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NEW YORK — Among socialites at swanky Manhattan soirees, suburban mothers on school runs and gatherings of Oprah Winfrey groupies, Tory Burch seems to have become a topic of conversation — for good reason.
It’s been less than two years since Burch launched Tory by TRB with a boutique on Elizabeth Street here, but her lifestyle concept has had a rapid-fire expansion nationwide. Burch operates freestanding boutiques in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, and has 120 wholesale accounts nationwide and an e-commerce site that had over 7 million hits after Winfrey endorsed the designer on her show in April. Now, Burch is embarking on a new chapter in her budding fashion career.
In spring 2006, Tory by TRB will officially be renamed Tory Burch. She decided to make the name change because most consumers refer to the line that way already, and Tory was a registered trademark in Asia, which would complicate expansion into that booming market.
Over the next six months, Burch is scheduled to open freestanding stores in Dallas and Greenwich, Conn., and expand her U.S. distribution to over 150 accounts. Meanwhile, a revamped, more user-friendly e-commerce Web site, Toryburch.com, is expected to bow by the end of this month.
Sitting in the 7,000-square-foot Madison Avenue showroom to which the company has recently relocated, Burch admitted it’s all a far cry from what she had expected when cooking up the lifestyle concept in her Upper East Side apartment a few years ago. “I knew I had a concept that I thought was missing in the market. It was something I wanted to make into a lifestyle brand,” Burch said. “I didn’t think we were going to grow this quickly.”
To better serve the fast expansion, Burch hired Brigitte Kleine as the company’s first president in March. Kleine joined from Michael Kors, where she was senior vice president of the women’s signature and better-priced Michael Michael Kors collections. Prior to that, she was president of American wholesale and retail sales at Alexander McQueen, and president of international licensing at Donna Karan International.
“We needed someone like Brigitte…to focus it and to help us get to the next level,” Burch said.
Kleine immediately set out to analyze the company’s operations, which had 13 full-time employees at the time. She increased the number of staffers to about 25 to improve wholesale, retail, production and design. The company then relocated from East 33rd Street to the larger space at 99 Madison Avenue.
Since Kleine came on board, Burch has opened a 2,000-square-foot boutique on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles, in May, and added a third, 1,500-square-foot-store at the Phipps Plaza mall in Atlanta, in August. A 1,600-square-foot-boutique at the Highland Park Village in Dallas is scheduled to open in late February, and last week, Burch signed a lease for a 2,300-square-foot-unit at 255 Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, Conn., which is expected to be open by April.
Kleine said that within five years, the company hopes to have at least 15 stores nationwide, and Burch mentioned such markets as Chicago, Houston and Bal Harbour, Fla.
Burch and Kleine also plan to take the brand global. This resort and holiday season, Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong and in Dubai and e-tailer Net-a-Porter will offer the collection. Holt Renfrew in Canada is picking up the line for spring, and Burch is close to inking a deal with a retailer in London for spring selling. Kleine said the U.K. is an initial focus for the brand’s push into Europe. The eventual plan is to have equal distribution in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
Burch and Kleine declined to disclose sales information, though industry sources peg the brand’s total volume in excess of $15 million. Kleine said wholesale and retail sales were evenly split at the moment, though the ratio could swing to freestanding retail in the future.
Ironically, Burch never set out to build a wholesale business when she launched the collection in February 2004. She had set up a Hong Kong office to work directly with Chinese factories and launched a lifestyle retail concept that included everything from sportswear to capsule collections of handbags, shoes, candles and umbrellas made in-house and mostly distinguished by the signature orange T-logo. Then Robert Burke, Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president of fashion and public relations, called and persuaded Burch to go into wholesale, starting at Bergdorf’s last fall. Besides Bergdorf’s, the label is now available in Saks Fifth Avenue, Scoop and Marisa in Naples, Fla.
“There are very few times that you see a collection and know within the first five minutes that it’s going to be right,” Burke said. “I knew she was going to reach a customer that was not being reached, with this unique type of product…at contemporary price points.”
Burch managed to home in on a market niche with a collection that includes multiple categories positioned between the contemporary and designer tiers. Unlike some of the other brands that share retail real estate with Burch, the Pennsylvania native comes to the table with a face behind the tag and an aspirational lifestyle that underscores the brand’s identity. For spring 2006, wholesale prices range from $38 for a cotton logo tank top to $406 for a rhinestone-adorned vintage linen top.
While Burch has dabbled with handbags and footwear for her own stores, she is now ready to embark on accessories in a more serious way. To that end, she has entered into a production partnership with Vince Camuto, president and chief executive officer of Camuto Group, to push into the footwear sector. The first complete shoe collection will be unveiled next month for fall 2006 distribution. “We foresee [a full handbag launch] for spring 2007,” Kleine said. “In the interim, we will continue to offer edited collections of handbags.”
Burch is also launching two bikini styles with Delfina featuring her signature prints for spring 2006 for her own stores, and she said she would like eventually to have a home line including tabletop, textiles and carpets; a signature fragrance; sunglasses, and men’s wear. Some of these could even be licensed, though Kleine noted, “Because we’re so young, we are reluctant to license. We’d like to be very careful and very methodical about how we grow the business. Fragrance, beauty and eyewear would be natural to license.”
Instead of licensing, the company seems to prefer dipping its toes into new categories with design collaborations. For instance, Burch has a collection with jeans brand Habitual that is labeled Habitual for Tory Burch. It consists of dark and whitewashed jeans in Habitual’s signature boot-cut fit with Tory’s T-logo embroidered on the back pockets. Priced at $228, the jeans are available at freestanding boutiques, Toryburch.com, and Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Scoop.
This month, Burch is launching a capsule collection of Tory Burch tunics for children, which will be available exclusively at the freestanding boutiques and Scoop, which started selling Tory by TRB last spring.
“We have done phenomenally well with it,” Scoop’s co-owner Stefani Greenfield said. “It’s cross-generational. You have the mother, the daughter and the grandmother. It’s a lifestyle, and not about an age. It’s not too mature, but it’s not immature.”
Burch also partnered with Guerlain and created a special cover for its iconic Vetiver fragrance, which is available at Tory boutiques for $65, in time for the holidays.
“My brothers and father have always worn it,” she said. “It’s the only Vetiver I really love. It’s this great cult fragrance and it’s very European. It’s a great gift for men.”