Chris Burch Becomes a Billionaire as Fashion Stock Surge

J. Christopher Burch, the former husband of designer Tory Burch, has become a billionaire amid a bull market for fashion companies.

Burch, 59, controls a portfolio of fashion and technology companies through investment firm Burch Creative Capital. His biggest asset is a 15 percent stake in Tory Burch LLC, the New York-based retailer that sells high-end women’s clothing and accessories, including popular ballet flats adorned with the company’s double-T logo.

His stake in Tory Burch is valued at $530 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, giving him a net worth of more than $1.2 billion. He is at least $200 million wealthier than his ex-wife.

“There’s a sense of optimism out there,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive officer of Luxury Institute LLC, a New York-based research and consulting firm, in a phone interview yesterday. “All these companies have a very robust market to draw from.”

Fashion stocks have surged in the past year. Italy’s Prada SpA is up 67 percent and New York-based Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. shares have risen 47 percent. Germany’s Hugo Boss AG is up 23 percent.

Burch declined to comment on his net worth, said Devon Spurgeon, a spokeswoman for him at H&K Strategies in New York. Frances Pennington, a spokeswoman for Tory Burch LLC, didn’t return an e-mail message seeking comment.

Disputes, Divorce

Burch also owns stakes in Poppin, an online office supplies retailer; Powermat Technologies Ltd., a maker of wireless chargers for electronic devices; and Jawbone, which makes Bluetooth headsets, wireless music speakers, and wristbands that track its wearer’s physical activities.

His first success came with Eagle’s Eye, a designer sweater company he started with his brother Bob in 1976, with a $2,000 investment. The brothers sold the company in 1998, at a value of $60 million, according to the Burch Creative Capital website. He reinvested the proceeds into more than 50 startup companies.

The couple opened the first Tory Burch retail store in New York in February 2004. They divorced two years later. Burch sold about half of his stake in Tory Burch on Dec. 31, settling a three-month legal dispute between the couple.

In the suit, Burch alleged his ex-wife impeded the success of C. Wonder, a fashion retailer he started in 2011 that sells blouses, blazers and shoes at 10 retail stores and four pop-up shops in the U.S. Burch accused her of sending staffers to interrogate C. Wonder employees. She responded in a counter-claim that C. Wonder produced a “cheapened, lower quality” knockoff.

‘Strategic Asset’

Women’s Wear Daily reported on Feb. 5 that Burch sold 10 percent of C. Wonder to FMR LLC, the parent of Fidelity Investments, for $35 million, valuing the company at $350 million. Sophie Launay, a Fidelity spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Burch also owns homes in New York, Southampton on Long Island, Nantucket, and on the Indonesian island of Sumba.

Omar Saad, an analyst with International Strategy & Investment Group LLC, says Tory Burch could sell shares in an initial public offering in the future. He wrote in a January research report that the retailer could also be “a highly prized strategic asset” to a buyer such as Coach Inc.

“Look at the economic power of women,” Pedraza said. “Accessories, even more than clothes these days, make the statement of who you are. They help define you.”

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