Biography for Tory Burch

Tory Burch
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Burch, Tory
Born: 1967, in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania  
Vocations: Public Relations, Fashion Designer
Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Valley Forge, Chester County

Keywords: Chris Burch; Ralph Lauren; Reva Ballet Flat; Vera Wang; Tunic; Zoran

Abstract: Tory Burch was born in 1967 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and earned a degree in Art History. After graduation, she began working for major fashion labels, such as Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang. Although she had never designed clothing before, she opened her own fashion line in 2004. Her signature pieces are the Reva ballet flats and tunics. Oprah Winfrey loved her tunics so much that Burch appeared on the show in 2005, making her a household name. Since then she has won many awards and has been featured in numerous major fashion magazines.

It is almost unheard of for fledgling brands to be up against the likes of Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs for an award and win, but one did. In June 2008, just four years after opening her first shop in the Nolita District of New York City, Tory Burch won Best Accessory Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Then again, it also almost unheard of to make $100,000 in sales the opening night of a store as Tory Burch did.

Tory Burch grew up in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in a sprawling 250-year-old white, Georgian house surrounded by 30 acres of land. Growing up Burch was a tomboy climbing the trees in the back yard or running around with her older brothers Robert and James. Burch, now known for her feminine casual wear, said that when she was younger, her mother would have to force her to wear a dress. She attended the prestigious Agnes Irwin School where she excelled at sports, enjoyed riding horses, and was the captain of the tennis team. At the University of Pennsylvania, she majored in Art History; however, it did not compare to her true love: fashion. Even on campus she dressed very well. Burch told Vanity Fair in 2007 that her friend Patrick at the University described her style as, “Half preppy and half jock—or prock” it eventually came to be known as “Torywear.” Beginning with her first job out of college, all of her jobs have been in the fashion industry.

Tory Burch’s parents gave their children a comfortable, almost extravagant lifestyle on Philadelphia’s Main Line, and their socio-economic status put them in elite social circles. Her parents, Buddy and Reva Robinson, loved to spend their summers in Europe and her mother would stop by Morocco on the way home to buy tunics—a garment that became Tory’s signature. Her mother frequently shopped in New York City for designer clothing and her closet is full of vintage labels such as Valentino and Zoran. In every interview, Burch says that her parents’ eclectic and worldly style influenced her own design style. “I always watch my mother, Reva, get dressed at night, and just look incredibly stylish. And my father had his own innate sense of style. He used to design every piece of his clothing and have incredible details, like lining his dinner jackets with Hermes scarves and piping them and all of his shirts with initials. He was one of my biggest, biggest inspirations,” Burch said in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily. The 1960s and 1970s fashion also served as Burch’s fashion muse, as well as Audrey Hepburn’s film Two for the Road.

Reva Robinson frequented Zoran so much that Burch’s first job after graduation was working at the Public Relations department there. She then moved on to become a copy writer for Ralph Lauren, which she left in 1995 to work in Public Relations with Vera Wang. Before working at Vera Wang, she was briefly married to William Macklowe, son of New York real-estate mogul Harry Macklowe. At Vera Wang, she kept on running into Chris Burch, a venture capitalist 14 years her senior. They married in 1996. During their honeymoon, she became pregnant with her twin sons, Henry and Nick. Chris Burch had three older daughters—Pookie, Louisa, and Izzie—from a previous marriage. Tory Burch later had a third son, Sawyer. In a house full of six children, it became increasingly hard for Burch to work and be a fulltime mom. She gave up her career for a period of time, but she says she began to grow “restless.” She started cutting out pages from books, magazines, etc., and created a scrapbook of sorts and later showed prominent fashion designers who were quite impressed with her ideas.

