An American fashion designer praises funny women and workplace practical jokes.
BY TORY BURCH
ILLUSTRATION BY LIBBY VANDERPLOEG
I was a tomboy. I grew up in a house with three brothers, and we would horse around and play practical jokes on each other constantly. Now that I’m an adult running a company, the professional atmosphere can make it feel like there is not much room for levity. People see you a certain way when you’re the boss. But I truthfully love making people laugh, and I love laughing. There is joy in releasing tension with humor. That’s the reason I always try to imbue my collections with a sense of whimsy. Earlier this year, for the brand’s Tory Sport line, we created a mascot that is essentially a mannequin with a giant grumpy tennis ball for a head. It models clothes in our Flatiron store.
Last May, I took the majestically funny Mindy Kaling to the Met Ball with me. What a force. I love her, and Kristen Wiig, and Amy Schumer. I think of them whenever I remember what Christopher Hitchens and Jerry Lewis (two great minds, albeit, in this case, wrong) said about women not being funny. Women not funny? Tell that to Lucille Ball, or to Gilda Radner—whose knack for physical comedy never fails to amaze me—and to this new wave of female comedians who are redefining what it means to laugh.
My father had a very dry, almost wicked sense of humor that, whether fortunately or unfortunately, he passed down to me. One of my favorite things to do is play a harmless prank every now and then. When the director of our public relations department joined our company, I told her one of her first initiatives would be to trick the team and tell them with a straight face that I’d be joining the cast of Dancing with the Stars. Always game, she obliged. I watched as she assured the design team that we would do it tastefully, within the realm of our brand, and that they would have to start designing the costumes. Everyone blanched. No one believed it was a joke. But the look on everyone’s faces when they realized she was kidding was wonderful, and it instantly brought the team together.
We need humor more than ever these days. It’s a great equalizer. I dip back into older seasons of Saturday Night Live whenever I need a good laugh. Watching Molly Shannon slip into her Superstar role, or Chris Farley dance alongside Patrick Swayze, will always bring a smile to my face. We can’t help what makes us laugh any more than we can help what we love. We just do, and that’s all that matters.
Tory Burch is the chairman, CEO, and designer of her eponymous fashion label.