Tory Burch's Beautiful Lie
To live like the fashion designer Tory Burch, as you’ll learn from her coffee-table book In Color, you need adorable twin sons, as well as a recipe for a summery screwdriver made with 5 ounces of blood orange juice. Inside your Southampton house, the rooms should be off-white, because regular white is gauche. You must have opinions about “export china,” which is how you should refer to your blue-and-white plates from Turkey. You should be friends with model-humanitarians such as Liya Kebede. And you can eat guacamole, but only if it has 11 ingredients in it, including, of course, “cilantro branches.”
Since starting her eponymous company in 2004, Burch has emerged as a shrewd designer and businesswoman—her company had $800 million in revenue in 2013, according to Forbes. She has a knack for launching trends, such as the famous $195 Reva flats, which sold 300,000 pairs in the company’s first year. But her most valuable skill, borrowed from Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren before her, is the ability to sell her perfect American life through the dresses, sunglasses, and bags she creates.
Now Burch has released a self-aggrandizing volume about branding. Dressed up as a $50 hardcover art book, In Color is split into 11 chapters, each themed as one of the designer’s favorite colors. Typically, when a powerful executive decides to publish, the resulting tome brims with management advice and tales of disruption, hard work, and Big Ideas. In Color has none of that—the book is almost hilariously devoid of words.
Crafted with the editorial director of her company, Nandini D’Souza Wolfe, Burch’s creation reminds readers that she’s plenty successful without offering any real insight as to how or why. At one point, there’s a thumbnail picture of a dress with a little explanation: “I found this green floral tunic in a Paris flea market. It was the first silhouette in our collection and is a quintessential wardrobe staple.” The rest of the two-page spread is devoted to a huge photo of Burch in Marrakech.
The pictures of the designer continue throughout. There’s one of her lounging in an Indian rickshaw and another of her climbing Machu Picchu with her brood. There she is, with some staff, gathered around her kitchen table. Being the CEO of one of America’s most promising fashion companies can’t really be this relaxing, can it? Burch alludes to reality about halfway through the book, in a two-page section titled, simply, “Work-Life Balance.” She admits it’s “one of the biggest topics of discussion” in her office. But rather than comment on the subject herself, Burch sidesteps the issue by publishing interviews with other important women. Hillary Clinton says, “you just need to figure out what works in your life.” Dina Powell, president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, believes “women are masters of balance.” Arianna Huffington suggests “meditation, walking, and exercise.”
Despite all the images of Burch’s personal life, she gets away with being intensely private. And In Color, currently No. 542 on Amazon.com’s bestseller list, has no chance of being even remotely controversial. (All proceeds from the book are going to the Tory Burch Foundation, which gives money to female entrepreneurs.) Perhaps the women buying In Color just don’t care about Burch the powerful businesswoman—the woman who once hired Google’s Eric Schmidt to lecture her staff about scale. They care about the woman with the tasteful homes, adorable children, and complicated guacamole. As Vogue editor Anna Wintour explains in the book’s foreword, Burch’s brand was an almost immediate success. “And why not?” Wintour asks. “Who wouldn’t want to be Tory Burch?”