Wise words from Tory Burch: what every graduating fashion student should read
Tory Burch is seen as a fashion lightning rod who created a name and a fortune in just over a decade. But the American designer with global reach – who opens her first Paris store this summer – thinks success is about taking things slowly and carefully.
Here, Tory discussed with me her recipe for entering, developing and expanding in a frenetic fashion world.
SUZY MENKES: Tory, you are a fantastic success story. It is extraordinary how many shops you have opened, how many collections, and so much online. So how did you do that? Any blueprint?
TORY BURCH: I think about restraint. Yes, we have had this enormous growth over the last 11 years, but it has always been thoughtful and strategic. When I talk to young people starting businesses, I say: take your time. I think being patient and making decisions thinking about the long term has really benefited us. And not doing everything. We want to do things, but to do them slowly and organically.
SUZY: When you started off 11 years ago, everyone said that you were designing ‘affordable luxury’. Is that how you still think of yourself?
TORY: I remember you, Suzy, at our first store opening 11 years ago. I was so excited to have you there! I think a lot has changed since then. At the time, it was an interesting conversation to have about looking at everything through a luxury lens, but also making things accessible. That is how we looked at it.
Yes, we are still the same company, but we have evolved and elevated – not in price point, but in innovation. I think I have learned as a designer and a business person over the years, but I don’t really see it as ‘affordable’. We are just designing beautiful things – that hopefully are a little bit more attainable.
SUZY: So there is going to be a new store in Paris this year?
TORY: In July – super exciting! We have taken our time – we just opened Milan and now Paris. Being an American designer, I am a bit intimidated by Europe in general. We are proud to be an American brand, but we really have a global mindset.
Tory Burch at the 2015 CFDA awards in NY In January 2014, the CFDA presented an opportunity for one student to win a Tory Burch Mentorship Award. As part of their year-long mentorship, the winner produced a collection with guidance from the Tory Burch team, including a trip to Première Vision fabric fair in Paris, plus the Tory Burch company provided two professionally constructed ready-to-wear pieces for the final year collection
SUZY: You are very interested in art, and there is always a feeling that there is art connected with your collections – for example, you did that Picasso ceramics-inspired show and the Oriental rugs.
TORY: I am super interested by so many kinds of art. The inspiration is the easy part. Then it is about how to interpret it and not make it too literal. I was an Art History major at Penn (University of Pennsylvania) and it always comes into play in some way. I am always interested in how art inspires music, inspires architecture – and they are all intertwined. It is about culture.
SUZY: You are very much into the digital world, you have created things that are part of that, especially in connection with sport. Are you a sporty person yourself?
TORY: Well, I do love sports, and I have always been intrigued with digital and the internet. We adopted it quite early. Eleven years ago we launched our free-standing store with e-commerce, and that was not done a lot back then in the fashion industry. But we haven’t had a big budget over the years so we had to be resourceful. In a way we built our brand through social media, through using PR and marketing, and trying to be innovative and get our brand out there. Digital was a perfect example of that. Now it is really interesting. We just did a partnership with Fitbit, and that was an extraordinary step into wearable technology.
SUZY: So there is the Fitbit. The digital things you are doing – is it for real? A side line? Are they really part of tomorrow’s clothes that are going to talk to us and do things for us?
TORY: I don’t know exactly if we are going to be able to 3D-print a shirt. But, digitally, the bracelet we did with Fitbit, we turned into jewellery so that it was more attractive for women to wear. We didn’t do any marketing and within three hours it was sold out online. I see women as really wanting to think about health and fitness, but they also want to look great and chic.
SUZY: Do you think you are a really modern lifestyle brand? Whereas in the past it might have been incorporating furniture, now it incorporates sport and energy.
TORY: I think ‘lifestyle’ is like ‘accessible luxury’ – a bit over-used. When we launched our brand 11 years ago it really was about having someone walk into a room and know who we were. We started with 12 different categories; since then we have expanded those categories and worked on them. I think different extensions feel natural – sports is one of them. I am just passionate about home. I am a frustrated interior designer. For me that is about lifestyle – but it has to be authentic.
Tory Burch takes a bow at the end of her A/W 2015 show
Tory Burch A/W 2015
SUZY: What are your plans for the future? More stores? More online? India? Africa? New countries to conquer?
TORY: We want to grow but not in a big way – organically. In a way it is almost about holding back growth, and that is something we think a lot about. I have so many plans – I feel like we are just beginning, but I want to do it in a slow, careful way. We don’t want to be everywhere, we want to pick the right partners and the right adjacencies. From day one, it was a retail concept that hasn’t changed.
SUZY: This is the final question that I have been waiting to spring on you. You know people are so impressed by you, Tory Burch, and they are saying that your brand is now worth $3 billion after just 11 years. Are there talks of an IPO here – are there thoughts of it?
TORY: Suzy, as long as I am here, I can tell you 100 per cent – no. I have no interest in being a public company. And I will say, you never know what the future will be, but I can tell you, there are rumours, but the answer for me is ‘No.’
I don’t want to run the business to make quarterly earnings, it is about long-term, and making decisions that we can control. That, to me, is a luxury.
Suzy Menkes and Tory Burch