Burch has said in many interviews that after 9/11 an inspirational commercial aired about “following your dreams,” and she finally decided to take the plunge into fashion design—something she had never done before. Her husband financed much of her project, contributing $2 million. Before opening in 2004, Burch worked relentlessly for eight months putting the collection together. The night before, her step-daughters and she were up the entire night putting on the final touches. Burch only went home to shower before the store’s opening. Her status at that point had made her a permanent fixture in New York City’s elite social circles and with the friends she made while working at the big fashion labels. Her store opening was sprinkled with celebrities, fashion columnists, and the “who’s who” of the fashion world. Burch never expected that her entire inventory would nearly sell out on her first day.

Oprah Winfrey was given a tunic from Tory Burch’s collection as a gift; in March 2005, her producers asked Burch to come on the show. After her appearance on the show in April of that year, her stardom skyrocketed. The very next day her web site received eight million hits. She still attributes much of her success to her appearance on the show. Burch believes women gravitate toward her clothing because she found a hole in that market that her designer clothing could fill. “I’ve always been a big fan of designer clothing, but I was tired of spending designer prices. I believed there was a void to be met in the market that was classic American sportswear that was chic and simple and also well priced. I wanted to give women wearable and stylish clothing that fell somewhere between the contemporary and designer markets,” Burch said in a Women’s Wear Daily interview. The price range of most of her clothing is between $195 and $495, a price that most people can either easily afford to buy or afford to splurge on once in a while.

Diane von Furstenberg introduced the world to the working woman’s staple: the wrap dress. Coco Chanel converted the manly suits of the early 20th century to body hugging feminine suits. It takes most fashion labels decades to find a signature style, but for Burch it has taken merely a few years. She has two signature styles; the first is, of course, the tunic. Other designers had tried to makeover the tunic, but Burch was the first successful designer to do so. The tunic is very versatile in that it can be worn during Sunday brunch or at a fancy charity event. Prince even wore one of her studded tunics at the Coachella music festival in April 2008. Her other signature piece is the $195 Reva Ballet Flat. The flat comes in a variety of colors with an oversized “double T” emblem—Burch’s logo. The Los Angeles Times reported that by June 2008, 300,000 pairs had been sold. Every season the flat is sold out and people are waitlisted. The flat is so popular that knock-offs can be found everywhere, including Target. She was also revolutionary in adding bursts of color in her clothing. Most designers stick to neutral colors, but not Burch. She has bright orange tunics and fuchsia dresses. Although she has been flattered by the popularity of her clothing, she is often discouraged by the blatant plagiarism of the designs. She has been known to personally call the head of some companies to complain and even filed lawsuits. Burch’s designs can be found at Neiman Marcus, Scoop, Bergdorf Goodman, and Sachs Fifth Avenue. She also has a her own shops across the country and in 30 foreign countries.

Her personal life hit a bump in the road in 2006, when Chris and Tory separated and filed for divorce. “It wasn’t because he had an affair or I had an affair. At the end of the day, we weren’t going to be able to spend the rest of our lives together,” she said in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2007. She has since been linked to people such as Lance Armstrong. However, her personal failures do not seep into her business. She has remained amicable with her former husband who still serves as CEO and Chairman.

She has also been given many esteemed awards. As if her appearance on Oprah were not award enough, she has been presented with many more since 2005. The Fashion Group International, in 2005, awarded her for Best New Retail Concept. The Accessories Council of Excellence gave her an award in November 2007 for Accessory Brand Launch of the year. Then her famous 2008 win with CFDA cinched her stay in the fashion world. Big magazines, including Vogue, Elle, W, Fortune, and Time, have also sung her praises .

Additions to Burch's collections include a home fashion line, offering "lettuce ware" dish sets and spring-inspired stemware, and an expanded jewelry collection. “Luxury as I see it, it not exclusionary. ...[L]uxury is not something you can buy. It’s about having personal style and living your life based on your individual aesthetic. It is...about having taste, developing it over time and understanding how to apply it to every aspect of your life,” Burch said in an article in Town and Country. From 2004 to 2008, four short years, her brand steadily climbed to $200 million in annual sales. One of her recent fashion wear collections was showcased in 2015's Fashion Week.


This biography was prepared by Urja Davé, Summer 2008; updated 2015.

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