“Tory isn’t this living doll,” her old friend Marjorie Gubelmann says.“That image of her next to a vase of hydrangeas—that’s her brand, and people are inspired by that.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.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. It’s the end of a long day that began, as most do for Tory Burch, at 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 lobs the ball back at me. ”For Tory to admit to taking pleasure in winning would be to abandon the decorous reserve that is as essential to her character as the gold medallion is to her iconic Reva ballet flats.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, then you already know that Tory plays to win. It’s hard to empire-build politely, but she has managed it, delivering one of the world’s most successful fashion brands, now valued at around .5 billion, in little more than a decade.“This didn’t feel like a trend to me,” Tory says of the moment when she noticed that her friends in London were wearing yoga pants with a smart blazer to Cipriani for lunch.
I thought, if we could make things superfunctional but still think about style and history, give them a beautiful feel in the hand, and maybe make them a bit preppy—that would be something different.”At the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in art history, Tory’s friends liked to call her a “prock”: part prep, part jock. “Many of the things I see in her stores are reminiscent of the stuff she wore in college,” says Hayley Boesky, her roommate at Penn.
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.
“The initial concept was pretty simple,” she explains.
“How do we make beautiful, evocative things that don’t cost a fortune?
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.