ON TOP OF THE WORLD

With her life­style brand thriv­ing and hav­ing re­cently ex­panded to Aus­tralia, de­signer Tory Burch is de­ter­mined to help other women re­alise their en­tre­pre­neur­ial po­ten­tial. By Zara Wong.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

De­signer Tory Burch is de­ter­mined to help other women re­alise their en­tre­pre­neur­ial po­ten­tial.

The backstage scene of Tory Burch’s run­way shows are un­com­monly well or­gan­ised com­pared to what the rest of fash­ion week looks like. Jour­nal­ists wait pa­tiently in line for their turn to speak to the de­signer, and two years ago when it was my turn, I com­mented on how her per­sonal style im­bued her brand’s en­tire col­lec­tion from clothes to ac­ces­sories and home­wares.

“I don’t know why ev­ery­one says that. I’m like: ‘What does it mean?’” she re­sponded with a laugh, gen­uinely per­plexed. Warm and ap­proach­able, her hair and skin were gleam­ing and golden, and the out­fit she wore im­printed upon me that very Tory Burch com­bi­na­tion of colour, print and preppy pol­ish with an edge.

Two years later we’re on the phone speak­ing about her launch in Aus­tralia. She has per­son­ally called me twice for this in­ter­view – the first time, apolo­get­i­cally to resched­ule due to a last-minute clash. While re-sched­ul­ing is a com­mon oc­cur­rence, it is usu­ally tasked to as­sis­tants and pub­lic re­la­tions teams to man­age. A per­son of Burch’s stand­ing has never ac­tu­ally jumped on the phone and taken out their di­ary to sort it out them­selves. It’s this kind of per­sonal touch that Burch puts into her work and her de­signs that sets her and her la­bel apart.

I men­tion our last con­ver­sa­tion: “We’ve been talk­ing about open­ing in Aus­tralia for so long. I was prob­a­bly talk­ing about Aus­tralia back then!” she says with a laugh, in ref­er­ence to a Syd­ney store in West­field Syd­ney’s Bondi Junc­tion that opened in Au­gust along with five David Jones con­ces­sion stores across the coun­try, and a Mel­bourne store that will open by the end of the year. “I feel like I know Aus­tralia bet­ter than I ac­tu­ally do. My Aus­tralian friends are so so­phis­ti­cated, with fan­tas­tic style; they have a bit of an out­doorsy feel to the way they think about how they dress, and I love that.”

From the suc­cess of the Tory Burch la­bel, there is some­thing to be said for de­sign­ing for one­self. “I was per­son­ally miss­ing some­thing in the market, and it was a sim­ple idea of [of­fer­ing] beau­ti­ful things that didn’t cost a for­tune,” says Burch.

Knit­ted jumpers and printed tu­nics hover around the $500 mark and hand­bags are mostly un­der $1,000, bring­ing a touch of Burch’s class to the masses. Wear­ing Tory Burch – the in­signia on but­tons and the famed Reva flats, and the David Hicks-in­spired prints – is short­hand for ev­ery­day-ap­pro­pri­ate lux­ury. It’s also a way to buy into Burch’s own life, from her Daniel Ro­mualdez-de­signed homes (he also does all her stores), filled up to the hilt with D. Porthault linens and beau­ti­fully unique sou­venirs sourced from around the world. Tory Burch is a true life­style brand.

Her de­signs draw on her Amer­i­can pa­tri­cian back­ground and add a touch of sporti­ness – and of­ten ref­er­ence well-heeled friends like Lee Radzi­will (for au­tumn/ win­ter ’18/’19), and her equally well-heeled par­ents, Buddy and Reva Robin­son. The late Buddy had once dated Grace Kelly and favoured Her­mès scarves as pocket squares and as lin­ing to his suits, while Reva, as a young ac­tress and prior to her mar­riage, had dated Steve McQueen and Yul Bryn­ner. Reva is also the name­sake of her fa­mous flats – those that de­fined the in crowd dur­ing the early sea­sons of TV series Gos­sip Girl.

But Burch is the first to ad­mit that she was new to the world of de­sign and busi­ness, hav­ing pre­vi­ously forged a ca­reer in pub­lic re­la­tions and hav­ing worked at Ralph Lau­ren, Vera Wang and Loewe. “I learnt on the job. I had never been a de­signer, I had never been a CEO, and I was very good at sur­round­ing my­self with tal­ented peo­ple.”

