Tory Burch Makes a 20th Anniversary Promise: “I’ll Keep Putting Myself Out There Taking Risks” (2024)

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Runway

By Nicole Phelps

Tory Burch Makes a 20th Anniversary Promise: “I’ll Keep Putting Myself Out There Taking Risks” (4)

Photographed by Emily Malan

Twenty years ago today, Tory Burch opened a store on New York’s Elizabeth Street and launched her business. From the start, her lifestyle concept was a hit. The shop was busy on day-one, even if there were no doors to ward off the February chill. In a couple short years, she had fans in the form of Oprah and Prince—the former invited her to Chicago to appear on her talk show, and the latter tracked her down in a Beverly Hills Hotel bath to talk tour outfits (more on that later!)—and women across America were slipping into her colorful Reva flats.

It took longer to woo the fashion crowd, which tends to pay too short shrift to brands it doesn’t consider “high luxury.” Graduating to the runway in 2011 started to shift perceptions. Burch herself marks a change circa 2015 when the launch of Tory Sport made her realize she “wanted to work on design in a different way,” and explore fabrics and techniques with more ambition. As a longtime Tory watcher, I’d say the famed “Toryssaince” that has gotten so much attention online really started with her spring 2018 show, staged in the garden of the Cooper Hewitt way uptown. That collection introduced a more streamlined, less demure aesthetic that has evolved into the cool, even futuristic, minimalism of recent seasons.

As for the fall 2024 show scheduled for next Monday, Burch doesn’t want to give too much away, saying it will be an evolution, not a revolution. “I don’t want to recreate the wheel every season, I just want to keep pushing things, whether it’s from a technique or proportion perspective or with materials.” Pressed to reflect on the brand’s 20th anniversary, she said, “I’ve never felt more at ease and having the freedom to explore my creativity than right now… I think I’m more apt to explore my vulnerability now than I ever was before—vulnerability from a design perspective and putting myself out there taking risks.” Here, Burch reflects on the people she works with and on the milestones she’s passed to arrive where she is today.

The store on Elizabeth Street was originally known as Tory by TRB, but people just called it Tory Burch, and the jeweler Kenneth Jay Lane convinced Tory to change it.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

The First Store

“When we moved in we were the only store there. I didn’t know if anyone would ever show up there quite honestly, but we thought it’d be a good way to test the concept and not be too expensive. We launched during fashion week. The doors didn’t show up in time, so I remember getting heaters, because it was quite cold. It got so crowded people started changing in the store—there were only two changing rooms—and my friend Gigi Mortimer became a salesperson, because we needed the help.”

Prince plays at Coachella in 2008, wearing a Tory Burch tunic.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

A Royal Endorsem*nt

“I found a polyester tunic in a French flea market in Paris for $6. This was our shape from day one. Prince started to wear it on his tour. I don’t know how he discovered it, probably his stylist, and he ended up calling me on the phone. I was in the bath at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and my phone rang and it was Prince. He wanted me to do the costumes for his tour. It was our first year of business, and I really wanted to do it, but we didn’t have the capacity, so he just started wearing our clothing.”

The Claire flat of 2022 is a modern iteration of the Reva, named after Claire McCardell, one of Burch’s design heroes.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Filling the White Space

“I had no idea how big the Reva would be, but what I felt is that it was a lot of style for not a luxury price point. There wasn’t much in that bracket at all. There was J Crew and the Gap and then there was Calvin Klein, and I really felt that there wasn’t that much in between.

In the 1960s, there was a company called Jax that my mother always used to wear and another company called Tape Measure, and they were both really interesting. At Jax, the designer was Rudi Gernreich. Everyone from Jackie O to Lauren Hutton wore it. It was great gingham cigarette pants with a matching gingham top, alot of cotton pieces—actually, when I think about it, it was Claire McCardell-esque a little bit. That was what I was trying to rethink and redo. I called Sally Hanson who was the entrepreneur whose company it was and she basically gave me a hard no when I asked if I could get the name and revive the brand. She had no interest. So I got in touch with a woman who ran her New York showroom, Corby Britton, and she helped me do a lot of the research in the beginning. She was a source of information. Tape Measure was a concept where you went into a store and they measured you for great cotton suits and things like that. There’s something I loved about the easy, sort of cool American sportswear that those two companies represented that I felt wasn’t around.”

