Inside Tory Burch’s World

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Tory Burch’s

decorative T hardware on ballet flats and leather handbags is as well known among her fashion fans as the Golden Arches are to french fry lovers. But ever since she co-founded her namesake brand in 2004, she has refused to go all-in, even as other brands made logos a key part of their strategy. Then this past February—mid-pandemic—she put out tote bags, sneakers and hats slathered in head-to-head Ts enclosed in circles. Burch still refuses to call it a logo line. It’s officially the T Monogram collection. 

“I wasn’t against logo bags,” says Burch, 55, who sees her original Ts on shoe buckles and handbags as an emblem rather than a logo. Vocabulary aside, it took her, she says, two years to perfect the jacquard motif, It is a similar sort of repeat pattern to the interlocking LV’s or double G’s that have fueled the profits of luxury brands

Louis Vuitton

and Gucci, but announces the wearer as a proud Tory gal. The risk, of course, is that a line awash in logos could cheapen the brand’s image—a fate previously suffered by American brands Michael Kors and Coach. 

“I don’t want to say I’m not a logo person because there’s different sides to me, but it’s not for me,” Burch says. “It was never about, Oh I have to wear a certain label.”

After overcoming her personal doubts, Burch deployed a strategy in keeping with each new initiative since she launched the brand 17 years ago: to offer luxurious but affordable fashions. Burch is pinning her hopes on matching the materials and workmanship of a European luxury brand while employing American-style cost efficiencies—manufacturing in Portugal, Spain and Vietnam, for instance, rather than France. A pair of logo Gucci espadrille slides will set you back $520, while you would lay down $198 for the T Monogram pair.  

Burch’s eponymous company has held steadfast to maintaining this  American-price-Euro-luxury differential while conservatively navigating two global crises—the 2008 financial crash and the 2020 pandemic—profitable and largely unencumbered by debt, they say. She spent much of the past year retrenching amid temporary store closures and employee furloughs, while at the same time planning an evolution into a global brand that uses upgraded materials and designs. Tory Burch also plans aggressive investments in digital and supply-chain technology. With much of the world emerging from the pandemic, Burch will also return to expanding her retail store network—including an intended 60 new stores in China—beginning in August with a new flagship at 151 Mercer Street in New York City’s Soho neighborhood. It announces her new, less preppy, more sophisticated aesthetic. 

“I don’t want to take any victory laps,” Burch says. “There’s always something around the corner…. [But] I’m surprised at the recovery of the business.”

The Mercer store suggests how Burch is evolving personally, creatively and corporately. She is nearly two decades older than when she conceived the business, with a 2004 store opening on Elizabeth Street followed by an exclusive wholesale launch at Bergdorf Goodman. At the time, she called the label Tory by TRB (for her initials—Tory Robinson Burch), which she soon saw as misguided. “It’s the worst name. Everyone’s calling it Tory Burch. What is wrong with you?” the late jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane told her over dinner, she says.

“There hasn’t been in the last couple of decades an American brand that has launched that successfully,” says the luxury industry consultant Robert Burke. “The other designers of that time period were really going after European aesthetics…. Tory’s appeal is what’s always been appealing…about American sportswear: It’s uncomplicated. It’s easy…. She was just much more focused on appealing to a real woman.”


“I don’t want to say I’m not a logo person because there’s different sides to me, but it’s not for me.”


— Tory Burch

A previous generation of American fashion leaders, including Calvin Klein and

Donna Karan,

sold their companies and watched their namesake labels gradually reduced to shopping outlet brands. Michael Kors is now owned by Capri Holdings, which also owns Versace and Jimmy Choo. A younger generation of designers that includes Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, and Joseph Altuzarra hasn’t grown the retail and digital networks necessary to dominate fashion the way their predecessors did. That leaves Ralph Lauren—where Burch worked in in communications and advertising in the early 1990s—as arguably Tory Burch’s only real peer as a large American luxury brand whose designer is still in control, though the publicly traded

Ralph Lauren Corp.

revenues, $6.2 billion in fiscal year 2020, dwarf Tory Burch’s, which are expected to top $1.5 billion in 2021, according to people familiar with the company.

“It’s very easy to move around with the flavor du jour” as a designer, says Vera Wang, who has known Burch since she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in art history. “The harder thing to do is to stay in your lane and make it relevant. That’s what the biggest houses have always done.”

Wang deconstructs the formula that built Tory Burch as well as her own brand: “You have to have one item that works. Chanel had that cardigan jacket…. With Armani it was very much soft suiting, soft tailoring…. Ralph Lauren had the polo shirt and Americana…. Calvin Klein made America sexy.… I’m known for bridal,” Wang says. “And Tory started with the tunic and moved on with that insane ballet slipper where hardware became  extremely visible and very important.”

Reva Robinson, Burch’s mom, for whom the flats were named, has been asked to autograph the shoes, millions of which were once sold for $195 each but have since been discontinued. (In their place are a handful of best-selling bags and shoes such as the slightly sleeker $228 Minnie travel ballet flat, while the original Revas still have asking prices on eBay that can top $250.)

The Mercer Street store is a similarly sleeker vision of Burch’s world. Gone is the familiar bold orange door and the directionally preppy David Hicks–inspired decor. In its place will be travertine floors and muted oak, rattan and wicker. The store will showcase the work of women artists, notably a chandelier, sconces and painted handrails by the New York artist Francesca DiMattio. 

To celebrate the local community as it emerges from the pandemic, Burch is staging an exhibition at the Mercer store in partnership with the International Center of Photography—called Tory Burch x ICP: A “New” New York—to showcase work from female alumni of the school. 

Shoppers at the Mercer store will be greeted by a ceiling hung with baskets and caning, an airy theme for a store designed with Gwenaël Nicolas, a French Tokyo-based designer and co-founder of architecture and design firm Curiosity.

Nicolas is known for minimalist light-filled spaces such as Uniqlo’s Shinjuku, Tokyo, megastore, as well as retail spaces for Fendi, Louis Vuitton and collaborations with Issey Miyake. With Burch, he has created a combination of artsy furnishings and comfort that she hopes will feel like walking into a living room. It’s an eclectic high-low mashup of a sitting room, which in Burch’s envisioning generally involves furnishings one might wish to dive into for a cozy nap.  

Burch became acquainted with Nicolas through her husband,

Pierre-Yves Roussel,

who had met him when Roussel, also 55, a former McKinsey partner, served as chief executive of LVMH’s fashion group in Paris.

Burch with Pierre-Yves…

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