Designer Spotlight: Tory Burch

The American label’s founder on her design renaissance.

For the past couple of seasons, a new energy has emerged from Tory Burch. Fashion insiders have been noticing the vibe shift. “That’s Tory Burch?” The New York Times headline proclaimed; “We never could have guessed the designer behind this gown” InStyle clocked on a see-through fishnet dress from Tory Burch’s Fall/Winter 2022 collection worn by Emily Ratajkowski. The preppy American label, once synonymous with colourful tunics and ballet flats stamped with gold logo medallions simply looks, for the lack of a better word, cooler now. Think: less Bangsar mums going to afternoon tea, more sensual city dwellers going for cocktails in Chinatown on a weekend.

In fashion, this sort of aesthetic shift is often a result of a new player coming on board. Did Miss Burch install a new design team or worked with a new stylist? What exactly sparked the design renaissance at Tory Burch? “In the last four years, a lot has changed at our company. I used to be the CEO and do the creative—I’d spend maybe 30% of my time on the creative process. But since Pierre-Yves (who is also Burch’s husband) came on board, this has allowed me time to fully focus on the creatives,” Burch told
us when we met in Singapore.

For the first time in 18 years, since Burch launched her eponymous brand, she has shifted her focus almost entirely on design. “Giving up the CEO title was the easiest thing I’ve done,” she said. “It’s a different shift and almost a reinvention to me, personally. In a way, I was always inspired by my family and people around me. But when the pandemic happened, I had to go within and strip back everything that
I knew, and thought about what a more personal version of me would be, and why I started the company to begin with.”

Burch decided that she doesn’t only want to design for herself, but also help women of all ages feel the most confident version of themselves with her designs. One of the collections under what she calls a “creative reinvention” was the Spring/Summer 2022 collection, shown at a block party at Mercer Street in SoHo. The collection was inspired by Claire McCardell, a mid-century designer Burch discovered during an art history class at the University of Pennsylvania. “She revolutionised global fashion and everything that we kind of take for granted. People barely know her name outside of our industry,” Burch said, “My mother wore some of her clothing, but aside from that, I didn’t really know much about her. Then, when the pandemic happened, I dove deeper into her history. We ended up partnering with her family’s foundation to do a fellowship to learn more about her because she’s such a pivotal part of sportswear.
She’s a renegade and a feminist, and I think that’s brilliant.”

The clothes in that collection included long, easy cotton dresses and jersey skirts, in clashing prints or counterintuitive colour combinations—striking that enviable balance of looking relaxed but also interesting—was a departure from Burch’s usual Hampton-chic offerings and was met with critical acclaim. Following the triumphant collection, Burch has since been pushing the envelope, experimenting with new silhouettes, fabrics, and styles.

The Spring/Summer 2023 collection presented last September, again echoed McCardell’s version of unencumbered women with sheer tops, sleek coats, and stretchy belt skirts that can be worn at different lengths. They all evoked a sexy and sophisticated 90’s energy. The overall vibe is younger, fresher, and what our colleagues at GRAZIA Australia would call “cool girl minimalism”.

“I want to explore a woman’s body. Being a woman designer for women, I spent a lot of time researching and developing fabrics that had all kinds of different ways to stretch. I think women are really interested in their bodies and shape. That is why I am really interested in that transparent (fabric). To me, it is a sexiness that wasn’t so overt, a sexiness that comes from within,” Burch said of her collection that has this “fabulously thrown together” eccentricity of Patricia Field’s costume design on Sex and the City.

With the success of the creative reinvention (even Gigi Hadid is now wearing the brand’s ballet flats—that means something), the brand is fast becoming one of the shows to look out for in NYFW. Burch also has plans to expand 15 more stores across Asia next year and launch new unisex fragrance in the Middle East. So, what else is on Burch’s creative agenda?

“It sounds weird. After 18 years, I feel like we’re just starting,” Burch said, “I’ve always been intellectually curious and interested in evolution and reinvention. I feel that it’s so important creatively to be on that kind of journey to push yourself.”