Neely and Chloe Burch were born into the kind of privileged world where the well-dressed spend hundreds, if not thousands, on style basics, like crisp white shirts, must-have black pumps, tailored wide-legged slacks, and the everyday tote.
And though these Gladwyne-bred sisters instinctively get why such luxuries are as much a sign of good taste as they are of social standing, it doesn’t mean these young women — who also happen to be nieces through marriage of living sportswear legend Tory Burch — are willing to burn that kind of cash on a handbag.
Nor do they think we should.
So two years ago, this branch of Burch sisters launched an eponymous line of handbags teeming with simple silhouettes that top out at $328. Some are catchall bags — like the $278 Frame, a handbag fashioned to look like one of granny’s kiss-lock coin purses. And others, like the best-selling Mini Lady that goes for $178, are chic and tiny. Oh, if Jackie Kennedy were a millennial!
The typical Neely & Chloe customer doesn’t mind paying $1,200 for a Chloe handbag, but the brand has also proved a favorite for working women who views $328 as a stretch — that would be me — but who treat it as an aspirational purchase.
Neely & Chloe’s all-cap logo is tucked inside each of the offerings because, says Chloe, 27, “Fifteen years ago it was about having Coach C’s and Gucci G’s all over your bag. And now people don’t want that.”
“We wanted every girl to feel like by the time she left our trunk shows, the bag was more about her than it was about us," Neely, 28, said.
Neely always comes first because saying “Chloe and Neely” to them would be like asking for pepper and salt, not to mention they wanted to avoid confusion — and trademark issues — with French design house Chloe. Their strategy is personalization meets affordability meets discretion. It’s understood that you don’t talk about who carries the bag, you just know socialites do. And it seems to be working.
Launched as an online-only brand in fall 2016, Neely & Chloe handbags are now available in 70 specialty stores nationwide, including Trove, Eaves, and Gilbert & Evans in the Pennsylvania suburbs. Neely & Chloe’s market tote was selected as one of Oprah Winfrey’s Favorite Things in 2017. And they’ve landed prime editorial real estate in Vogue, Glamour, and Elle. This month, Harper’s Bazaar featured the Neely & Chloe navy Pyramid bag as part of a full-page Shop Bazaar.com editorial spread.
Collaborations have helped the entrepreneurs grow their brand, too. The women are in their third year of a partnership with fashion illustrator and former Washington and Lee University classmate Inslee Fariss. The Burches provide the leather from Spain and Portugal for a leather organizer, and Fariss provides the whimsical, fashion-friendly illustrations that serve as calendar inserts. This holiday season, Neely & Chloe launched a line of cosmetic cases featuring the geographic print lining of Canadian paper company Printed Matter.
On a frigid afternoon in mid-December, Neely & Chloe’s 20-room childhood home is all a-sparkle with Christmas decorations and the sisters' holiday collection, including clasped patent leather bags in soft winter pastels like baby blue and blush. The silhouettes are both architectural — like triangular evening bags — and novel — think a bag shaped like an ice bucket, complete with see-through lid. Wallets large enough to hold passports and cellphones are scattered on tables throughout the space. Smallish candy-apple-red bucket and navy blue and white bucket bags feature Flapper-style tiers fashioned from from real horse tails, which were snipped so no horses were killed. The bags are quite pettable.
Everything is arranged as though in a Manhattan showroom and within an hour, the cozy living room space filled with affluent friends and family for what has become Neely & Chloe’s annual holiday trunk show. The girls’ parents, Eagle’s Eye founder Robert and mom Susan, had just returned to town from attending Tory’s wedding in Antigua to Pierre-Yves Roussel, former LVMH chairman and current CEO of her company. Bags aren’t the only things on these ladies' minds.
“It was gorgeous,” Susan told me and all who asked.
“It was gorgeous,” Susan told me and all who asked about the flashy, news making nuptials. Neely and Chloe credit their classic, preppy look to Susan. And their business acumen to dad, Robert. But they all agree that Tory has been very supportive of Neely & Chloe, even after her 2006 divorce from their uncle Chris. The couple has remained close to Tory.
At the trunk show, Allison Smith, 28, was among the first to arrive at the Burch home with her mother, June. She’s planning a wedding and was thinking of getting monogrammed bags for her bridesmaids. “They are really very pretty,” she said.
Growing up in this castlelike Gladwyne home, fashion was everywhere. Robert Burch and the girl’s Uncle Chris were the founders of Eagle’s Eye, a sportswear brand they developed in college and sold in 1998 for a deal that was valued at $60 million.
“We always got more feedback from our dad than the average kid,” recalled Neely, “Most dads are like, ‘Oh, sweetie, you look great,’ but our dad was like, ‘So you want to wear a capped-sleeve with that? Are you really sure you want to wear a capped sleeve?’ "
Neely and Chloe shared a room until they were 17 and 16, and after graduating from Agnes Irwin High School, both attended Washington and Lee in Virginia. Neely majored in art and went on to work in Sotheby’s client services department. Chloe, who studied American history, took a job in merchandising for J. Crew, where she worked under the tutelage of former creative director and president Jenna Lyons. The sisters moved into an apartment in Brooklyn together in in 2014.
That’s when Neely stopped working at Sotheby’s and launched a mobile pop-up store. She spent a year driving a refurbished Airstream trailer up and down the East Coast, selling Soludos espadrilles and designer sportswear from Joie, and, of course, Tory Burch.
“This became market research for Neely & Chloe,” Neely said as her loyal English springer spaniel, Winnie — also in town from New York — circled her legs. Neely, sounding like a confident marketer she is, continued: “We realized women who are transitioning from school to work who were in their mid-twenties were looking for the perfect intersection between price and quality.” “We realized women who are transitioning from school to work who were in their mid-20s were looking for the perfect intersection between price and quality.”
In 2015, Neely decided she wanted to work on a collection of accessories. She asked Chloe to join her. “Accessories are the finishing touches on a woman’s outfit,” Chloe said. “We decided it was important to create staples for women’s lives to give them the core pieces … that will last a lifetime.”
It took just a year for the young entrepreneurs to raise $1.2 million in start-up money from friends and family. The women hired a business consultant and a designer and in 2016 opened a pop-up on New York’s Bleecker Street, where they launched Neely & Chloe with 12 silhouettes of handbags and two different pairs of shoes. (They have since cut back on the footwear.) These days, they are working on taking the bags up an embellished notch. More geometric shapes. More texture, like faux shearling.