The secret life of Tory Burch

Two conversations with Tory Burch, two years apart and in two different cities reveal a side to the fashion designer that nobody has seen before
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The secret life of Tory Burch
Tory Burch with Q-Tip and Lauryn Hill at the opening of her flagship in Paris in 2015

Picture the scene: Grazia is enjoying a civilised afternoon tea at Claridge’s with Tory Burch in 2017, ahead of the opening of her new London flagship. Unbeknown to guests at the private dinner that evening, Tory had flown in female rappers Salt-N-Pepa for an exclusive performance.

As she’s about to be whisked away by her then fiancé – and now husband and CEO of the company that bears her name – Pierre-Yves Roussel, we wonder which artist living or dead she would have at her dream fashion party? “Tupac,” she replies without hesitation, before disappearing off into the famous foyer, leaving us almost dropping our porcelain teacup.

Two years later, Tory Burch is in the UAE for the launch of a limited-edition kaftan capsule collection and a pop-up at The Dubai Mall, before hosting an intimate dinner curated by chef Yannick Alléno at One&Only The Palm, with guest list that includes Arizona Muse, Leomie Anderson, Sabine Socol, Mafalda, Karen Wazen, Nour Arida, and Leena Al Ghouti. But more importantly, we can finally continue our conversation.

Care to explain, Tory? “Music is such a big part of my life and always has been,” she offers. “Rap music is something that has always inspired me – the honesty and the raw nature of it. And when you think about them singing their life stories, that’s something that’s really inspiring. Tupac’s lyrics just speak for themselves, and of his sheer talent. I just wish he’d lived a little longer. Rap music in general is something I’ve always loved, and it’s funny because people are always surprised by that.”

And, according to Tory, they shouldn’t be. She explains, “Growing up in the '90 in New York, rap was such a big part of life, at least in the art world, and I always loved going to concerts. My grandma was a concert violinist, and my cousins are opera singers, and one was in a rock band. It’s always been a part of the way I was raised. And for me, I gravitated towards rap because of the storytelling. I’ve always been impressed with people that can create and write music. Music changes your life, it can change your mood and lead to so many kinds of inspiration.”

It’s easy to see how her idyllic upbringing in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania had the fashion world fooled: “I grew up on a farm, spent my childhood outdoors, and I grew up a complete tomboy, not at all into fashion. An avid sports fan, I spent my early childhood until college outside playing tennis and riding horses on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Even in college, people used to laugh when I wore a Grateful Dead T-shirt with an Hermès scarf. They said I had my own unique style.” In 2020, and with a billion-dollar lifestyle brand that spans apparel, accessories, home decor and sportswear quite literally to her name, no one’s laughing now.

“The perception is probably a lot different from reality,” she teases when it comes to her public persona. “It’s not about crafting any vision of who I am but probably about protecting some of my privacy, and finding that balance of what to preserve. Certainly family is a part of that, and a sense of humour isn’t always translatable on social media, so hopefully I’m more fun than people realise.”

Someone who understood Tory’s more playful side from the very beginning was Prince. “We used to dress him,” Tory remembers. “He wore our jewellery and our kaftan. He actually asked me to do his tour, but we just didn’t have the capacity to do it as it was my second year in business. I’ll never forget when he called me.I was taking a bath in the Beverly Hills Hotel and I got a call on my cell phone and he said, ‘Hi Tory, it’s Prince,’ and I was like, ‘Is this a joke?’” she laughs.

And lest we forget the time she took Kanye West as her date to the Met Gala in 2011. “This was pre-Kim,” she’s quick to add. “I took my father’s tux and made it for him. It was extraordinary, and he looked amazing. My dad had the best style,” she recalls fondly. “He should’ve been a designer because he designed all of his clothing.”

Kanye West was Tory's date to the Met Gala in 2011

Kanye isn’t the only rapper Tory has on speed-dial. When she tied the knot with Pierre-Yves in an intimate ceremony on her private estate in Antigua in 2018 – Tory jokes that she had to marry him so he would agree to be her CEO – Wyclef Jean from Fugees was their wedding singer. “Yeah, we’re friends,” she shrugs. “I met him many years ago. I’m obsessed with his music, and he probably played for three hours. It was the most extraordinary thing. Then he made a wedding mixtape for us; he took some of his songs and tweaked them a bit.”

The song she plays to feel empowered is Fugees’ Ready or Not, and it was rapper, record producer and Tory’s “good friend” Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest who introduced her to Fugees frontwoman Lauryn Hill, both of whom performed at the opening of her Paris flagship. “Lauryn Hill is amazing. I wouldn’t say we’re that close but, yes, I admire her strength. She’s a mother, an activist – stylish, authentic, and original.

Diana Spencer was Tory's muse for SS20

Another strong woman who resonates with Tory is Diana, Princess of Wales, who she’s chosen her muse for her Spring/Summer 2020 collection – not for her succession of era-defining Eighties outfits but for her “innocence, strength and joy.” Tory explains, “She was a style icon but her purpose-driven life and how she had a lot of substance, that was what was more interesting to me. She stood up for people, and that idea of humanity and inclusivity is something I hope I stand for as well.”

Photos: AFP, Jason Lloyd-Evans and supplied