Wild about Tory: Why so many Burch fans feel connected to America's next topdesigner
Over the past few years, I've watched Tory Burch grow more popular with each subsequent collection for one simple reason: She designs clothes women love. But I never expected the chaotic scene at her Galleria boutique Wednesday afternoon.
The small store was jammed with an eclectic mix of fans who had come to spend a few moments with the designer after she spoke at the Greater Houston Conference for Women earlier that day at the Westin Galleria. While standing in line, nearly every woman carried a handbag or wore a pair of flats festooned with the double T medallion that is the Burch trademark.
They seemed as thrilled as teenagers meeting Justin Bieber (well, perhaps not quite as excited because no one screamed, although some fans looked close to letting out a whoop) and as filled with awe as a child encountering Clifford the Big Red Dog for the first time. For more than two hours, they eagerly posed for pictures with her, asked her to sign the inside of their handbags and confided in her like she was an old friend.
Tongela Clark is such a fan that she celebrated her most recent birthday with a cake decorated in orange icing (the primary color in a Burch boutique) and marked with the double T medallion — and has the pictures to prove it. She showed a photo to Burch, who asked for a copy to post on her Facebook page.
"They call me Tongela-the-Tory-girl because I love nothing but her stuff," the 44-year old Houston business consultant explained after Burch autographed the inside of her handbag.
She grew more serious after being asked what she finds so special in Burch's designs. "There's something pure about her spirit that travels throughout her collection," Clark said.
Lynn Wyatt is a big fan, too. Houston's International Best Dressed Hall of Fame honoree showed up at the store in a patterned tunic — another Burch trademark — and body-hugging white slacks. "This (outfit) I can wear in the South of France," Wyatt said. "Everything fits well, it's flattering and it's well-made. I think she found a niche and zeroed in on it."
"She wears couture and my clothes," Burch piped in, with a laugh.
The 44-year-old designer bunked at Wyatt's house during her Houston visit and Wyatt planned a small dinner party Wednesday night in her honor. "She looks after me sometimes in New York, so I have to show her some of that Texas hospitality," Wyatt purred.
Burch's popularity even extends to the younger set. When the 11-year-old daughter of one of Wyatt's dinner guests found out that she was going to meet Burch, she squealed with delight and then timidly asked her mother, "Would it be OK if I stopped by for a few minutes?" Wyatt said it was all right.
But Burch was in Houston on serious business. As the keynote speaker at the women's conference, she told the audience of 700 entrepreneurs about the challenges of starting and growing a business while raising three children, and the importance of women entrepreneurs supporting one another.
In 2009 — five years after launching her business — Burch started a foundation that supports women entrepreneurs through microfinance grants to help get them started in business.
"The plan in the back of my head if I ever had a successful company was to create a foundation. I knew it would be about women and children but I had to do a little soul searching to figure out how I would be the best help. I think it was about being an entrepreneur, being a start-up and being able to give microloans. What I've learned is that it's easier for a woman to get a microloan in developing countries than it is here, so we're starting in the United States," Burch said, during a quick break from greeting fans.
Her foundation partners with ACCION,USA, the nation's largest microfinancer, to provide loans and mentoring to low and moderate-income women and minorities to start their own business.
Greater Houston Women Chamber of Commerce president and founder Susan Denison convinced Burch to speak to the conference after reading a story about the designer's microfinance efforts in Town & Country magazine.