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Fashion magnate Tory Burch builds $2 billion empire as ex-husband starts new brand

By Jay Kernis and Mary Kozelka
Rock Center

International fashion mogul Tory Burch and her eponymous company are at the center of a bitter lawsuit filed by her former husband, venture capitalist Chris Burch.

Tory and Chris Burch divorced in 2006 and Chris, who was crucial to the launch of Tory Burch and who is a majority shareholder of Tory Burch LLC, launched his own fashion brand, C. Wonder.

When Chris unveiled the C. Wonder line last year, many eyebrows were raised because, to many observers, his merchandise appeared strikingly similar to the Tory Burch products, but at a more affordable price point.

When asked about her ex-husband’s new project, Tory remains civil.

“Some of it is too referential. And I think that he's going to be changing that, and some of it is great,” she told NBC’s Harry Smith in an interview airing Thursday at 10pm/9c on Rock Center with Brian Williams. “So, I think it's about finding the balance of what is OK with us and what works for him.”

The lawsuit Chris Burch has filed against Tory Burch and her company alleges interference with his business operations.

But so far, the legal battle doesn’t seem to be slowing Tory down.

Despite the success of her fashion line, with boutiques in over 1,000 department stores and 82 stand alone shops, Tory Burch remains an approachable figure, both to her colleagues and the public.

“People love her. They want to be her. They want her life. And she's really nice,” said Johanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine.

The relatable, every-woman vibe she exudes can perhaps be traced to Tory’s roots. Born and raised on a farm in Valley Forge, Pa., Tory claims her design style was influenced by her family, namely her mother and father, Reva and Buddy Robinson.

When she launched her company, Tory looked to old photographs of her parents and their travels for inspiration. “My father had impeccable style. He designed all of his own clothing. I think he should have been a designer,” she said.

Many of these same photographs now hang in her flagship store on Madison Avenue and one of her most iconic designs, the Reva ballet flat, was named after her mother.

“[Reva] is both happy and sad to be known for a shoe,” she said, smiling.

When Tory decided to take a leap of faith and establish her own fashion house, she was understandably nervous.

“I had never been to business school. I had never been to design school,” she said, adding: “It was a risk. It was putting myself out there in a way that was opening myself up for criticism. I'm a sensitive person. So, it was hard.”


WATCH ROCK CENTER VIDEO: Tory Burch on creating $2 billion fashion empire

Tory was also raising six children, three from her marriage with Chris Burch and three from Chris’s previous marriage. But, despite her reservations, Tory and her ex-husband Chris put up $2 million to launch the company. Chris also helped her raise another $10 million through investors, and with this capital, the Tory Burch label was born.

Tory’s brand, now estimated to be worth upward of $2 billion, began in her kitchen. The first New York storefront opened in 2004, and Tory worked from her apartment for the next two years, until she had about 16 employees.

Despite the responsibility that comes with a quickly growing brand and the stress of a lawsuit, Tory, who spoke with us before the lawsuit was filed, handles it all with her trademark calm.

“It’s been a challenge,” she said. “But we have six kids that we love, and at the end of the day, that's what [Chris and I] both think about.”

In a statement given to NBC News before he filed the lawsuit, Chris said, “While my relationship with Tory did not succeed, we are absolutely committed to co-parenting our wonderful children. My focus today is on my various brands and projects, including C. Wonder, Poppin, and 9 Christopher. I wish Tory and her team nothing but the best and look forward to the brand's continual growth.”

Editor's Note: Harry Smith's full report, 'There's Something About Tory,' airs Thurs., Oct. 18 at 10pm/9c on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams