Inside Tory Burch's New York Home
You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but the plans for Tory Burch’s apartment in the Pierre, the opulent Fifth Avenue hotel facing Central Park, were sketched out in a matter of minutes over dinner, on the back of a napkin. “It was pretty straightforward, I just wanted it to look like it had always been here,” she says of the home she has lived in for 15 years, but has since renovated to join three apartments together. Rooms branch off from a stately entrance hall, where Gracie Studio wallpaper and deco-style monochrome marble flooring feature – neither of which are original elements of this storied Thirties New York landmark, even though they look as if they should be.
“I like to mix old with new and to throw unexpected things together,” she explains, sipping from a can of Diet Coke. Who else but a colourist like Tory could know that a sky-blue Lucio Fontana artwork would sit so well on a swampy-green velvet wall, and not only that, but opposite an Old Master and in the same room as Magritte’s La Géante, bought six months ago. “I’m not a big collector…” Tory says, dismissive of its grandiosity, preferring, it would seem, the pair of crafty bug-shaped vases sitting beneath it. A chair by the couturier Paul Poiret sits in the corner – “because who knew he even did furniture?” – and every surface is dotted with framed family photographs or ancient artifacts such as an Egyptian mask, her new favourite. Then there are rugs that she shipped back from a girls’ trip to Marrakesh. This penchant for collecting is a skill Tory inherited from her parents. “They would leave us for six weeks to travel Europe and bring things home from everywhere they visited, but I’m a lot more pared down,” she insists. Hard to see how, though. As she leads the way through to the adjacent sitting room, we’re confronted with a smorgasbord of golden mustard, warm ginger and auburn, inspired, she says, by the room’s views across Central Park in the autumn. “It’s so beautiful in here when the leaves change colour outside – that’s when it feels very special.”
With her expensively honeyed blonde hair and the kind of unlined tanned complexion that belies her 50 years, Tory Burch fits right into this room. She has a boyish, athletic figure honed from a life of sports; her nails are varnish-free and un-manicured – one imagines she would be impatient with the fuss. She might have a Magritte on her wall but there isn’t a whiff of high-maintenance surrounding her.
Tory’s home is formal but friendly; her three sons – 19-year-old twin boys Henry and Nick and 15-year-old Sawyer – have all grown up here, roaming and charging through the hallway and jumping over the velvet sofas. Tory has never taken a do-not-touch approach to her home. Even the collectible Yves Klein coffee table – a plexiglass shallow box filled with delicate gold leaf – has had, at some time or another, her sons’ sticky fingers inside it, rummaging around. “I don’t like anything too perfect. I grew up on a farm – it was always imperfect,” she tells me.
The story of Tory Burch is well documented: she’s the former housewife/fashion PR who worked her way up the ranks at Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang before launching her own brand on the premise of not being able to find the sort of clothes that she wanted at the kind of price she wanted to pay, and all served up in a luxury orange-lacquered, plush-carpeted setting. It turned out to be a billion-dollar idea; her magic formula has made her one of America’s youngest self-made female billionaires. With her three small children at her feet, and no formal design training, she set to work on a collection from this very kitchen table, sketching out items that she and her friends wanted to wear, while borrowing elements from how her parents used to dress – neat jackets, preppy cardigans, bohemian dresses, cigarette pants – all offered in uplifting colour combinations. In short, the kind of easy, universally appealing pieces that could take a gal from the office and on to drinks with friends afterwards. “It quickly evolved into something more ‘lifestyle’ – and that wasn’t an overused term back then.”
She wanted to open a store on day one of the launch. Everyone told her that she should do no such thing. Likewise, her idea to launch with more than two categories – crazy, they said. “I didn’t listen. I just had this gut feeling and I needed to follow my instincts.” She got her store, a small space in Manhattan’s Nolita, and the rails were bare by the end of opening day. Then Oprah touted her as the Next Big Thing and business boomed, at first thanks to her line-up of cheery tunics and espadrilles, and then the big hit: the Reva ballet pump, a $195 flat with an enormous double-T gold logo, named after her mother, who wore a similar pair in the Sixties. Tory had a five-year plan to open six stores; she opened 20. There are now close to 200, with the most recent opening on London’s Regent Street.
“The brand is now 14 years old and I always used to say, ‘I feel like we’re just beginning…’” Tory muses, “but now I feel like we’re re-beginning. There is a cycle of business, a point where there needs to be a bit of a reinvention.” Her gold medallion logo has evolved into several subtler variations, and Tory Sport, a collection of performance activewear with its very own store (non-carpeted and industrial looking – a world away from her habitual orange lacquer) is also a part of this next chapter.
She was working on it for five years before its launch in 2015 and, like everything else she designs, she is its customer. She exercises four times a week, playing tennis (she was captain of the school team), running, practising yoga and, most recently, riding her Peloton, the at-home exercise bike that allows you to stream spinning classes with world-class instructors while competing with other at-home pedallers. Tory, who is good at everything, is good at Peloton. “It’s really cool. I love seeing the scores,” she enthuses, offering a glimpse of her competitive spirit. “I have a code name. I mean, I’m not on there as Tory Burch!”
Tory Burch On Her Retail Evolution
It hasn’t been an altogether easy ride getting here. “I’ve experienced many difficult times, you know. Going through a public divorce isn’t something I recommend to anyone,” she says of her two-year battle with her former husband, Chris Burch, a retail veteran who was also her business partner, both investing $2 million in the business from the start. “Being a private person, I did my best. I tried to keep it as private as possible,” she says. They were married for 10 years and raised six children together – their three boys, and his three daughters from his previous marriage, Alexandra, Elizabeth and Louisa, to whom Tory remains close. It didn’t end there. In 2011, Chris launched C Wonder, a Tory Burch lookalike line at a cheaper price point. He sued Tory, alleging she was trying to obstruct his relations with suppliers. Tory Burch LLC then countersued, claiming C Wonder was a “knock-off” brand. After reaching a settlement, he was forced to step down as co-chair of Tory Burch. Soon after, he announced the sale of most of his 28 per cent stake to two investors. “I look at my team as a second family. I’m a girl’s girl and they really helped me get through it,” says Tory.
There was a silver lining to the spat the judge called “a drunken Wasp fest” – or rather, a diamond one, and it sparkles from her left hand. She is engaged to Frenchman Pierre-Yves Roussel, the dashing chairman and CEO of LVMH, whom she met in the not-so-romantic surroundings of a business meeting. “After that we didn’t touch base for almost a year. He emailed me, but I didn’t see it,” she recalls. But she has her ex-husband to thank for the fact that she eventually got back in touch. During legal battles, Chris had listed Pierre alongside other names of those they had met; all were being asked to court. “So I had to call him and say, ‘Yes, I know we’ve had one breakfast meeting but, by the way, you’re being subpoenaed.’” It was a slow burn. Their business relationship evolved into a friendship. “Until we just sort of realised, maybe this is actually more than friendship…”
Roussel proposed with an antique diamond ring in the Bagatelle Gardens in Paris. Although they have yet to set a date for the wedding, Tory has met with Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton to discuss ideas for “one of” the wedding dresses, the design of which will depend on the season they marry in – and the location, which is also undecided. “I need to hire a wedding planner,” she says, as though the enormity of the event has just dawned on her. It will likely be a celebration of multiple ceremonies, no doubt spread across their collective homes in New York, > Antigua, the Hamptons, Normandy and Paris, where Pierre will continue to live, some 3,600 miles from Tory’s home in Manhattan. “It isn’t ideal, but it works for us, and we knew this going in,” she shrugs. “We feel very lucky – it has taken us a while to meet the love of our lives.”
“I had a wonderful childhood, it was like Andy Warhol meets Tom Sawyer. It was pretty eccentric.”
Tory grew up in a 250-year-old Georgian house on Valley Forge Farm in Pennsylvania: “I had a wonderful childhood, it was like Andy Warhol meets Tom Sawyer. It was pretty eccentric.” Along with her three brothers, she enjoyed an outdoorsy existence, running around and climbing trees. She was a tomboy, and even had the same haircut as her brothers at one stage. “We looked like four boys,” she laughs. She didn’t wear a dress until the day of her prom.
It was the kind of rural upbringing that centred on family, but it welcomed strays, too. “My parents would take in all kinds of people who would come for a week and stay for six months – or six years. We would never know.” They were glamorous as well: her mother, Reva Robinson, was a former actress who dated Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen, while her father’s former squeezes included Grace Kelly. “He was the kindest man. I grew up with his phrases, things like ‘You never learn anything with your mouth open’, and ‘A gentleman is not a part-time job’.” He was debonair and meticulous about his wardrobe, famously having Hermès silk scarves sewn into the lining of his jackets. She would watch her parents dress up for dinners and entertain at home. To that end, Tory inherited her mother’s hosting skills and regularly throws parties here, complete with hired fortune-tellers.
Tory Sport Gets Snapped Up
Back on the Upper East Side, the current atmosphere is less than celebratory; this morning, a ruckus is unfolding a few blocks away from her home. Trump Tower is abuzz with protestors and police, the uproarious impact of this country’s president fast becoming the new normal. Tory shakes her head. “People wouldn’t be surprised about where I stand, but I think it’s important now for everyone to get involved. For people to put their head in the sand and throw their arms up and say, ‘This is a disaster!’ isn’t helpful. We have to work together to unify our country. I’ve never seen America like this, and whatever I can do to help with that I will, because I think it’s crucial for the future of all of us. There is no easy answer but it’s about tolerance and acceptance of all people. We have to maintain respect, and respect all people. That’s what I believe in, and that’s the foundation of America.”
Her philanthropic leanings manifest in the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, a joint venture with Bank of America, which has loaned more than $30 million to start-up female entrepreneurs since 2014 to help them grow their businesses. (It also runs a business education course with Goldman Sachs.) “There are many challenges for women and I think one is lack of confidence. It’s something I had in the beginning – stopping to apologise for your success or being somewhat embarrassed by it,” she says. It’s one of the reasons she recently launched an Embrace Ambition campaign. “There are still negative connotations surrounding women and ambition – it’s a wonderful thing for a man but distasteful for a woman. Those stereotypes have to go.”
“The brand is now 14 years old and I always used to say, ‘I feel like we’re just beginning…’”
Is there a chink in her armour? Seemingly she doesn’t ever suffer from self-doubt or anxiety. “No, I’m not anxious in business – I generally think things work out for the best. I don’t always know that I’m right but I have an aptitude for risk and I think my instincts are good. But I have anxiety when it comes to my children,” she admits. “Raising children is not for the weak-hearted. Yes, I’m definitely surrounded by people who help, but I’m a single mother raising three boys in New York City – and that isn’t worry-free.” Tory is someone who finds it surprisingly easy to switch off; during our day together she hasn’t once looked at her phone, nor left the room to take a call, or asked an assistant for an update on anything pressing. “I’m probably the best compartmentaliser in the world. I’m not checking emails obsessively; I need to have some sort of balance in my life. I could work 24/7, but it isn’t healthy and it isn’t your best work. All CEOs need to learn that.” No one better to write the rulebook than Tory.