‘I feel like a new designer’: inside the renaissance of Tory Burch (2024)

‘A lampshade, a shower cap, an old barn jacket.’ So Tory Burch lists the somewhat disparate objects you would have found in her atelier earlier this year when she was creating her A/W 2024 collection, shown in February at the New York Public Library during the city’s fashion week. On a chilly winter evening, the historic space was momentarily transformed with silver panels across the walls and runway, recalling Andy Warhol’s foil-covered Factory.

After two decades in business, and now a stalwart of the American fashion scene, the New York-based designer has remodelled her brand in the past five years in what she calls a radical break from the past. Freewheeling, experimental and unafraid of getting a little weird, it is a far cry from the uptown polish – and signature ‘Reva’ ballet pumps with their metal double-T plaque – with which she was for years synonymous, and which helped make her Forbes’ second-youngest self-made female American billionaire in 2013.

‘I feel like a new designer’: inside the renaissance of Tory Burch (1)

(Image credit: Photography by Theresa Marx, fashion by Jason Hughes)

‘I feel like a new designer,’ says Burch, who is still in the midst of what pundits have deemed a ‘Toryssaince’, seeing the label embraced by a new generation of trend-hungry consumers. In 2023, her ‘Pierced’ mules landed at number six on the Lyst Index, a quarterly barometer of the world’s ‘hottest brands and products’, pooled from a mass of digital shopping data. That same year, she was nominated for CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year, and this year she was named as one of Time’s 100 most influential people. Meanwhile, social-media ubiquitous celebrities, from Hailey Bieber to Emily Ratajkowski – the latter walking in her A/W 2024 show – have taken Tory Burch to the timeline.

She credits the change in part to Covid, which allowed her a rare pause to consider what the brand was, and in part to stepping down as CEO in 2019, a move that allowed her to focus ‘nearly 100 per cent’ of her time on design (her replacement was husband and former LVMH executive Pierre-Yves Roussel, who was largely responsible for placing Phoebe Philo at Celine and Jonathan Anderson at Loewe). A Shaker-inspired collection for S/S 3021, presented via lookbook due to the pandemic, was the starting point, a polished vision of American craft inspired by attending a Quaker school as a young child. The resulting pieces showed both creativity and restraint, inspired by the old Shaker maxim that ‘beauty rests in utility’.

‘I always heard people in the business saying “on brand” and it really bothered me’

‘It was a palate cleanser and a restart, to take a step back and think about the essence of where we were, and who I am,’ she says. Employing stylist Brian Molloy – perhaps best known for his work with the Olsens’ The Row – and re-energising her design team with new hires, including associate creative director Pookie Burch (the designer’s stepdaughter), her main desire was to shirk any talk of being ‘on brand’. ‘I always heard people in the business saying “on brand” and it really bothered me. I found out there was this perception of what that meant, and then a reality – because it wasn’t how I was feeling.’ Burch says reconciling this required a ‘careful balance’. ‘I wanted to rethink everything, but I didn’t want to alienate our customer as well.’ The way Burch sees it now is that she’s simply bringing her longtime fans along on the ride, and picking up some new ones as she goes. ‘The only regret I have is that I didn’t do all of this sooner.’

Her A/W 2024 collection centres on fabric and silhouette. Garments were crafted from ‘the inside out’, inspired by handbag construction and ‘old Japanese kids’ origami books’ that her team had discovered in the New York Public Library. A flared line, across dresses and tops, recalls the shape of traditional paper lampshades. Denim and utility jackets nip the waist, while other dresses fall away into trails of ‘unravelling’ ruffles. A multitude of textures, meanwhile, span a glossy, super-lightweight mock croc, papery leather, shimmering tweeds and a voluptuous tinsel raffia used across outerwear and boa-like scarves. ‘I don’t want to walk away from ideas too quickly, I want to get better at them,’ she says, noting each season now begins with a period of experimentation and play. ‘I also say to our team that people should be able to cover the label and get a sense of who we are, and that that is something different to everybody else.’

‘I feel like a new designer’: inside the renaissance of Tory Burch (2)

(Image credit: Photography by Theresa Marx, fashion by Jason Hughes)

Such ambition is a hallmark of her career. Launching her label in 2004, Burch (then a 37-year-old mother to three young children and working in fashion PR) showed her first collection in her Upper East Side apartment, before opening a store downtown. She wanted to create the sort of pieces she imagined her and her friends wearing, honing a breezy, bohemian aesthetic that drew on vintage garments and old magazine clippings. Pieces were cheaper than her competitors, and on its first day of trading, her store almost sold out. Appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show – then watched by almost nine million viewers a show – and her presence on New York’s social scene propelled the brand to the sort of ubiquity achieved by behemoths such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.

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‘I’d previously shied away from the word ‘ambition’ because it had a very negative connotation when it came to women,’ she says. ‘But for me, ambition is living on your own terms and, for the last 20 years, I’ve been figuring out how to make it okay for women to embrace it.’ In 2009, she created the Tory Burch Foundation to empower female entrepreneurs (it has since awarded more than $100m in funding). Recently, she gave a commencement speech at Parsons School of Design, and wondered what advice she should give to a new generation of designers. She settled on, ‘You have to focus on who you are and what makes you happy, live by your own rules and not be defined by how other people see you. You have to find your purpose. Negativity is noise.’

‘You have to find your purpose. Negativity is noise’

As for being one of the faces of American fashion (Anna Wintour is a friend and longtime supporter, while her work featured in The Met’s blockbuster 2022 ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion’ exhibition), it is a role that Burch embraces. ‘Sometimes people say “American fashion” in a derogatory way, but I’ve always had a great relationship with the term. I think what America has contributed to fashion is pretty substantial.’ She notes the influence of Claire McCardell, who laid the foundations for casual, comfortable sportswear in the 1940s and 1950s. ‘She put pockets and zippers on garments,’ says Burch. ‘She was the first one to take workwear and play with it in really interesting ways – France looked to her.’

But if Burch’s output was once synonymous with American ease, then she hopes her recent collections have a more transformative effect on their wearer. ‘I want women to feel beautiful, confident and unique, but mostly I want them to feel powerful,’ she says. She singles out her sell-out ‘Pierced’ leather mule, punctured with metal hoops, as epitomising the mood. Like a symbolic ‘Reva’ with a nose piercing,it is an emblem of the new Tory Burch: still elegant, expertly commercial (a multitude of pierced iterations are in the works), and – most importantly – just a little off-brand.

‘I feel like a new designer’: inside the renaissance of Tory Burch (3)

(Image credit: Photography by Theresa Marx, fashion by Jason Hughes)

This article appears in the August 2024 issue of Wallpaper*, a guide to Creative America, available to download free when you sign up to our daily digest of news, in print on newsstands from 4 July, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today.

Model: Dayna Monique at Models 1. Casting: Ikki Casting at WSM. Hair: Abra Kennedy using Oribe. Make-up: Megumi Matsuno at Of Substance Agency using Charlotte Tilbury Beauty. Manicure: Jessica Ciesco at Snow Creatives using Bio Sculpture. Set design: Thomas Conant. Photography assistant: Tom Porter. Fashion assistant: Samela Gjozi. Production assistant: Ady Huq

‘I feel like a new designer’: inside the renaissance of Tory Burch (2024)
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