Tory Burch’s career has always been shaped by happy memories: family, books and movies, holidays, especially her parents’ glamorous European sojourns. Her collections have often been souvenirs of all the good times, full of sunshine, optimism and charming, colourful details.
The last year has been a uniquely terrible time. Bad memories. “I didn’t know if we’d survive,” Burch concedes. But in the last week, she’s been swamped by a sense of euphoria. The year of the pandemic is over. Could it really be? Business is thriving in Asia, ticking up in the US, solid online sales in Europe. A record January, in fact. “I’m not taking any victory laps, but it’s back,” she says. “People got through that mentally and emotionally and now they want to dream and live their lives. Shopping? That’s something you can control.” As opposed to all the things we haven’t been able to control, for what seemed like an endless Groundhog Day.
But the Covid woods are dark and deep, and we still have miles to go before we can sleep with any assurance. “Am I delusional?” Burch wonders about her recent state of mind. Her new collection acknowledges the year passed. Sober, reflective, grateful rather than exuberant, in the face of whatever comes next.
She wanted to thank New York. “I started thinking about the city and what it means to me personally. I’ve had these memories since I was five years old of coming to New York on the train with my mother from our farm. It was a big journey, to watch my mom shop. We’d go to FAO Schwartz, and this restaurant where the booths were cars. Then coming here right after college, being able to raise a family, build a business, meet so many extraordinary people here. All these memories … how do I give back to New York? It’s suffering so badly, and women have been the hardest hit. It’s been heartbreaking.”
Burch has been selling masks in packets of five for $35. The initiative raised $4 million. “It shows what you can do,” she says, still mildly stunned at its success. “The idea of impact and scale is what I think about all the time.” Half the money went to the International Medical Corps, the other half to her foundation, restoring the funding she cut at the beginning of the pandemic.
As well as honouring New York, Burch wanted her collection to pay homage to American fashion, especially beleaguered as the world turned upside down. “I don’t think America gets the credit it should for what it has contributed to fashion overall,” she claims. “Sportswear, streetwear, so many things taken to other parts of the world. And so many extraordinary people who’ve worked in the industry.”
“But I didn’t want it to be about a decade, about a particular woman,” she continues. “I wanted it to be about a continuation of my experience and my memories of different things.” There were, however, a couple of totems. Number one: The Suit. “I love suits, how women dress in suits. My sons’ girlfriends are thinking about getting into workwear and it’s suits they want to wear. How do you make a suit cool? What is the power suit? You wear things that make you look like you’re not going to work.” The jacket and skirt Burch offered in Japanese denim are maybe one solution. The combination seems so plain, but there’s something entrancing about the proportions, the smoothness of the fabric. “I’ve always loved Japanese denim,” she agrees. “It’s raw, but it’s not stiff.” She shows it with a turtleneck dickie, and a wide-collared shirt. Ali McGraw or Jane Fonda in a 70s movie. Which brings us to number two: Who is The Ideal Woman for the Suit? “I know I said I wasn’t thinking about anyone in particular, but if I did, it would be Katharine Hepburn,” says Burch. “I loved her character, her wit, how she’d take menswear and look incredibly chic.”
That is the key for Burch as she approaches the uncertainty of What Comes Next. “Women are going to want to dress up and all of that, but for me, it’s the luxurious feel, the comfort of pieces that last, of a classic idea made more interesting.” Her efforts to elevate the classic yield some of her new collection’s unlikeliest, loveliest looks: a workwear jacket in buttery leather, lined in bouclé, paired with moleskin sailor pants; a barn jacket, hems taped with embroidered flowers. Burch claims another ensemble is a reflection of New York’s melting pot essence: a twill crepe jacket in an Indian block print, worn over a top and skirt with a print inspired by Japanese wall hangings.
Another theme of the collection is seasonless dressing. It’s an idea that is enjoying more currency, with the fashion industry’s traditional calendar upended by the pandemic. What do we show? When do we show it? “It’s partly that,” Burch says of her rationale, “but I also think how there are no real rules as there used to be. Women used to change their wardrobes each season. That just doesn’t exist anymore. I’d wear a white poplin dress in winter, a cosy cashmere sweater in May. Global warming is a part of it. The seasons are messed up.”
But messed up creates opportunities for mixed up. “It’s interesting to mix Sport and main line,” Burch says, referring to her retro-tinged athleisure line Tory Sport and her primary Tory Burch collection. “Sport has got my head into the idea of outerwear. It’s a whole new world: bombers, puffas, gilets. Quilting is something I’m always interested in.” A new addition to the repertoire is the T Monogram range of accessories, seven years in development and launched in February.
Then there are her fabrics, with unexpected teases. A grey flannel so lightweight it feels like poplin. Humble fabrics like chambray and denim made feminine. An equally unassuming washed linen cut into a smock, elegantly dressed with a course of arty buttons running down one side. (I’m only thinking artist’s commune because Burch already planted an image of Georgia O’Keeffe in my mind, but she’d rather I picture Claire McCardell, one of American fashion’s insufficiently lauded pioneers.) The same buttons are made into an artist’s necklace. Another necklace is an add-a-bead girlhood memory of Burch’s. For evening, poplin is draped with something dressier, like chiffon, or ruched at the hem with tulle and trimmed in satin. The balance of humble and fancy feels right about now.
“Covid has given me time to think about the essence of what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, what it means. Less is more: less of everything, and everything with more integrity,” Burch declares. She always loved going out. She misses concerts more than anything. But the year has turned her inwards. She’s working on Spring 2022 now, and she’s loving the colour, but not because she wants to go out and party. “I’m not there yet emotionally,” she admits. Instead, Burch is finding new angles on the question that drives her business: How do you design beautiful things but have a positive impact? She asks herself, “How do you do better?” Over and over. “How do you do better?”
To view the full Tory Burch Autumn/Winter 2021 collection click here.