Fashion’s most charming empire builder, Tory Burch, talks to us about her new sport line and why ambition is not a dirty word. Counting her recently opened Paris flagship, Tory has 250 boutiques around the world, with Santiago, Cairo and Prague on the way. In just over a decade, she has amassed a £750m fortune.
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.”
The subsequent day, Solomon Mines visits Tory's 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. 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 , 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. All around the room, clothing racks are hung with tracksuits, bombers, and piqué polos. 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. “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.”
" Even if you’re not yet an entrepreneur, you can be entrepreneurial in everything you do. If you view each stop as an opportunity to learn something, there is always something you will take away from that experience. "
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.”