The Tory Burch Foundation launches in 2009

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

The first #EmbraceAmbition Summit and campaign followed in 2017

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Finding Her Purpose

“The Foundation was part of the very early business plan. I was trying to figure out how to make purpose and business go hand-in-hand and that was not a very popular topic back then. I spent a lot of time thinking: If in fact we had a successful company, what would the Foundation do? And I realized that women have fewer opportunities in our world and that what I could offer was the understanding of a startup, just seeing the disadvantages that women had comparatively. The Foundation provides low capital, education, fellowship programs, mentorship, and community. We now have 2 million women across the United States in our network.”

Lauryn Hill performed at the party celebrating the Paris flagship opening.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

The Place des Vosges party.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Then Comes Paris

“Our first international flagship was in Japan in 2009, and our first store in Europe was in Rome. Paris opened on the Rue Saint-Honoré in 2015 and we did a party in at the Hotel de Sully on the Place des Vosges, and Lauryn Hill played. She was amazing. We did a Shanghai opening in 2013.”

Tory Burch, spring 2012 ready-to-wear

Yannis Vlamos / GoRunway.com

Tory Burch, spring 2012 ready-to-wear

Yannis Vlamos / GoRunway.com

Tory Burch, spring 2012 ready-to-wear

Yannis Vlamos / GoRunway.com

The First Runway Show

“Spring 2012 was our first runway show. The whole time up until then we were doing presentations, but as our brand grew, it became a logistics problem. Moving to the runway was pretty daunting, actually. To have people looking at it in those kinds of terms put a lot more pressure on me, but it actually helped me to formulate the collection. Before it was more item driven, but it turned into more of a cohesive collection.”

The home collection launches in 2013 with linens, pillows, accent pieces, and barware. A collaboration with Dodie Thayer follows in 2015.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Burch with Robert Kime, one of her design heroes, in Japan.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

The pillows Burch made in collaboration with Robert Kime in 2019. Burch was a lifelong fan, and got to know the interior designer when he worked on her home with her husband Pierre-Yves Roussel in Normandy.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

The Home Collaborations

“Dodie Thayer was a potter that I admired greatly. Every time I looked at home I referenced her work and she was a really important entrepreneur during the war. She taught women how to use their hands and make pottery and be entrepreneurs in their own right. A lot of incredible people collected her things. So, I called her, she was in her 90s, and I just said, ‘could we work together and do something?’ And Robert Kime was just such an incredible inspiration to me and the ultimate gentleman. We traveled to Japan and spent a lot of time working on fabrics and doing a small line of fabrics together.”

Tory Burch In Color was published in 2014.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Putting Pen to Paper

“We worked on a book. It was not the book I wanted. I wanted to do a book on business and I was turned down by about 12 publishers. They wanted a different kind of book, which I ended up loving, but it was more of a picture book and more about inspiration. I asked Damien Hirst for his painting for the cover. A friend of mine knew him and the proceeds from the book went to our Foundation, so he was very happy to do it.”

Tory Sport launches in 2015

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Getting Sporty

“Sport in 2015. In retrospect, it was a time when I realized that I really wanted to work on design in a different way. In the beginning, in 2004, it was about creativity, but then in a way the business took over. What I realized when I started to work on Sport, is I really loved design, the exploration of fabrics and techniques. So that was the beginning of knowing that I wanted to get some help to run the business. But it would take some time.”

The Lee Radziwill collection launched in 2018, though the bag here was on the runway in 2020.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

A Favorite Bag

“Lee Radziwill was an inspiration. We worked on a show inspired by her, fall 2018. But this bag, which is named for her, was really thought through in a technical way, by looking at the construction of trench coats and the layering of the materials used. It was really thinking about luxury in all kinds of ways, whether it was a t-shirt or a beautiful handbag or a dress for our show. We’re not just focusing on the runway, everything should be inspiring, regardless of price.”

When Pierre-Yves Roussel, Burch’s husband, becomes CEO, she refocuses on design.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

It Takes Two

“To work on the creative process and run the business—I’m very proud of what we did, but it was not the right decision. Pierre-Yves [Roussel, Burch’s husband] becoming CEO changed everything. It’s really been a turning point for me personally. Before it was probably 30% of my time on the creative process, and now it’s 100%. It’s what I’m much more passionate about, and quite honestly where I think my strength is. We’re so aligned fundamentally, it’s really allowed me to reset how I think about the company. It was during this time that we opened our first atelier, and also a small handbag factory in Brooklyn. It’s changed everything to be able to work with technicians and work on product firsthand, instead of working through a tech pack, sending it out, and having it come in a month-and-a-half later. It’s just changed how we approach design, and the actual design of the product.”