The la­bel launched in 2004 as a re­tail con­cept with 12 cat­e­gories, from shoes to knits to dresses and swim­suits. “I had a dif­fer­ent vi­sion, and it wasn’t a vi­sion that ev­ery­one thought was the right vi­sion,” says Burch. Some told her that no-one would ever buy on­line. “So now to have an on­line busi­ness that is pretty sub­stan­tial at over 20 per cent of our busi­ness, is ex­cit­ing.” Of skills she has learnt dur­ing her ca­reer one is to not have “no” in her vo­cab­u­lary nor in her com­pany’s cul­ture. “I’ve al­ways tried to come from things in a pos­i­tive way,” she states. The other is tenac­ity, which per­haps came in use when she went with a friend to Ko­diak Is­land in Alaska to work in a salmon can­nery af­ter a dare from her broth­ers. “They bet that I would be back in a week, and we ended up stick­ing it out for about six.”

She has only re­cently be­come ac­cus­tomed to call­ing her­self am­bi­tious, af­ter her friend, Jane Rosen­thal, who co-or­gan­ised the first Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val, called her up af­ter Burch’s first ma­jor ar­ti­cle in the New York Times. “She said: ‘Nice ar­ti­cle but you shied away from the word am­bi­tion’, and it re­ally stayed with me,” she re­mem­bers. “When the jour­nal­ist asked me if I was am­bi­tious, I ac­tu­ally thought it was quite rude. I re­alised I was buy­ing into that per­cep­tion that it’s a neg­a­tive trait for women to have,” she says.

The turn­ing point in the busi­ness, which has gone down in fash­ion his­tory, was when Oprah Win­frey se­lected her tu­nic as one of her favourite items within the first year of the la­bel’s birth. “It’s hard to de­fine just how much it helped out the com­pany. Be­ing picked by her was a com­plete sur­prise and it trans­ported our com­pany into

“I was per­son­ally miss­ing some­thing in the market, and it was a sim­ple idea of [of­fer­ing] beau­ti­ful things that didn’t cost a for­tune”

a dif­fer­ent place. When I went on her show, it was, of course, the first time I was on TV, and she said: ‘Don’t be ner­vous, it’s only 30 mil­lion view­ers,’” she says, still laugh­ing at the mem­ory. Now, with no Oprah show, emerg­ing com­pa­nies don’t have their TV mo­ment. “It re­ally is a dif­fer­ent time,” says Burch, not­ing that when she started they had a lim­ited bud­get so es­chewed ex­pen­sive ad­ver­tise­ments in favour of PR, mar­ket­ing and so­cial me­dia. “But to­day, that is al­ready so crowded. You re­ally have to have a unique voice and say some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

In­ter­est­ingly, Burch’s busi­ness ac­tu­ally sprang from a de­sire to es­tab­lish a foun­da­tion to help women. That idea is to­day man­i­fested as the Tory Burch Foun­da­tion, which started in 2009, five years af­ter her la­bel launched. The foun­da­tion men­tors and pro­vides mi­cro fi­nanc­ing to fe­male en­trepreneurs and has a cam­paign en­ti­tled Em­brace Am­bi­tion, a nod to her prior de­mur­ring. Burch is clear that the foun­da­tion stands on its own and is not to be per­ceived as mar­ket­ing for her la­bel in any way. “I think a busi­ness with pur­pose is very im­por­tant to­day, and that wasn’t the case 14 years ago. Peo­ple must have thought I was a lit­tle out there to tie the two to­gether,” she says. “But my mother would say: ‘Think of neg­a­tiv­ity as noise and be­lieve in your gut and in­stinct.’ I’m a lit­tle em­bar­rassed in a way, be­cause when I went to raise money I said I wanted to build a global life­style brand so that I could start a foun­da­tion. Had I known what that meant, I prob­a­bly would have never said that!”

Fash­ion with a pur­pose, fu­elled by Burch’s am­bi­tion – a word that she def­i­nitely does not shy away from now. “Yes, I am very am­bi­tious,” she says laugh­ing. “And I am proud to say that, and I’m also proud to help other women own their am­bi­tion as well.”

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