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FASHION & BEAUTY

Building A £750m Fashion Empire In A Decade

To those hoping to decipher Tory Burch through two decades of photographic tea leaves, her avian frame tucked into a meticulous evening gown, her narrow neck ringed in gems, or who feel they know her from the nostalgia-steeped, ladylike, just-bohemian-enough clothing line she helms, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that she is, at her core, a jock. But if you grew up with Tory on Philadelphia’s Main Line, where as the captain of the varsity tennis team at the Agnes Irwin School for girls she had a two-handed topspin backhand that was a kill shot, or if you have played at her garden court in Southampton, Long Island, steps away from the Jazz Age neo-Georgian mansion where she spends summer weekends.

 

It is the end of a long day that began as most do for Tory, at 5:30 a.m. and as she sinks into a plump sofa in the pea-green drawing room of her home in the Pierre hotel and squeezes a tiger-striped velvet cushion between her knees. She explains, “The initial concept was pretty simple. How do we make beautiful, evocative things that don’t cost a fortune? But it’s a complete surprise to me that it’s become what it is. Being the face of the company is a super hard thing for me. I’m not a big believer in signs, but there’s this Gemini dichotomy: Although I’m a shy person, I think I’ve always been attracted to risk. If I’m not taking chances, if I’m not a little bit out of my comfort zone, I get bored.” Last month, testifying to that restless imagination, she launched a new brand called Tory Sport, a collection of stylish tennis ensembles, sleek tracksuits, surfwear, golfwear, and all manner of avant. and après-sport clothes. During New York Fashion Week, her original store on Elizabeth Street in downtown Manhattan will become a Tory Sport pop-up shop; the first stand-alone store, on Fifth Avenue, will open a few months later.

 

It’s no secret that Tory is among the most tireless and hands-on CEOs in the business. “She inspires her team without making a big song and dance about it,” says Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet. “She just does it and delivers results.” On a recent Thursday morning in her offices on West Nineteenth Street, appointed in orange and brown lacquers, with the requisite smattering of gold leaf, Lucite, and mirror; a ginger jar here, an Indian print there, Tory is, as always, everywhere at once. At a meeting with the company’s president, Brigitte Kleine, she mulls over locations for a boutique in Ginza while nursing a red Blow Pop (it’s Employee Appreciation Week, and candy is everywhere), then leaps up to take her mother to a doctor’s appointment. Back an hour later, she reviews composite stones from Jaipur, suggests adding iridescent Lurex yarn to an oatmeal sweater, and proposes barrettes in lilac tulle at a ready-to-wear design meeting for the main line. She runs upstairs for a visit with an executive from the U.S. Olympic Committee (dressing athletes may be in her future), then down again to supervise the shoot of the Tory Sport lookbook. “Can we get the lighting to feel like a Rineke Dijkstra photo?” she asks the team, passing out coconut ice pops. All around the room, clothing racks are hung with tracksuits, bombers, and piqué polos. There’s a neoprene wet suit with floral side panels, a ponte blazer with a zip-out hood, pull-on dresses with tunic necklines, and oversize sweaters in cashmere that, she swears, breathes. Bags have compartments for water bottles and sunscreen, and sneakers are encrusted in navy-blue pearls. Tory waxes lyrical about bonding and seam sealing, wind proofing and waterproofing, and indeed stealth functionality is everywhere, interior zip pockets, reflective piping, UPF fabrics. The styles skew old school, but the technology is state-of-the-art.

 

After college, Tory worked at a series of New York fashion jobs: assistant at Zoran, junior editor at Harper’s Bazaar, PR and advertising at Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, and LVMH during Narciso Rodriguez’s tenure at Loewe. A first marriage, to the real estate scion Billy Macklowe, ended after six months. By 2001, she was married to the entrepreneur Chris Burch, had three young sons, and was stepmother to Chris’s three daughters. She was also an increasingly visible presence in the uptown social swirl, and it might have appeared that this soft-spoken and perfectly turned-out young woman from Philadelphia wanted nothing more than to settle into the role of a rich Upper East Side wife. But Tory had other ideas. “The truth is, I was a bit removed, a bit of an outsider, and I liked that feeling,” she says. “I still feel like that—with the uptown tribe and the fashion tribe. It’s like I’m in it but also an observer of it.” She recalls the first article about her, in 2004 in The New York Times. “I told the writer that the word ambitious bothered me. And a friend of mine called me up after that and said, ‘You should never shy away from that word.’ That got me thinking. Why would women reject the idea of ambition? Well, because it’s a word that’s often used negatively to describe women. But that’s a cruel double standard. So now I have no problem saying I’m ambitious.”

 

A few years ago, Tory met Pierre-Yves Roussel, the CEO of LVMH Fashion Group, at a breakfast at the Ritz in Paris arranged by a pair of bankers who thought the two might like to make a business deal. Though no business came out of that meeting, the two discovered they had a lot in common: Each has three sons; he too had a stint in Philadelphia, at Wharton. But it wasn’t until May of 2014 that they became a couple. He is, Tory says, the love of her life. “I used to look at my parents and see this amazing love affair that lasted 47 years, until my dad died, and I never thought it would happen for me,” she says. “And now it has.”