But this was nowhere near as infuriating as C. Wonder. In the weeks leading up to the grand opening, Tory Burch had heard so much about C. Wonder’s likeness to her line that she and her company’s president, Brigitte Kleine, decided to make the trip to Soho themselves. Even after being forewarned, they were shocked. Everything seemed familiar, from the buttons on the blouses to the C logo Chris had emblazoned on all of the items, which they could tell had been created by the same company that designed their double T.
“Tory must have wanted to puke when she went into that store,” says a former employee. “I’m sure she was really hurt.” The FOTs scoff at this notion. “Tory’s beyond the point of being wounded by an ex-husband,” says one. More like furious. Once again Chris had gone behind her back to create a lower-priced brand, and this time it looked like a direct competitor. “It is unclear whether this is an amicable homage or a hostile takeover,” said the Times when C. Wonder opened. “I live in the neighborhood, and the resemblance stopped me in my tracks,” says Susan Scafidi, a fashion lawyer and the head of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham. “The physical décor and the packaging are like the packaging of a Tory Burch store.”
To Tory Burch, the design and layout of C. Wonder seems like a deliberate attempt by her ex-husband to confuse the consumer into thinking the two brands are associated, à la Kate and Jack Spade. Chris Burch may have held back from using their shared last name, but by appointing himself the figurehead of C. Wonder, he’d all but guaranteed the association would be made in the business press. Which it was. In the weeks surrounding the opening, media coverage invariably noted C. Wonder was the brainchild of “Tory Burch’s ex-husband,” “the chairman of the board of Tory Burch,” or “the man behind Tory Burch.” Most galling to Tory was when Chris, in an interview about C. Wonder on Bloomberg television, referred to himself as “the founder of, and largest shareholder of,” Tory Burch. (Chris and Tory are equal shareholders.) Ironically, the moment occurred in an interview about trademark infringement. “We are constantly having people … stealing our brand name, stealing our products, all over the world,” he told the interviewer.
Everyone at the company knew Chris was fond of exaggeration—the Christmas sweater goes back at least as far as the fifties, by the way—but now FOTs felt he was inflating his role at Tory Burch to promote his competing brand. At the same time, they may be downplaying it. “He doesn’t have a role,” says an FOT, adding that beyond his initial investment, his involvement has been minimal. “That’s bullshit,” says a person with knowledge of both parties, pointing out that Chris’s experience with factories in Asia made him instrumental to production. “Tory has done a brilliant job, but without Chris, it could not have been done. You can’t deny that.” Glen Senk offers a kind of middle ground. “Chris is a founder and a consultant,” he says. “He has a million-and-one ideas, some of which the company has used and some of which the company hasn’t used. There’s a difference—and as a board member I can say this about myself—there’s a difference between throwing out ideas and running a business.”
Friends of Tory say Chris felt sidelined at the company and that may be one of his motivations in opening C. Wonder. “He’s jealous,” says one. “He thinks he didn’t get enough recognition at Tory.” A more impartial observer concurs: “The bottom line is he never got over Tory leaving him.” But it’s hard to imagine that such a massive retail operation, launched six years after a divorce, is motivated primarily by pique. Nor does it make sense that Chris Burch would undercut the company where he is co-chairman. If he’s ripping his ex-wife off, he’s ripping himself off, too.
Friends of Chris say he simply doesn’t see the conflict—that to him the brand is genuinely reflective of the life he has lived. One of the rooms is modeled after a ski lodge he visited in Vail, they point out, another after an English townhouse he owned in the nineties. By this line of thinking, any physical resemblance to Tory Burch could be chalked up to years of living in a peridot-and-marmalade-colored apartment.
“I don’t really get it,” Kelly Cutrone says about the outrage coming from Tory Burch loyalists. “Did they trademark lacquer? Does Lilly Pulitzer start calling Tory and saying, ‘Hey, you’re doing a modernized version of what I used to do, please stop’? Does Yves Saint Laurent call and say, ‘No, I’m the king of the tunic, I lived in Morocco’? Did the Knights of the Templars call off Christian Dior because he was using chain mail and that’s they what wore in the Crusades?”