Tory Burch comes to town | Bleader

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tory Burch comes to town

Posted By on 11.18.11 at 03:00 PM

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Designer Tory Burch creates pretty clothes for women of the one percent. So it’s unsurprising that when she and American Express partnered to host a reception and a runway show at the Field Museum exclusively for Amex cardmembers (and media) Wednesday night, it was like the recession had never happened. Canapés were plentiful, the booze was flowing (at times it seemed like the number of catering staff rivaled the attendees), and someone was posted every 20 feet from the parking garage to the museum to make sure the perfectly groomed and accessorized guests didn’t get lost. Despite the obvious have/have not dichotomy, the mostly young people staffing the event seemed to be in a good mood—perhaps they were glad to have the work.

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  • Burch with InStyle fashion director Hal Rubenstein

That’s not a slur on Burch or her customers—if anything, it seemed like a hopeful sign. Although she comes from a high-society background, Burch has made a point of positioning herself as an independent, hard-working business owner, an outsider in the hothouse fashion world. When she started her company in 2004, she says she had never taken a design class, and her designing experience was minimal. But her mix of proper preppy pieces with a bohemian edge touched a nerve with women who wanted the look of luxe without having to ascend to Gucci-level price points.

Burch’s working-girl role extends to philanthropy work offering micro-loans to low- and middle-income female entrepreneurs, and while she was in Chicago she met with a group of female small-business owners. She seemed approachable and down-to-earth even in a slightly canned onstage interview after the runway show, in which she noted that most people don’t spend their lives on the red carpet; she tried to combine glamour with sportiness—an outcome, she suggested, of growing up with an elegant mother and four brothers. “We are trying our best to offer the most beautiful clothing at the most accessible price,” she said.

For the spring 2012 collection shown on the runway, Burch took inspiration from Deauville, France, in the 20s—a dog whistle for students of fashion history. Deauville was the beach resort where a young Coco Chanel startled society and the fashion industry by eschewing fussy Edwardian-era gowns and hats for easy-to-wear pieces modeled after menswear, in humble fabrics like jersey—anticipating our contemporary way of dressing. Burch’s designs drew heavily on Chanel, with nautical touches like knit short-shorts in beige and navy stripes, a gorgeous drop-waist dress in a gray and yellow tulip print, and skirts with wavy stripes that suggested a rolling sea. And of course, there were a couple interpretations of the iconic Chanel tweed jacket.

Burch may not be breaking new ground like Chanel, but she knows how to retread established territory to make it fresh, exciting, and pretty. There’s a lot to be said for a perfect pair of pants with just the right details, a button-down blouse in a ladylike print, or a heart-breakingly lovely evening dress in gossamer seafoam green fit for a water sprite. Fashion feeds into our fantasies, and if the fantasy of wealth and comfort that Burch offers is increasingly out of reach for 99 percent of us, well, at least we’ll look good while we’re trying to survive.

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