AFTER SEVEN LONG DAYS AND sleepless nights in March, Tory Burch’s impeccably decorated library in her red-brick home in the Hamptons officially became a war room. PierreYves Roussel, her husband and the chief executive of her eponymous fashion company, claimed the patterned green couch. Across from him, Burch — the company chairman, clad in leggings — took the desk by the window overlooking their seven acres. The couple barely stepped outside the room for three weeks.
“One day went into the next, and one week went into the next,” says Burch, who left her Park Avenue apartment with a small suitcase on March 6, thinking a quarantine would not last long. “I don’t think we had a break for a solid month. It was a very scary time — 2008 happened, and we saw our business change overnight. But this was nothing like 2008. This was much, much worse.”
Luxury fashion is fickle even in the best of times. The coronavirus has been an especially virulent pest. Stores around the globe shut down amid stay-at-home regulations. Chinese travelers — whose purchases account for some 30% of luxury-goods sales in Europe and North America — put away their travel bags. J.Crew, Neiman Marcus and Brooks Brothers all filed for bankruptcy. Revenues at Gucci parent Kering and LVMH, Roussel’s former employer, fell around 40% in the second quarter. Ralph Lauren sales tumbled by two-thirds.
Burch and Roussel realized quickly how dire the situation was. Within weeks, they were closing many of their 315 Tory Burch stores across the globe, furloughing most of their retail employees and shelving expansion plans, and coping with a longtime employee’s death from Covid-19. They then began formulating new plans to make sure Tory Burch LLC didn’t unravel.
Throughout this disruptive moment for the world, for business and for retail, Burch and Roussel let Forbes ride along on their eight-month navigation of this apocalypse. They’ve had to improvise, shutting stores, rerouting supplies and revamping e-commerce efforts, all in the hope that the business, which generated almost $1.5 billion in revenue in 2019, with a profit margin Forbes estimated at 11%, could survive. “We didn’t know how we would be able to pivot and be agile,” Burch says. “The unknown was so difficult.”
But jumping into the unknown also offers lessons, both good and bad, on how to pilot through a monsoon, at a time when shoppers are wary of leaving home and the threat of deadly disease lurks in every public space.
Burch had a fairy-tale childhood growing up in a grand old home in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the daughter of a former actress and a financier, both of whom prized dressing well. Upon graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988 with a degree in art history, Burch moved to New York with a passion for fashion. She worked for Zoran, a Yugoslavian designer who was her mother’s favorite, then had public relations and editorial stints at Harper’s Bazaar, Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang.
After she married investor Chris Burch in 1996, the couple built a portfolio of investments that not only helped them financially but also gained them a spot in New York high society.
The first Tory Burch boutique opened in February 2004 in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood, run by the couple and based on her idea for an affordable luxury and lifestyle brand. In 2005, the day after she appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show, the Tory Burch website got 8 million hits. Retail riches followed: That year, the brand hit $17 million in revenue. Two years later it grew to $113 million, its gold T logo inching its way onto the exclusive global list of luxury badges.
Then came troubles at home. In 2006, Burch initiated the end of her marriage; the divorce was finalized two years later. Legal trouble arrived in 2012, when Chris started his own fashion company,
C. Wonder, which Burch claimed was informed too much by the premise of the brand they had launched together. They settled in early 2013, when Tory Burch LLC had $800 million in sales and 54 stores — and Forbes first declared her a billionaire. Chris stepped down as a director and sold most of his 28% stake to new minority investors General Atlantic and BDT Capital for $650 million. Burch describes her very public divorce as one of the toughest periods in her life.
The next year she began dating Roussel, who as chief executive of LVMH’s fashion group oversaw global brands such as Céline, Givenchy, Kenzo and Marc Jacobs, and was a special advisor to LVMH’s billionaire founder, Bernard Arnault. Burch had met Roussel in 2012, when LVMH briefly expressed interest in investing in her company. For about four years, Roussel split his time between New York and Paris. The couple wed in December 2018 at Burch’s home in Antigua, a renovated estate that once belonged to heiress, horticulturist and fashion icon Bunny Mellon. “We got married, we wanted to live together and wanted to be in the same country,” Burch says. So she approached Roussel with a plan: What if he became the next CEO of Tory Burch? It took a bit of convincing, but he agreed. “Even before the pandemic, working together was a question mark,” Roussel says. “Obviously, I come from a different world, different culture, different continent.”
