Tory Burch’s Venture Capitalist Ex-Husband to Open Retail Brand

Chris Burch, venture capitalist, entrepreneur and ex-husband of designer Tory Burch, will open a retail concept store in New York tomorrow.

C. Wonder -- the “C” stands for “charming, chic and cheerful” -- offers brightly colored and moderately priced home-decor products as well as casual women’s clothes.

While consumers worldwide remain cautious, “we have color, we have fun, we have incredible technology but we are actually offering extraordinary pricing,” said Burch, 58, sporting an orange pocket square and slippers with red hearts.

One of the key challenges facing Burch is making sure the customers distinguish C. Wonder’s colorful products from those sold by Tory Burch, said Sherif Mityas, a partner at A.T. Kearney, a Chicago-based management consulting firm.

“They clearly have to differentiate from the Tory Burch brand and there are a lot of similarities,” Mityas said in a phone interview. “He has to be able to cover a broader array because he has to be able to start building a new brand.”

The SoHo store is Burch’s second solely owned retail venture since 1989, when he sold the sportswear brand Eagle’s Eye to Swire Group. He co-founded Tory Burch LLC in 2003, where he remains a board member. Through his venture capital firm, J. Christopher Capital LLC, he has invested in various projects, including Voss water, Aliph Jawbone wireless accessories and the Faena Hotel in Buenos Aires.

Burch’s new brand arrives as consumer confidence slumped this month to the lowest level since the recession, amid a 9.1 unemployment rate, stock market volatility and a lack of wage gains. Spending in the home-decor sector remains restrained as new home sales continue to decline, in August falling to a six-month low, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

‘Hungry to Buy’

“No matter what happens in the economy, the consumer is hungry to buy something that’s exciting,” Burch said.

He expects wealthy and aspirational consumers to buy his entry-level luxury merchandise, which ranges from an $18 cheese board with a personalized cheese spreader to a $148 fur vest.

Burch spent several months in Asian factories monitoring production and the designs. The SoHo store was constructed near Shanghai, where Burch tested it out, then had it disassembled and shipped to New York.

Fitting rooms, equipped with small touch screens, allow customers to change the music and lighting as they try on the clothes. All sales people will be equipped with Apple Inc. iPod Touches to provide customers with information about the clothes.

Three more C. Wonder stores will open this year at the Westchester, Garden State Plaza and Roosevelt Field malls. Burch plans to roll out 20 more next year across the country.

Eight more lifestyle brands will appear in the next two years, Burch said. Next month a clothing store named after and designed by his girlfriend, Monika Chiang, will open in New York, joining a Los Angeles location.

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