Navigating COVID challenges, Burch calls D.C. for industry aid and launches the #WearADamnMask campaign.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

A Voice for the Fashion Industry

“During COVID, I quickly realized that no one was looking out for our industry—our industry meaning retail. They were talking a lot about the airline industry, a lot about the food industry, but when you looked at retail, it was not being mentioned. And so Pierre-Yves and I got together with CEOs in US retail and helped lobby the administration to really ensure that people, if they were laid off, were taken care of.”

Tory Burch, spring 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Tory Burch, spring 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Home Is Where the Art Is

“The Shaker collection, which we made that first year of COVID, was the beginning of a rethink. I went to the Shaker Museum, and it brought back so many memories of my childhood and going to Quaker schools and meeting houses; it just felt like coming home.”

The spring 2022 show included a Mercer Street block party and the flagship opening.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

The collection was a love letter to Claire McCardell, the mother of American sportswear.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Honoring the Mother of American Sportswear

“During COVID, I started to think about Claire McCardell as well. I got in touch with her foundation in Maryland, and I went down there with our design team, and we were just so inspired. It’s not even that they had so many pieces; it was more her personal letters and her philosophies and the way that designers and couturiers in Paris were writing to her about her $15 dress. You look at her clothes and they could exist today. Her career was so short—it was just 10 years, maybe a little more—and she had such a massive impact. I loved her unconventional thinking, I guess is the way to put it. She didn’t like that women were restricted in any way and that’s something that I really relate to.”

With Phoebe Bridgers and Emily Ratajkowski, in 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Liu Wen, in 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Adwoa Aboah, in 2022

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Live From the Red Carpet

“How could I not include some Met Gala moments? It’s been really fun to explore working on dresses for specific people. It’s something we haven’t done a lot of, but I really love partnering with them, whether it’s Phoebe Bridgers or Emily Ratajkowski, or Adwoa Aboah. They all have their own perspectives on fashion, and how they see things.”

The new Essence of Dreams fragrances

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Making Scents

“We launched our fragrance collection with Shiseido in 2019. I love being partners with them, the way they approach scents and the quality they stand for. We recently released new ones for the Middle East.”

Tory Burch, spring 2023 ready-to-wear

Photo: Isidore Montag / Gorunway.com

Tory Burch, spring 2023 ready-to-wear

Photo: Isidore Montag / Gorunway.com

A Shoe for All Seasons

“The spring 2023 show was easy and clean. It just felt refreshing. We launched a shoe that I love called the pierced mule. It was really fun technically working on it with the team. It’s definitely a shoe that we will continue.”

A resort 2024 dress by Tory Burch, featured in Costume Institute exhibit, “Women Dressing Women” (2023)

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Museum Worthy

“Having our dress in the Met is a high point for me. ‘Women Dressing Women’ is obviously something I care deeply about.”

Tory Burch, spring 2024 ready-to-wear

Photo: Isidore Montag / Gorunway.com

Tory Burch, spring 2024 ready-to-wear

Photo: Isidore Montag / Gorunway.com

Tory Burch, spring 2024 ready-to-wear

Photo: Isidore Montag / Gorunway.com

Never Stop Evolving

“The venue for our spring 2024 show—the Gilder Center at the Museum of Natural History—was so extraordinary. But just working on the the craftsmanship and the different materials with the proportions, it really represents us in a an evolved way.”

The Melrose Avenue concept store in LA was conceived in collaboration with Humberto Leon.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

The Cat’s Out of the Bag

“I worked with Humberto Leon on the LA pop-up. I’ve always thought he was such a master at retail and merchandising, I remember Opening Ceremony [a store in lower Manhattan] and just how creative it was. I really wanted to take some risks. One of the things I started to hear when I started the transformation internally several years ago is the concept of being “on brand” and it really bothered me because I didn’t really know what that even meant myself. So for other people to think about what being on brand was I felt was being pigeonholed and as a designer that felt very limiting.”

Director, Vogue Runway. Nicole was so clothes-obsessed in high school she kept a calendar of her outfits and refused to repeat a look more than once a month.

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Tory Burch Makes a 20th Anniversary Promise: “I’ll Keep Putting Myself Out There Taking Risks” (2024)
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