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2012 September 6

Chris Burch: See Wonder

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(NEW YORK) You first met him as the business brain behind the Tory Burch empire—but these days, Chris Burch is hellbent on making his own cheeky-chic, affordable-for-all brand, C.Wonder, one for the record books. And this is only one of his projects! BY EDDIE ROCHE  

Your C.Wonder concept is a bit unorthodox.
Everyone always says the customer comes first, but we do a lot of things here that no other retailers do. Personalization is the core of the store. Belts, shoes—everything is bright, whimsical, and high quality. These classics will live forever, but from a pricing standpoint, they can be disposable. And return them whenever you like!

What’s the average age of a C.Wonder shopper?
We believe that every woman is really 39. A 22-year-old woman wants what a 39-year-old woman has, and a 59-year-old woman is actually 39 at heart. 

How do you lure the ladies?
Dressing rooms are important. In ours, you can choose your own music and lighting. And making a purchase is very easy—you can check out from anywhere in the store, and we’ll bring you a bag. On the weekends, we have a DJ. Our Hamptons store even has a candy bar. And whenever a customer returns an item, we give them some big, blingy earrings, because we know it’s a pain in the a** to return something.

What’s the logic behind the gratis earrings? 
The more you do for a customer, the more he or she talks about your brand! We address negative experiences immediately. If someone returns a handbag, for example, we process it and offer a free monogram on the next one. When a client has a baby, we send flowers. We don’t really have any policies when it comes to customer service—except doing whatever we can to make them happy! 

What was the impetus for that initiative?
My favorite hotel in the United States is The Peninsula, and during one stay, my hairbrush fell apart. When I returned to my room a few hours later, it had been glued back together. That’s the essence of customer service.

How do you plan to grow the business?
We just opened a location in L.A., and we’re hitting the Time Warner Center in September. We’ll open between 30 and 50 new stores in the next year. 
 We’re moving really fast, but once we reach about 150 locations, maximum, we’re done. I don’t believe in overretailing, but I do believe in international expansion, which we’ll do very quickly.

How closely do you work with the product?
I’m involved in every one at every level, from the design to picking the leather. I have a very strong background in merchandising. 

When did you develop that?
When I was 21 years old, I moved to Wayne [Pennsylvania] with no money and borrowed $20,000 to start my monogrammed sweaters business. I paid $150 for an ad in the New Yorker and $150 for an ad in Glamour. At night, I delivered wine to make money and I lived at home with my parents. When the ads came out, I had no orders for 10 days, and I was devastated. Finally, the post office guy came and handed me a bag of 2,000 orders, full of notes from girls writing in crayon that they would very much like to have such-and-such monogrammed.

How did you end up here?
I worked in the fashion business from age 20 to 40, and I built a $140 million company, which I sold. I got into technology and the Internet, and then I got remarried and returned to fashion with Tory. 

Are you still developing a collection with Kelly Cutrone?
Yes! It’s a very cool brand called Electric Love Army. We’re all ready to launch, but we’re looking for the right real estate. It couldn’t be a better relationship. 

How are things with Tory? 
I couldn’t be happier that I am involved with Tory. She’s brilliant, and she’s doing an amazing job running the company. Tory and I are the largest shareholders in Tory Burch, and I’m fortunate that the company has done so well. There is some conflict, but I’m moving in my direction, and she’s moving in hers. There’s a lot of stuff written about us that’s not necessarily true—we are close friends, and our kids come first.

Anything you’d like to set straight?
I am not a copier. I created my first brand out of college and I have lived and designed in a very classic way. My other businesses, like the collections of Monika Chiang and Kelly, reflect their visions, but C.Wonder is all mine.

You’ve been compared to Santa Claus. 
I don’t know about that—it’s kind of weird. Maybe I could stand to lose a little weight....

It’s your jolly demeanor!
Ha! You know, I’ve been doing this for such a long time. I don’t think I’m motivated by the same things that motivate others. I want to create great environments, new concepts and cool sh*t. I live in the factory, and I love to bring an item to my customer at a great price. I’m much different than how I used to be. I’ve even been known to give popsicles to my staff. 

Your slippers say, ‘Let’s Rock.’
They’re really cool, right? You can go online and have them write whatever you want. I have like 50 pairs. I just like to make people laugh.

So what else are you working on?
We’re actually launching another brand in Fall 2013 called 9 Christopher, and it’s extraordinary. The New York store will cover 40,000-square-feet, and the collection will include 10,000 products, including the most amazing furniture you’ve ever seen in your life. I have been working on that for six years.

Do you get enough sleep?

Anywhere from three to eight hours. Sometimes I get really tired, but other times I have a lot of energy.

Are you still dating Monika Chiang?
I am. 

Will you ever get remarried?
I’ve visited that category quite a few times. Monika’s a great girl. But what about you? You got anybody? 

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