CHRIS AND TORY BURCH

Building a business with your spouse can be immensely rewarding — but what happens if the marriage goes belly-up? Fashion retailers Chris and Tory Burch are finding out just how difficult it can be to run a family business when you’re not a family anymore. By Lynsey Santimays.

1976 to 1981

While studying in England, Christopher Burch, a senior at Ithaca College, decides to launch a men’s sweater company and places a $2,000 order with a Scottish sweater factory.

When the first sweaters arrive smaller than expected, Burch and his brother Robert market them to women and their new venture, Eagle’s Eye, takes off. In 1981, they open an office in New York, where Chris meets his first wife, fashion consultant Susan Cole.

1988 to 1989

In 1988, Tory Robinson graduates from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in art history. The Valley Forge-raised Robinson heads to Manhattan to begin a career in fashion, starting with entry-level jobs at Zoran, Ralph Lauren and Harper’s Bazaar.

In 1989, the Burch brothers sell Eagle’s Eye to Hong Kong-based Swire Pacific for a reported $60 million.

1993 to 1996

In March 1993, Tory marries William Macklowe, son of prominent real estate developer Harry Macklowe. They split after six months. In 1995, Tory, now director of PR and advertising for Vera Wang, meets the also-divorced Chris Burch, who works for a VC firm in the same building. Tory and Chris marry in December 1996. Chris becomes a founding investor in Internet Capital Group, which invests in tech firms such as Blackboard and LinkShare.

2004

After having three sons — Henry, Nick and Sawyer — Tory decides to launch her own clothing and lifestyle brand. Chris helps her raise capital and Tory designs out of their apartment in Manhattan’s Pierre Hotel. Naming the brand Tory by TRB, she opens a quickly successful store on Elizabeth Street in February.

2005 to 2008

The brand — renamed simply Tory Burch — receives Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement and wins the 2008 CFDA Accessory Designer of the Year award. But while business is booming, the Burch marriage is failing; Chris and Tory divorce in 2006. “Now we’re putting the business and kids first,” Tory says. Retaining his post as co-chair of Tory Burch, Chris launches J. Christopher Capital, a firm to manage his existing investments and support future startups, in 2008.

2010

Tory Burch, the brand, flourishes, increasing its U.S. presence to 36 boutiques, with nine abroad. Tory Burch, the person, is named one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in the World. “My biggest challenge,” Burch tells Forbes, is “being a great mom.” A string of high-profile boyfriends includes cyclist Lance Armstrong, Revlon CEO Ron Perelman and film producer Matt Palmieri.

2011

Still co-chair at Tory Burch, Chris debuts Poppin.com, which sells office supplies, and Monika Chiang, a line of luxury apparel, with girlfriend Monika Chiang. His third endeavor is controversial: C. Wonder, a line of women’s apparel and lifestyle products, so closely mirrors the preppy look of Tory Burch (with lower price tags) that the Times writes, “It’s unclear whether this is an amicable homage or a hostile takeover.”

In December, with Chris’ consent, Tory Burch (the company) hires Barclays Capital to jettison Chris’ shares, valued at $600 million.

January 2012

On Bloomberg TV, Chris announces that C. Wonder plans to open 300 stores in six years. He also calls himself “the founder and largest shareholder of” Tory Burch — yet Tory is co-founder and reportedly an equal shareholder. New York fashionistas whisper that Chris has started C. Wonder because he feels insufficiently credited for the success of Tory Burch — or because he’s still upset over the divorce from Tory.

February-March 2012

The New York Post reports that Tory is “furious” at Chris for “[copying] her business plan” and rumors circulate about possible litigation. Then, at what the Post calls a “boardroom showdown” in late February, Chris relinquishes his title of co-chairman. But tension over C. Wonder remains. “It’s so me,” Chris says of his new venture in a New York magazine profile.

May 2012

Tory Burch is scheduled to open stores in São Paolo, Singapore, Toronto, Macau and Shanghai, bringing its store count to about 85 by the end of this year. Chris Burch builds J. Christopher Capital’s portfolio to include nine new brands — including Electric Love Army, a clothing line with publicist Kelly Cutrone, and a fashion label led by two daughters from his first marriage, Alexandra and Louisa. The company’s apparent name? Trademark.

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