Every so often, or perhaps only once in a lifetime, you’ll have a chance to meet someone who inspires you to the very core. For me that opportunity came a few weeks ago in the form of a breakfast meeting with Tory Burch (yes, Tory Burch).
There’s a lot that can be said about this remarkable woman – super mom to three kids, design visionaire of a fashion label that’s quickly becoming the new American staple (the new Ralph Lauren perhaps?), and powerhouse CEO of a global empire valued at US$3billion. Yes, there is a lot that can be said, as you’ll soon see below.
If you’ve been reading this space for a while, you’ll know two things (1) I have a passion for profiling women who combine their passions and talent for a purpose – be it in business or otherwise; and (2) Tory Burch is, to me at least, the epitome of a woman who’s managed to do exactly that, to an incredible degree of success.
There’s a lot of talk (and an abundance of articles) about how women should “lean in,” and how we can (or cannot) “have it all.” These pieces, written by women successful in their own right, aim to inspire the rest of us to do just that – be the best mothers, professionals, human beings we can be. That’s all well and good, but perhaps we should turn our attention to women who have managed all of that, and come out on the other end as unaffected by their success as when they first began.
My day with Tory began like this, I showed up at 9.30 on the dot for a breakfast meeting with the mogul. There she was in her boutique – pint sized and perfectly prepped – surrounded by staff from her Singapore store. What struck me was Tory was standing in the midst of her people (almost completely obscured because she’s so petite), having conversations with them (instead of talking at them) about how they’ve made the store a success (a huge success at that, as I am later told by her director of international PR), and thanking them individually for their contributions.
It was inspiring and humbling to see a mogul make time for members of her team.
She refused to be rushed through this, so breakfast began a little late, which was fine by me because I got a lesson in Management 101. It’s something that no b-school course could ever teach because you had to be there to see it in person, and witness the response of her sales team for yourself, every one of whom was beaming from sun up to sun down.
Breakfast began, we took our seats. I am a foot away from her, with just a plush velvet-covered settee between us, and she’s still flawless. More details for those who don’t know her – Tory’s 46, a mother of 3 boys (her twins, Henry and Nick, are 16 and Sawyer, the youngest, is 12), the design visionaire behind an eponymous label which began in her apartment (she was redecorating her apartment and designing her line at the same time), and the CEO of a global fashion empire who took the company from zero to hero in just 9 years… and she somehow manages to look not a day over 35.
That morning, she was impeccably dressed in slim cut denim with a slight flare which she paired with an orient blue patterned sweater over a button-down shirt of the same design. Pattern on pattern, jewelled collar to accessorize, blonde hair that’s perfectly in place though it’s 9 in the morning and she’d gotten in on a midnight flight from HK. It’s all so effortless.
She’s wearing a ring, crystal (I think) set in gold, with more embellished crystal. It’s large, and should seem gaudy and oversized on someone with such refined features, but somehow it’s perfectly in place with everything else she’s wearing (no diamonds or pearls, she’s not that kind of girl). Yvette leans over commenting on how intricate it is, Tory slips it off her finger and hands it to her saying, that’s the Hagia Sophia carved on the inside – and true enough there’s the mosque, tiny though it is, it’s detailed and perfect in the smoky crystal. It’s by Sevan Bicakci, she adds, she bought it on her last trip to Istanbul.
Tory is genuinely interested in the details. Her jewellery, her work, her homes, her clothes, they’re all inspired by her travels and the details she picks up along the way. She’s attuned to the details in the lives of others, making her interpersonal skills second to none. She pays attention, she listens, she watches and observes.
I know she has a busy day ahead (her PR team has told me this), and yet when she talks to you, you feel as though you have all the time in the world, because she really pays attention. I was there to find out more about her, but I think the reverse was true – I now know that Yvette is Korean-Australian but doesn’t speak a word of Korean because she was a stubborn kid who refused to learn it, Nikki’s got a son who’s slightly older than Tory’s boys who is in University in Australia, and they all know I’m recently engaged and would very much like for Tory to design a line of home ware to fill the new place Paul and I hope to buy at some point of time.
Lucky for me, she’s launched a small home accessories line (just the day before) on her online store. What are the odds? I plan to buy this pillow, this ornamental box, and the Robinson Nutcracker. I love the idea of a good-for-nothing nut cracker.
