This peripatetic personality made him a great investor but an easily distracted student growing up. On a semester abroad in England, he sweet-talked a Scottish factory into selling him a wholesale order of Shetland-wool sweaters with an eye toward selling them to Wasps in his hometown on the Philadelphia mainline. When the products arrived on the small side, he and his brother, Robert, drove around to colleges, selling to coeds instead. They sold out. Plus, his longtime friend George Corrigan says, “it was a great way to meet girls.”
The brothers quickly ramped up their sweater game. They called their company Eagle’s Eye, after their father’s nickname, and got a post-office box to look official. Then came what Burch calls “probably the most exciting point in my life other than having children and all the other stuff.”
In 1976, at a New York cocktail party celebrating the Bicentennial, he met a guy who told him about a factory in Hong Kong where they made things cheaper and faster than anybody. Burch placed an order for a huge number of sweaters, dirt cheap. Then he put an ad in Glamour and waited. On the eighth day, the postmaster told him he had mail. “And he had behind the desk two big white bags. Like, huge. I put them in the car and drove home to my parents’ house, and I dumped the bags on the floor, and I’m not kidding you, there were probably a thousand checks for sweaters.”
The Hong Kong connection enabled Eagle’s Eye to increase production enough to start distributing nationally and to expand well beyond sweaters. The turtlenecks they festooned with strawberries and whales hit right in time for the preppy craze, and the business took off. Then: “I noticed a lot of our customers were turning into young moms,” Burch says, “and Christmas was very much a family thing …”
Eagle’s Eye opened a New York office in 1981, and on one of his trips there, Burch met his first wife, a fashion consultant named Susan Cole. They had three daughters and moved to a spacious home near his parents in the Philadelphia suburbs. Despite the failure of one of Chris’s more esoteric innovations (“He wanted a sweater with a turkey on it that clucked,” says Leslie Johnson, whom he hired as a designer), business thrived, and in 1989 Chris and Robert began selling their stake in Eagle’s Eye (they ultimately made $60 million).
He bought a small apartment at the Pierre. By this time, Chris and Susan were having problems, and so he began spending more time in New York, ferreting out new business opportunities. “He’ll talk to anybody,” says Corrigan. “He gets his energy, his juice, from people.” One of the people he met was Tory Robinson, a pretty blonde Vera Wang publicist who worked in his office building. Chris and Susan divorced, and in 1996 Chris and Tory were married. Their personalities couldn’t have been more different: Chris was outspoken and disheveled, he once showed up at a dinner wearing his shoes on the wrong feet; Tory, thirteen years his junior, was far more polished. But they both had a certain steely ambition. “Chris wanted to be a player,” says a friend of the couple, “and Tory is shrewd. She’s as shrewd as they get.”
During the Internet boom, he invested heavily in digital properties, made an enormous amount of money before the bubble popped, and parlayed his winnings into an eclectic assortment of businesses: cod-farming, Voss water. She became one of the most photographed blondes on the charity circuit, standing out for her impeccable style and an I’m-not-taking-this-too-seriously smile. The couple had three children, all boys, and renovated the apartment at the Pierre, expanding it to include three suites and a hallway.
It was Tory Burch’s idea to launch her own clothing line. At first, she wanted to revive Jax, the Beverly Hills boutique Jack and Sally Hanson started in the sixties for an elite clientele once described as “two-yacht housewives.” Sally wasn’t interested, so she began sketching her own designs. Her husband helped her raise the money—$10 million from outside investors and $2 million of their own. It was decided that Tory would be the face of the brand. In 2004, Vogue featured her and her now-9,000-square-foot apartment, decorated in “marmalade” and “peridot-green,” in an elaborate spread heralding the launch of her boutique on Elizabeth Street. On opening day, New York’s two-yacht housewives practically ransacked the store. Oprah hailed Tory Burch as the “Next Big Thing.” Virtually overnight, she became a fashion icon.
From all outward appearances, Tory Burch was a model businesswoman, wife, and mother. “Before she leaves on a business trip, Tory writes notes to her kids and hides them around their spacious apartment,” the Palm Beach Post reported breathlessly. But things weren’t so perfectly perfect. While Tory Burch was developing her label, Chris Burch was working on a lower-priced line of his own, Winter & Miggs, which used the same factories to produce similar designs. People familiar with the line say Tory knew about it, that Chris had created Winter & Miggs as a hedge in case Tory Burch didn’t succeed. But Friends of Tory say she only found out when visiting fashion editors commented to her about the line’s similarities to hers and that she was livid.