtown boutique followed; and, in an indicator of the phenomenal retail success to come, nearly all inventory was cleared out on opening day.

Burch set her sights on an overlooked market: aspirational mid-career women and Bergdorf moms seeking affordable quality with the timelessness of good taste. Setting her price points lower than the competition’s, she bridged the gap between the haves and the have-nots, in the hopes that both would want to wear her wares. “Luxury, as I see it, is not exclusionary,”[2] she told Town & Country in 2008.

With this solid business plan in hand, Burch tapped in and struck gold. Women clamored for the versatile tunics, modeled by Burch after a Paris flea-market find, in the bright palette and prints that have become her signature. Early on, a glowing endorsement from Oprah gave the brand the proverbial Midas touch. And it has been winged victory ever since, with urban ballerinas snapping up the trendy Reva flat, emblazoned with her ubiquitous double-T medallion, in enough colors to put a crayon box to shame. Tory Burch knows her customers well, and they throng to her tangerine-walled boutiques to get a piece of the action—that blend of preppy-chic and boho bling that many of them will want to wear for a lifetime.

  1. 1966

    Tory Robinson born in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the youngest child and only daughter of Reva Robinson, at one time an aspiring actress who dated Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner, and Buddy Robinson, who dated Joan Bennett and Grace Kelly. Tory later calls her father “one of the chicest men you’ve ever seen.”[3] She will later attend the Agnes Irwin School, where she will ride and play varsity tennis.

  2. 1988

    Majors in art history at the University of Pennsylvania and becomes known for a unique look: “They used to call it Torywear. My friend Patrick used to say, ‘Half preppy and half jock—or prock.’ ”[4] After graduation she holds a series of fashion jobs, as an assistant to Zoran, a sittings assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, and as a copywriter for Ralph Lauren.

  3. 1993

    Marries William Macklowe, whom she will divorce within a year.

  4. 1995

    Works in public relations for Vera Wang (and later will do the same for Loewe, during Narciso Rodriguez’s tenure).

  5. 1996

    Marries venture capitalist Christopher Burch.

  6. 1997

    Gives birth to twins Henry and Nick.

  7. 1999

    First appears in Vogue in the Talking Fashion section; she'll become a regular.

  8. 2001

    Son Sawyer born. Vogue counts Burch among “the girls who pull the chicest crowd to a charity benefit.”[5]

  9. 2002

    Michael Kors’s accessories director Richard Sinnott tells WWD, “I know of two people who own their own jewelry: Oprah and Tory Burch.”[6] Vogue writes, “Burch has always had a penchant for variety.” It’s about this time that Burch says she “came up with a concept that I thought was both necessary and great,”[7] her line of midpriced clothes.

  10. 2004

    Launches her lifestyle brand in partnership with her husband out of their apartment at the Pierre Hotel. February: Tory by TRB flagship boutique opens in New York City’s Nolita neighborhood. September: Bergdorf Goodman has an exclusive on the fall line. October: Vogue’s Hamish Bowles spotlights Burch’s style and her fledgling brand. The line, he notes, “draws inspiration from her favorite era—the Ice Storm cusp of the sixties and seventies.”[8]

  11. 2005

    The brand becomes profitable. January: Receives the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star award for best new retail concept. April: Burch appears on Oprah; scores eight million hits the following day. September: For spring 2006, she changes the name of the company from Tory by TRB to Tory Burch. Introduces swimwear.

  12. 2006

    Launches shoes for fall, including the best-selling Reva ballerina flat, named after her mother. Collaborates with Habitual jeans. May: Begins international distribution of the brand at Harvey Nichols in London and Dubai. Tory and Chris Burch file for divorce, but remain co-owners of the company. She soon begins seeing Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong. November: Vogue covers the success of her Orange County, California, boutique.

  13. 2007

    Launches bags. February: “Tory has been very smart about branding herself,” Vogue editor Anna Wintour says in a Vanity Fair profile of Burch, adding that she is “a lovely girl, hardworking . . . not a socialite who puts her name on something and goes to lunch.”[9] September: The designer makes Vanity Fair’s Best-Dressed List for the first time. October: Celeb rags report her split with Lance Armstrong. November: She wins the Accessories Council of Excellence award for accessory brand launch of the year. Turns up on The Martha Stewart Show.

  14. 2008

    February: Appears in Roger Moenks’s book Inheriting Beauty. June: Accepts the CFDA Accessory Designer of the Year award. September: Launches the BR accessories logo in memory of her father, Buddy Robinson. October: The Fashion Footwear Association of New York presents Burch with its Designer of the Year award. November: She releases a compilation CD of her favorite music to benefit Save the Children.

  15. 2009

    April: Enters Asian market. June: Tory Burch Foundation is established, providing microloans to female entrepreneurs. July: The brand sells a minority stake to a Mexican investment group. October: Burch writes about her travels in India for Vogue. Makes a cameo on Gossip Girl. November: Eyewear debuts.

