Winter & Miggs never made its mark. But over the years, the same tension resurfaced. Chris Burch continued to push his wife to do lower-price items, and she continued to resist. “What Chris likes is selling to the masses,” says a former employee. “His ex-wife is the opposite.” Their personal relationship was suffering too—Tory was becoming increasingly impatient with her husband’s eccentricities. Two years after the company launched, the couple separated, and Chris moved out of what had once been his bachelor pad. “Chris was pissed,” says an FOT, adding, not unsympathetically, “He had reason to be.”
Despite the tension, Chris Burch held onto his shares and stayed on the board of Tory Burch—the company was doing too well not to. Then Tory Burch started appearing in photographs with Lance Armstrong, and her ex-husband fell into a funk. A Friend of Chris recalls him saying that she was the love of his life. “He had kind of had this golden life. I hate to say it got the best of him. He just got, you know, caught off guard.”
He developed serious health problems: first a herniated disk, then a rare disease that cost him the use of his right arm for months. In 2006, his mother died, and soon after, his father collapsed from a heart attack while dancing at a country club.
There was a silver lining: The tragedies helped heal some of the animosity left over from their divorce. “You realize the pettiness has to stop,” Tory said at the time. “Now we’re putting the business and kids first.”
“We’re like The Bucket List, right, Billy?” asks Chris Burch, who is sitting in the front seat of the Escalade that is being maneuvered through Soho traffic by Bill Allen, his body man of 21 years.
“Yup, we’re doing it,” says Allen, who is a patient man, and not just because of traffic.
The bucket list seems to include world domination. J. Christopher Capital plans to roll out at least six new brands by 2013. There’s C. Wonder, which Burch hopes will open 300 stores worldwide over the next six years; Electric Love Army, a clothing line he’s developing with fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone; Poppin, an online office-supply company; and an as-yet-unnamed clothing company his daughters Alexandra (“Pookie”) and Louisa (“Weezie”) are working on together. The crown jewel of this empire will be “a two-floor, 40,000-square-foot department store that will be beyond your comprehension,” he says, craning around to the back seat. “That’s 99 Christopher.”
“Number Nine Christopher,” says Elissa Lumley, J. Christopher’s director of communications.
“Right, right,” he says. “I’m a little overwhelmed right now with brands.”
Real estate is also a perennial interest. “I also bought an island,” he says, although he doesn’t want to get into specifics other than to say it’s off the coast of Indonesia. (“I think it has like, indigenous people on it,” Lumley says later at J. Christopher Capital’s sprawling new offices on 25th Street. “He’s like, ‘I’ll give all those people jobs!’ ”)
The car pulls up to the Prince Street preview store of another of J. Christopher Capital’s new brands: Monika Chiang, whose namesake may at least be partially responsible for Burch’s new lease on life. He bolts to the back room, where Chiang—a tall, sultry 37-year-old in white jeans, Azzedine Alaïa boots, and a cashmere sweater that exposes a sliver of bisque-colored midriff—is shooting her fall look book.
“This is my girlfriend,” he says, grabbing Chiang by the waist and planting a kiss on her cheek.
“Hi-i-i-i,” she drawls.
Chiang, who sounds like she comes from California even though she was born in New York, met Burch at Dune, a club in the Hamptons that she managed during the summer of 2007.
“Tell the story,” he suggests.
“He came in. He was trying to impress me. And I wouldn’t have it, of course.”
“She has a lot of style, as you can tell,” says Burch. “And I walked up to her knowing quite well she wasn’t in fashion and said, ‘You’re in fashion, aren’t you?’ And we actually dug each other.”
The two now share a townhouse in the West Village when they aren’t in Los Angeles, where Chiang’s flagship recently opened, or in Miami, where Burch maintains a primary residence, or in Shanghai, where Chiang frequently joins Burch on his sourcing trips. That is where the idea for Monika Chiang the brand germinated: At his urging, she had some jewelry made for herself, and one thing led to another. “You never even asked me to do fashion, did you?” Burch asks.
“Mmm-nnnn,” Chiang murmurs.
“I noticed she had a real edge,” he says. Chiang had never designed clothing before, though she told reporters at the opening of her Los Angeles store that “I’ve had a lot of experience shopping.” Her clothes, all leather and fur and high heels that could double as weapons, are as far from Tory Burch as you can get, though their stores on South Robertson Boulevard are just a few doors apart. This has not gone unnoticed by the FOTs. “It’s almost like he’s saying, ’I could put any girl, I could have anybody be the face of it, it doesn’t matter,’ ” says one.