A MEETING WITH TORY BURCH - CRASH Magazine
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Tory Burch - Printed Long Sleeve Dress / Something Wild Stripe, linked ring, gold bracelet

A MEETING WITH TORY BURCH

By Alice Butterlin

American designer Tory Burch has built a fashion empire in her name since the early 2000s. At the time, the gap between high-end and affordable fashion left a gaping window of opportunity for Tory Burch to become one of the first to introduce an “affordable luxury” line. Fifteen years later, the designer opens up to Crash about her career and her commitment to women entrepreneurs through the Tory Burch Foundation, which she started ten years ago.

Before launching your eponymous brand, you worked for Harper’s Bazaar and fashion houses like Vera Wang and Ralph Lauren. Were these experiences important in the development of your business plan?

Absolutely. I feel privileged to have worked at such incredible places, and each one shaped my perspective in a different way. At Ralph Lauren, I learned about connecting with customers through branding and storytelling. At Loewe with Narciso Rodriguez, it was all about cut and fit. And as a mother, my favorite job of all, my sons and stepdaughters have taught me what it takes to be a leader — grace under pressure.

Did you study design before launching the brand?

No. I had no formal design training, so I had to learn on the job. Interestingly, it ended up working in my favor in a lot of ways. It meant I wasn’t tethered to old ideas of how things should be done. It also allowed me to stay curious and adaptable. When a strategy wasn’t working, we pivoted. Something I have learned over the years: agility and innovation go hand-and-hand.

How did your love of fashion start?

I wasn’t very interested in fashion growing up. When I was in high school, I finally started to appreciate unlimited access to my mother’s wardrobe. I’m not sure that she felt the same level of appreciation for my newfound love of YSL and Pucci…. My interest in fashion really came from my first job out of college: assisting Zoran. He was a Yugoslav designer and a true eccentric. Working for him was an incredible entrée into the fashion industry. It exposed me to all of the elements of a designer’s world, from marketing to design.

What does a typical day at the office look like for you?

No day is the same, which I love. For me, a Monday might mean strategy and budget meetings, while the entirety of Tuesday could be spent on the set of a photoshoot with our design team. I love the mix.

You were one of the first designers to introduce affordable luxury. Where did that idea come from and what are the struggles of maintaining a relatively low price tag for quality products?

It started with a very simple concept: beautiful clothes with a designer aesthetic that don’t cost a fortune. It doesn’t sound like a novel idea today but, at the time, there was luxury and there was mass-market. There was nothing in between. I saw a white space in the market. Over the years, our collections have evolved but it’s still about designing beautiful things — the best we possibly can—and sourcing and producing them at a reasonable price point. This is always an interesting challenge for our team…

Travel seemed particularly present in your Spring 2019 collection. What was the story behind it?

Our Spring 2019 collection is inspired by my parents and their travels. They were true adventurers. Every summer, they would set sail for Europe or North Africa and spend six weeks exploring different countries, collecting beautiful things along the way. We were inspired by the casual glamour of the clothes they wore on their travels, from relaxed tunics to easy wrap dresses.

You’ve created the Tory Burch Foundation as a way to support women entrepreneurs. Can you tell me a bit more about that initiative?

Social responsibility has always been important to me. It is how I was raised and why I started a business. Creating a foundation was part of our business plan from the beginning, though the company had to be successful first. We launched our Foundation in 2009 to advance women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship. We want to help women fearlessly follow their dreams by providing access to capital, education and resources. We also have an annual Fellows program. Since introducing our Capital Program with Bank of America in 2014, we have distributed over $40M in loans to over 2,000 women and more than 180 women have graduated from our education program with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses. More than 10,000 women (and men!) have created their business plans on ToryBurchFoundation.org. After we had reached a point of impact and scale, we launched our #EmbraceAmbition global initiative to address the double standard that exists around ambition, which is often viewed as a compliment for a man and a critique of a women. Last year, we hosted our first Embrace Ambition Summit in New York City and this year we are holding a series of events across the country– we hope to change the conversation around ambition and other stereotypes that impact gender and race. And we need to bring men into the conversation. Equality is not a men’s issue. It is not a women’s issue. It is an issue of humanity.

In what ways do women face more difficulties in business, and is it evolving?

It feels like we are in the midst of a true sea change — women are mobilizing around issues of equal opportunity and empowerment. We need to channel that energy into concrete actions. Actions focused on pay equity, closing the opportunity gap and representation in leadership roles, both in the workplace and in public office. There is still a lot left to do.

You also created a blog very early on. Was it important for you to create a strong bond between you and your customers and give a personality to the brand?

When we first started out, we had no marketing budget, so tapping into the power of digital storytelling was very important. We brought together a group of magazine editors we admired to create Tory Daily. It’s really a kaleidoscope of my greatest influences and experiences. We feature emerging artists, musicians, entrepreneurs – anyone who inspires us or resonates with us. The blog has an editorial point of view and lets our customers know who we are in a more holistic way. It has been essential in building a lifestyle brand.

Since 2004, how have you seen your customers evolve? Did the rise of social media change the way Tory Burch operates?

The landscape is very different from when we were first starting out. The way people shop today — online and on their phones — is a relatively new phenomenon. Lucky for us, we were early adopters of e-commerce—we launched with it. I remember people telling me I was crazy, that no one would ever shop online… We were also early adopters of social media to build brand awareness. It has been invaluable—we can engage our customers in authentic and direct dialogue in real time.

In your book “In Color”, you feature many artists. Do you collect art? Who are your favorite artists and why?

I have always loved art – I was an art history major! I wouldn’t call myself a collector but over the years I have acquired several pieces that I love. Many of my favorite artists are women. Georgia O’Keeffe even inspired our Pre-Fall 2019 collection. She really marched to the beat of her own drum. O’Keeffe prided herself on wanting more than was expected of women at the time.

You also mention Madeleine Castaing in the book. Is her work a big inspiration? You seem to be very involved in interior design?

I have always been drawn to interiors. There are a lot of similarities to ready-to-wear design. Both are all about material, proportion, embellishment and, above all, telling a story. Madeleine Castaing is a decorator’s decorator. She has certainly inspired me — two of our boutiques were influenced by her designs, one in New York and one in California.

Your husband Pierre-Yves Roussel joined the company recently as CEO. Can you talk about it?

As my most trusted partner — personally and professionally — I am absolutely thrilled that Pierre-Yves has joined our company. He has extensive industry expertise, a deep respect for the creative process and an intrinsic understanding of the value of our company culture. I could not be more excited for this new chapter.

If you could change something in America today, what would you do?  

Equal pay for women. Equality is not a favor; it should be a given.

Tory Burch – Clip Tank Dress 001 Black

Tory Burch – Coin Embroidered Cotton Dress 100 White, Miller tote

Tory Burch – Clip Tank Dress 001 Black, Asymmetric Stitch Denim Skirt 440 Authentic Blue

Tory Burch – Clip Tank Dress 001 Black, belt

Tory Burch – Crochet Tank Dress 405 Tory Navy, Buddy High Top Sneaker 110 in Off White and English Khaki ,linked ring gold bracelets

Tory Burch – Cotton Striped Tunic 713 Buddy Stripe Tunic, Logo Lace Tank Dress 987 New Ivory Navy, Buddy High Top Sneaker in Tan Gemini Link Jacquard and Off White, Puzzle Gold ring

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Photographer : Peter Van Agtmael @Magnum

Stylist : Andrej Skok

Model : Eniola Abioro @ Next NY

Casting Director : David Chen

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