  16. 2010

    The brand is sold at 25 Tory Burch boutiques and 450 retail stores worldwide. January: Justin Giunta, of Subversive Jewelry, is named design director of jewelry. February: “There were a lot of eyebrows raised when I said I wanted to start this company and many people thought it would be a vanity project,” Burch tells Bloomberg Businessweek. “But I had an idea that something was missing in fashion.”[10] September: Kara Ross for Tory Burch jewelry collection launches for fall. October: She customizes a $4,500 Worksman adult tricycle for Neiman Marcus’s annual Christmas Book.

  17. 2011

    May: Along with Michael Kors and Diane von Furstenberg, makes over four Chicago police officers on Oprah. June: A slew of counterfeiters selling fake Reva flats and other accessories are fined $164 million in damages in court. September: Burch shows at New York Fashion Week for the first time; the collection’s inspiration is 1920s Deauville. She opens her largest flagship yet, in an 8,135-square-foot townhouse on Madison Avenue. October: The press is agog when Tory’s ex-husband, Christopher Burch, opens his own lifestyle emporium, C. Wonder, in SoHo, selling merchandise that bears a distinct resemblance to Tory’s preppy-nostalgic wares, but at much lower prices. A New York Times journalist, after visiting the store, later reports, “It’s unclear whether this is an amicable homage or a hostile takeover.”[11] Burch strikes a beauty-and-fragrance deal with Estée Lauder. November: WWD counts Burch’s brand among the most digitally savvy fashion names.

  18. 2012

    February: New York magazine gives readers the lowdown on the alleged feud between Tory and Chris Burch (over his attempts to sell his stake in their company and promote his competing C. Wonder brand). “We have heart-shaped waffle-makers in our store. We have pigs that are docking stations,” C. Wonder’s president insists. “They don’t have heart-shaped waffle-­makers! They don’t have pig docking stations!”[12] March: Vogue takes a tour of Burch’s neo-Georgian manor in Southampton, New York. October: Chris Burch slaps Tory with a lawsuit, seeking to stop her interference with his attempt to sell his Tory Burch stake and to develop C. Wonder. Rock Center with Brian Williams runs a segment on the so-called “Battle of the Burches.” The New York Post reports that she has sold her Southhampton estate, bought from Chris after their divorce, for half of what she paid for it. November: Tory hits back with a countersuit, claiming that her ex-husband used his access to inside business information to start a knockoff brand. The press gleefully pounces when the quirky judge in the case is quoted calling the feud “a drunken WASP fest”[13] and rambling at length about WASP habits. December: The showdown ends when Chris Burch sells roughly half of his 28.3 percent stake in Tory Burch to two minority investors (BDT Capital Partners LLC and General Atlantic LLC), retaining about 15 percent; the deal, reports Bloomberg, makes Tory a billionaire. Vanity Fair runs a feature on the situation.

  19. 2013

    February: Signs a licensing deal with Fossil to produce watches. March: Forbes officially adds her to its billionaires’ club. Her company sues Bluebell Wholesale, Inc. for selling accessories with imitations of the TT monogram. May: Files lawsuits against four New York–based jewelry wholesalers for peddling counterfeit baubles. October: Vogue features her first fragrance and makeup lines.

  • “Fashion Show Countdown: 24 Hours Before Tory Burch”
    “Fashion Show Countdown: 24 Hours Before Tory Burch”by Katherine BernardFebruary 12, 2013
  • Parties: “Tour de Force”
    Parties: “Tour de Force”by Chloe MalleMay 17, 2011
  • “Tory Burch Goes All Around the World for Pre-Fall”
    “Tory Burch Goes All Around the World for Pre-Fall”by Mark HolgateDecember 8, 2010
  • “Tory Burch's Tips on Traveling Over the Holidays”
    “Tory Burch's Tips on Traveling Over the Holidays”by Esther AdamsNovember 19, 2010
  • “FNO MO: Tory Burch”
    “FNO MO: Tory Burch”by Genevieve BahrenburgSeptember 10, 2009

  1. ^
    “Tory In All Her Glory,” by Carrie Karasyov. Town & Country, January 2008.
  2. ^
    “Tory In All Her Glory,” by Carrie Karasyov. Town & Country, January 2008.
  3. ^
    “Tory Time,” by Robert Haskell. Women’s Wear Daily, February 6, 2004.
  4. ^
    “An Empire of Her Own,” by Michael Shnayerson. Vanity Fair, February 2007.
  5. ^
    “Dynasty,” by Plum Sykes. Vogue, March 2001.
  6. ^
    “Big Business.”, April 18, 2002.
  7. ^
    “Tory Time,” by Robert Haskell. WWD, February 6, 2004.
  8. ^
    “Bold & Beautiful,” by Hamish Bowles. Vogue, October 2004.
  9. ^
    “An Empire of Her Own,” by Michael Shnayerson. Vanity Fair, February 2007.
  10. ^
    “Tory Burch’s Plan to Open 100 Stores Is No ‘Vanity Project,’ ” by Cotten Timberlake. Bloomberg BusinessWeek, February 12, 2010.
  11. ^
    “At C. Wonder, Something Feels Familiar,” by Alexandra Jacobs. The New York Times, November 29, 2011.
  12. ^
    “His. Hers,” by Jessica Pressler. New York, February 12, 2012.
  13. ^
    “The Burch Trial: ‘A Drunken WASP Fest,’ ” by Alexandra Steigrad. WWD, November 7, 2012.