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Tory Burch's Survival Sketchbook
Amid a luxury fashion apocalypse, one of the century’s greatest entrepreneurial retailers (and one of America’s richest self-made women) brought us deep inside the battle to save her brand.
The Plant, The Planet And A Plan
Nicola Kavhu is serving up a new menu of realities and possibilities in the 21st century African diet, promoting healthy eating while respecting and protecting the creatures that share our planet.
Inspiration From Where Life Happens
Anjali Borkhataria is trying to change the narrative of fashion in Tanzania with a local brand aimed at everyone.
A RIVER, A MONSTER AND RESPONSIBLE TOURISM
An innovative Gambian initiative, several decades in the making, is at last ready to emerge from its long incubation, turning cryptozoology into currency.
Can Empathy Be Automated?
The changing relationship between human beings and intelligent machines in the workplace.
Biotech's Barnum And His Covid Cures
Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong’s radical cancer treatments made him one of the wealthiest physicians on earth. Now the master of medical marketing believes his drug therapies could defeat the “crisis of our time” — and there are plenty of reasons to think he’ll deliver more Hippocrates than hype.
Rockets To Riches: The Rise And Rise Of Elon Musk
South African-born, billionaire technology and space entrepreneur, Elon Musk, made history at the start of 2021, overtaking Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the richest man on Earth. While his fortune was made on this planet, his dreams to venture to the final frontier remain. FORBES AFRICA takes a look at his journey to becoming one of the world’s most celebrated innovators and one of the wealthiest men alive.
Heartbeat Of The Global Economy?
The largest free trade area in the world, with a combined GDP of $3.3 trillion, came into effect on the first day of 2021. A look at what exactly implementation of a deal of this magnitude means.
Virus, Vaccine And Viability
Understanding the successful storage, supply chain and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine and what Africa needs to do to get it right.
The Journey To Sustainability And Having A Broader Impact
A sublime reality of being human is that we all have divergent points of view; we may arrive at the same destination but many of us like taking the scenic route since we prefer learning from our own experiences and sometimes, mistakes.
Asuntos de familia
Toda saga tiene un relato, pero la historia de éstas, sin duda, las trasciende. Han conseguido perpetuar un modo de entender su vida, articulando una envidiable manera de concebir los negocios y dejando una huella crucial en el mundo de la creación.
DEFYING THE STATUS QUO
Since the late 1960s, the Defy has been Zenith’s go-to recipe for a progressive take on watchmaking. WatchTime takes a look at the current state of the Swiss brand’s collection.
From the inside out!
A clever revamp of this 1960s house has resulted in a light and spacious abode that flows effortlessly from the interior to the garden – without compromising its footprint or the many indigenous trees.
Influenciada por su herencia cultural, Supriya Lele transforma sus diseños en nuevos preceptos de feminidad.
Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot, took a Swiss watchmaker that was only known among a select few and transformed it into a larger-than-life phenomenon. Here’s how he did it
The year’s maiden trade show, the LVMH Watch Week 2021, was presented to us in the comfort of our homes
WHEN ONLY THE BEST WILL DO
Two Maldivian resorts that are out of this world
A Match Made In Rome
The scents we wear define us. But some brands are taking this concept even further by introducing layering fragrances that alter the entire experience
‘COVID-19 SPED UP EXISTING TRENDS IN THE MARKET'
Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of the Bvlgari Group, on the impact of the pandemic on the luxury sector
New York-based, China-born designer Caroline Hu launched her eponymous label in 2018 and quickly became famous for her romantic dresses in sophisticated fabrics, which earned her the inaugural Business of Fashion China Prize and an LVMH Prize nomination in just two years. She was also recently selected as one of 10 Asian Designers to Watch by Fashion Asia Hong Kong. Popular demand has led Hu to expand her range for the first time this season—her designs are now stocked by retailers like Moda Operandi.