NEW YORK — Tory Burch is hardly a cookie-cutter uptown girl. She may not be clipping Harry Winston pendant earrings to her nose, but no one could accuse her of blindly following the fold. In fact, Burch is that rare socialite — a word she loathes, even if few play the boardroom-to-ballroom part better — with sharply honed individual style. “It’s an innate chic,” says her friend Samantha Boardman. “Tory’s the opposite of the contrived women you see to your left and right at dinners.” Whether she wears a Seventies Christian Dior gown in garish fuchsia, with a bow at the bosom the size of a toaster oven, or a black sheath by her beloved Narciso Rodriguez dangling over a pair of treacherous turquoise stilettos, Burch has an endearing way of using brazen clothing as a counterpoint to a delicate demeanor.

And so perhaps it was inevitable that she’d be the first New York social star of her generation to launch a clothing line. Tory, as it’s called, arrives in a gleaming Mott Street boutique of the same name on Monday.

“It all started about a year-and-a-half ago,” Burch explains, her bird-like body nearly swallowed up by a plush sofa in the lime-green, swatch-strewn design studio of her palatial new apartment overlooking Central Park in the Pierre Hotel. (Burch has three young sons and is stepmother to her venture-capitalist husband Christopher’s three daughters.) “I came up with a concept that I thought was both necessary and great.”

Tory is no vanity project. Long before she was a fixture in the glossies, Burch, 37, paid her dues. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, in her hometown of Philadelphia, she landed a job assisting the fashion designer Zoran in New York. She moved on to become a sittings assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, then worked in p.r. for Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Loewe. “I started to fall in love with fashion in college,” she says. Or just before: “My first important dress was a black tulle Saint Laurent with pink sequins that my mother bought me for the senior prom.”

To create her line, Burch paired with Fiona Marin, an old friend from her days at Ralph, now based in Hong Kong. Then she retreated into books, museums, thrift stores and, not infrequently, her mother’s closet — although a few of her father’s pieces, too, have gracefully morphed into women’s wear. “My father is one of the chicest men you’ve ever seen,” she says. “He’s the kind of guy who decides to have his dinner jackets lined with Hermès scarves.” Burch sketched hundreds of designs, edited feverishly, sourced new fabrics and hardware in China, India, Italy and Spain, and organized a team.The result is a comprehensive collection of mid-priced sportswear, swimwear, shoes, bags, jewelry — even beach towels, umbrellas and candles. Burch has managed to rein in a personal taste widely regarded as among the most opulent in New York’s younger set. Her least expensive item is a $35 cotton T-shirt with a patent-leather starburst, the most dear a $900 steel-gray, slinky dress with leather sequins inspired by the gown Lee Radziwill wore to Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball in the mid-Sixties. For spring, Burch offers a mix of reinterpreted staples: polos and reversible cashmere sweaters, printed shirts and grommeted, two-color loafers. There is headier fare, too: Lucite cuffs, a five-strand faux pearl necklace, crocheted shorts, caftans streaked with antique rhinestones and shagreen minaudières lined in mother-of-pearl. “The secret,” she says, “is how well it all fits. It looks great on my friends so far—of course, they’re all tall and thin.”

Jennifer Creel, tallest and thinnest among them, is especially keen on Tory’s terry cloth tunics and high-heeled evening espadrilles with metallic laces. “The stuff is so clean and fresh-looking,” Creel says. “Tory knew that there was something we all wanted to wear but couldn’t find — something affordable, a little bohemian but still sophisticated, and very easy to wear.”

Uptown girls, and other girls, will love it. But to have Burch as a walking advertisement won’t hurt, either. As Rodriguez puts it, “Tory dresses with grace, intelligence and, above all, exuberance. She’s the definition of a modern woman.”

—Robert Haskell

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