Tory Burch and Humberto Leon Talk Shopping, Cats, and K-Pop

tory burch
Inside Tory Burch's New Concept ShopCourtesy of Tory Burch

Tory Burch and Humberto Leon sat next to one another in front of a wall plastered with zoomed-in photographs of cat whiskers. They were the same felines captured by the artist Walter Schele, which were commissioned by Burch and turned into prints for her Resort 2024 collection. Now, the photos line the walls of Burch’s latest project: a year-long pop-up shop on Melrose Avenue in L.A. The store, a new concept for the brand, was imagined in collaboration with Leon, who is Burch’s close friend of twenty years and the founder of the now-shuttered—but wildly influential—retail mecca Opening Ceremony. He was also the creative director of Kenzo for nine years.

Leon has been working on various things since saying goodbye to Opening Ceremony, a store that mixed established designers like Dries Van Noten and Proenza Schouler with then-emerging labels like Rodarte and Alexander Wang. They had an in-house line too, and were known for throwing over-the-top parties during fashion week. Now, Leon is a fixture in the food world with two L.A. restaurants, Monarch and Chifa. He's also partnered with record labels Geffen and Hybe as creative director of a new K-Pop band-in-the-making. In collaborating with Burch, Leon is lending his well-honed creative vision to a label that has been evolving upwards with a new, more contemporary design vision and unexpected brand ambassadors like Emily Ratajkowski and Alix Earle.

The L.A. space reflects Burch’s renaissance movement (the “Toryssaince,” as it’s been called over the last year). The decor and merchandising are decidedly futuristic and modern, with chrome and mirror details, shag carpet, and sculptural pink stools and chairs throughout. The textures and beam structures are meant to mimic the look of a cat tower. But the vibe is also very much in line with her Spring 2024 collection, which explored traditional feminine design codes through the lens of innovation and space-age travel, and through women who want to dress freely, whatever galaxy they may be from. The pop-up will stock the first drop of the collection, as well as a series of tees, sweatshirts, and totes featuring Schels’ photos of cats and bunnies.

a store with clothes
Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

There’s a kind of weirdness to the new Burch, a creative vision that she’s been joyfully playing with over the last few seasons. That quirk is realized in the new pop-up, a place where she and Leon hope fans of the brand both old and new can come, hang out, try things on, get inspired but also feel like they’re somehow at home.

Below, Burch and Leon chat about the new space and why connection is the most important element of shopping.

How did it feel for you both to walk into the space for the first time?

Tory Burch: It's really fun. I couldn't be happier. It brings our collections to life in such a new and creative and innovative way and I'm just so excited.

Humberto Leon: Everything that I pitched from the beginning, we now have in the space. It’s all inspired by Tory’s recent collections. The cat print comes from the Resort collection that just launched today or this week. The images we used are photographs by the portrait artist Walter Schels. And then I loved the space where Tory showed her spring 2024 collection, which was inside the new wing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York—there are elements of that design here too.

Burch: It was so amazing when Humberto came to New York to see the collections, I loved seeing what his initial reactions were and how he interpreted everything. It’s about balance both in the space and in the collections. In the pop-up specifically, it’s really about taking runway pieces and blending everything together, like a runway dress with a sporty anorak, accessorized with a flip-flop or the pierced mule. And it's amazing to see how the space highlights the product mix and our approach to mixing design over all. That's what I love the most.

Leon: Tory has given me some great creative freedom, and I really kind of ran with it.

Humberto, how did it feel for you to dip back into retail in this way? Was it challenging at all?

Leon: I entered fashion through visual merchandising and store design. And so for me, it was kind of like going back to what I did before with Opening Ceremony. Walter is someone we brought in to add his cat portraits to the walls. We also commissioned this design company called Chuch Estudio in Merida, Mexico, owned by a woman named Aranza Garcia. She designed all the pink stools and all of the decorative strawberries you see throughout the store. I love collaboration and mashing up creative visions. That's what I did at Opening Ceremony: gather all of these great people into one place. What you see here is meant to be a fun, inspiring, community-based gathering space.

a group of shoes on the ground
Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

What do you feel are some of the most important aspects of a successful retail concept right now?

Leon: I mean, I'm a retail lover—that's where my background is. I love the experience of going into a retail space. What this project has always been about is creating a pop-up that feels livable through the design, a place to be able to casually try on clothes but also talk to people and connect.

Burch: Yeah, in a way, I echo that. I also think that women and men love the tradition and the idea of going to a place where they can spend time and hang out. Coming here and seeing it for the first time, it’s definitely a place I want to hang out. And it represents the brand so well. I was just saying to Humberto that our last show was about retro-futurism and the idea of elements from the past, but really thinking about the future. I think this store captures that perfectly.

Is this the first of more collaborative projects we’ll see from the two of you?

Burch: I mean, I'm all for it. I feel like this is just the beginning. I was saying earlier, I feel like I'm a new designer in a way, because I really just focused on the creative process for the last five years. And it's been this incredible journey of exploration.

Leon: And from the outside, I've been very inspired by Tory's design and her work in the last five years. So I think it's a really fun space and time to be with the brand.

Burch: It's super exciting. He also worked on a little capsule collection inspired by concert T-shirts. We both share a love of music. He did a playlist for the store. It's great. I like eclectic music, so anyone from Tupac to Elvis...and K-Pop!

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