It’s hard not to like someone who takes a genuine interest in you as a person, it’s even harder not to become a complete fan-girl when the person paying attention just happens to be the woman you look up to most in the world (barring my mother of course).
I ask her (the question I’ve been dying to ask) how do you do it? It isn’t easy, she replied, but my boys come first and everything else falls into place after that. She has an amazing team that helps to make it happen, all this (gesturing around the boutique) wouldn’t be possible without them, but her city-slicker sons come first. She talks about how she never imagined raising her three boys in the middle of the most (excuse my word for it) happening city on earth. They sometimes tell her, mom you’re a farm girl, you wouldn’t get it.
She grew up on acres of rolling green in pastoral Pennsylvania (with three brothers, two of whom now work with her in the business, a support system she does not take for granted), while her sons are in the thick of city life, she tells me they have different challenges from her. I feel as though she thinks her sons are missing out on the childhood she had, and I want to tell her she’s given them so much more just by doing what she’s doing, and if they don’t appreciate it now, they definitely will when they are older. But I don’t because I’m not sure how to, or if I’m even qualified to say such a thing, seeing as how I don’t have any kids of my own… but Dad, if you’re reading, I get it now!
And this is perhaps what I admire most about her, she is unabashed about her role as a mom. She doesn’t engage in the debate on children-vs-career or talk about how she’s had to build a nursery beside the office… she is a mom, she is proud of it. Plain and simple. She just also happens to be a mogul leading an empire worth 3 B’s.
It’s time to leave, Tory has a million and one meetings and interviews to make it to. She thanks me for making time to meet up, I want to tell her she’s crazy and that I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. But instead I settle for a more measured and gentle, no thank you for meeting with me, and tell her that it’s been such an incredible pleasure (she must be rubbing off on me). She invites me back for the evening cocktail session, and says she would love to meet my other half. I text Paul immediately, telling him he can’t miss it, no matter what.
It’s evening and we’re back at the boutique. It’s a mad crush. The serene breakfast scene has completely transformed into a pulsing party – there’s a DJ in the anteroom, champagne glasses on every available surface, and a sea of fashionably turned out women (and a sprinkling of men) literally jostling to get a view or a word in to Tory. And there she is, once again in the center of all the commotion, a mogul among the masses who doesn’t come across as one. She’s perfectly poised and totally composed while guests fight for her attention, wiggling and squirming to get closer to the hottest piece of real estate in the room – the one foot radius around Tory Burch.
I stand in the outer circle, watching Tory’s perfectly perfect manners in action. Despite the crush and frenzy of activity around her, she turns to greet each adoring fan that’s wiggled their way through the crush of well-dressed humanity, flashing them a gracious smile and exchanging a couple of words. She’s elegant and refined, without the usual veneer of unapproachability you’d expect from someone so famous.
Paul murmurs to me, if I were a billionaire, I definitely wouldn’t put myself through this. And I said, that's the magic, you just wait and see.
She sees us, and with a gentle tilt of her head, we’re suddenly in the inner circle exchanging air kisses. She’s eager to meet Paul and enthused about our engagement. He’s quickly won over by the this pint-sized kingpin who looks like she should be taking her sons to tennis at the club, not running a business that employs thousands. She can level that same attention on you regardless of whether there are 3 or 300 other people in the room. Her magnetism is understated, and up close, you notice it even more. She also seems to have a boundless sort of energy. Even after a day jam packed with meetings and a week of flying around the world (she hates flying by the way, a phobia she developed when her uncle passed away in a plane crash), she looks refreshed, as though she’s done nothing but sip lemonade and have quiet conversations on the front porch.
It’s unfair really, that one person should possess such effortless perfection and be so endlessly fascinating. But my takeaway is this – Tory started Tory Burch at 36, and based on that timeline, there’s still hope for me! I’ll just need bucketloads of determination, a good deal of good luck, and a network of family and friends to fall back on.
So yes, there’s a lot that can be said about Tory Burch, and having met her, I’ll say this: she’s warm, funny and sincere, incredibly humble, very hard working, and genuinely genuine.
And for everything I’ve said above, the image that sticks with me is this – walking in at 9.30am and witnessing Tory in the midst of thanking her team. She truly is the most gracious and graceful of human beings.