It’s Time for the Tunic Update
It’s no accident that tory burch personifies her brand’s ideal customer. Chic, savvy, social and smart, Burch balances her professional and personal lives with an effortless style that belies the hard work she puts into everything she does.
When she launched her namesake brand in 2004, Burch opened her first store in downtown Manhattan “under the radar,” and her entire inventory sold out in a single day. Word got out among her socially connected friends and the city’s style-obsessed fashion editors, and they snapped up everything from her now iconic bell-sleeved tunics to her much-emulated “Reva” ballet flats (named after her mother).
After none other than Oprah Winfrey sang the praises of Burch’s snappy, sunny styles on her show, the brand—and the designer—became a household name overnight. Burch hasn’t stopped going, or growing, since. She won the coveted CFDA award for Accessory Designer of the Year in 2008, and days after doing this interview announced she had just inked a deal with Luxottica to produce a line of Tory Burch eyewear.
Given her meteoric rise, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that Burch didn’t set out to become a designer, although she gravitated to that world after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in art history. She subsequently took jobs at Harper’s Bazaar, Ralph Lauren, Loewe (when Narciso Rodriguez was designing the line) and Vera Wang. When she broke out on her own, she did so by catering to a largely neglected niche—offering affordable, luxurious pieces to women of all ages. Smartly positioning herself squarely between high-end designer and mass brands, Burch’s well-timed strategy seems extremely prescient and resonates with clients today more than ever.
As Burch prepared to make the trip on April 2 to Saks Fifth Avenue in Naples, she spoke with Diane Clehane and answered the Style Council’s questions about what inspires her today and what she hopes to accomplish in the future.
You established signature pieces with your very first collection. Where did the idea for the updated elegant tunic come from? Why was it such an important piece for you to do?
It all really started to take shape when I found a polyester tunic in a Paris flea market. It reminded me of something my grandmother had worn that I always thought was incredibly chic. I bought the tunic on the spot, and it inspired the first piece in our line. From there, we developed a full collection—classic button-down epaulette shirts inspired by my father, satin shells, wide and skinny leg pants, tunics and caftans. I wanted to [create] great pieces that were elegant and timeless, yet for some reason always seemed impossibly hard to find. I loved the idea of reintroducing a new generation of women to the tunic. It is so flattering and such an easy, versatile piece for women of all ages to wear.
Who were your favorite designers growing up? Who has most influenced you?
I was not really into fashion growing up. I had three brothers, and we lived on a farm outside of Philadelphia. I must admit I was a real tomboy. As far as designers who have influenced my style and aesthetic, I would definitely say Yves Saint Laurent. His pieces look as chic and modern today as they did in the ’60s and ’70s. I find his use of color and the way he incorporated global influences in his collections to be incredibly inspiring.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer? If not, what did you plan to do before launching your own label?
I definitely did not envision myself becoming a designer. I probably would have said I wanted to be a professional tennis player if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I was a child.
Do you have a favorite color that you try to incorporate every season, or does it change with the collections?
It changes with every collection, although I do love orange. As a child I always wanted an orange room, but my mother wouldn’t let me have one. I am certainly making up for that now!
You always look fabulous. Whose clothes do you love to wear besides your own?
I love a variety of different designers and often mix them with pieces from our collection. Proenza Schouler, Dries Van Noten and Narciso Rodriguez are favorites of mine. I also like T-shirts from The Row.
Your collection encompasses so many different elements of fashion, from clothes to shoes to accessories. Do you have a favorite item to design among all you do? What’s the most challenging?
Accessories have always been a passion of mine. Since the beginning, our brand has been a lifestyle concept, and accessories were an integral part of that. When designing, I often think about what I am missing in my own wardrobe—a great clutch or a comfortable ballet flat—and go from there. Designing the entire collection is incredibly rewarding, and I love the fact that since we do ready-to-wear, shoes, handbags and jewelry, we can give women a complete lifestyle collection each season. Keeping our prices accessible is incredibly important and one of our biggest challenges.
Where do you see your label going in the future? Are you planning to extend the brand into other areas? If so, which ones?
I see us continuing to grow slowly and strategically. We plan to open about five stores this year in the U.S. and are exploring the possibility of expanding the brand into Asia and Europe, where we already have started distribution through select department and specialty stores. Eyewear is a brand I’m looking forward to developing. At some point I would love to explore fragrance or even a home line.
In tunic: Contemporary designer Tory Burch, above, has been credited with bringing back the tunic, which she first gained an affinity for after seeing it in her grandmother’s wardrobe.
Gulfshore Life’s Style Council
Led by Denise Cobb, the members include Penny Anderson, Patty Baker, Mary Susan Clinton, Shirlene Elkins, Dawn Hoffman, Susie McCurry, Amy Oshier and Cynthia Sherman.
Where to Buy Tory Burch
Marissa Collections. 1167 Third St. S., Naples; 263-4333.
Nordstrom. Waterside Shops, 5395 Tamiami Trail N., Naples; 325-6100.
Saks Fifth Avenue. Waterside Shops, 5395 Tamiami Trail N., Naples; 592-5900. Bell Tower Shops, 13499 U.S. 41, Fort Myers; 489-0980.
Sandpiper. Marco Island; 642-6691.