What a Wonderful World: Chris Burch Opens C. Wonder

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CHRIS BURCH has a plethora of business ventures under his belt, but the newest and most colorful is C. Wonder.

Burch’s four C. Wonder boutiques– the flagship Soho store, as well as locations in New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester County–have exploded onto the scene with a splash of color, a dash of whimsy and cohort of enthusiastic fans. Plans for 15 to 20 more openings are in the works for across the country, and Burch aims to grow to over 100 stores nationally and plans for expansion into the international market.

 “I said, ‘Why don’t we offer color and happiness and cuteness and ideas and individuality?’”

Just a stone’s throw from Haute Living’s Soho office is the flagship C. Wonder store, where we sat down with Burch amongst his brightly colored wares to pick his brain about his most recent endeavor. What we found was nothing short of aesthetically pleasing, and most certainly, destined for success.

C. Wonder is a store that lives up to its name. The rooms are themed—taking customers on a journey through luxe getaways from preppy Palm Springs to iconic Hollywood Regency to rustic Vail. And who could forget the American Dream room, a room that implies all that and more?

Speaking of names, most assume the boutique’s name is eponymous, named after the store’s creator. Not so. The C in C. Wonder actually plays homage to its customers, not Burch himself. A detail confirmed by the many customer-pleasing special touches.

The Soho store is full of eclectic touches, from bold green and white stripes on the walls to a black and white tiled floor, to sweaters hued in every color of the fluorescent rainbow. An oversized Machiavellian circular green velvet bench holds court in the fitting room area.

The store’s front entrance is gated by a set of two striking, bright green lacquered double doors, a throwback to Burch’s very first store, Eagle’s Eye. Burch and his brother Bob founded Eagle’s Eye in 1976 when Burch was still in college. The line quickly grew to become one of largest sweater manufacturers in the world, growing the business—which initiated with a mere $20,000 investment—to $130 million in sales before the pair sold it in the 1980s.

The eclectic touches set the C. Wonder window display as one of the most appealing, and certainly the cutest in Soho. Those lime green doors adorned with a whimsical golden “C” beckon customers inside.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we offer color and happiness and cuteness and ideas and individuality?’” Burch said. It seems he did just that.

The store is rife with boldly printed pillows – from ikat silk screens to deep reds and orange prints. A birdcage housing a pair of luxe pink stilettos are displayed in the Palm Springs room, while monogrammed items, such as blankets, makeup bags, totes and signature belts abound. A room full of glistening gold jewelry–bangles, rings and statement necklaces–beckons shoppers, enticing them to select a bauble of their very own. The store is a grownup playground of sorts; full of whimsy and bold shades, luxe items and the possibility of losing oneself for hours.

But this isn’t Burch’s first foray into the world of fashion or retail.

Burch dove head first into the retail world with the aforementioned brand Eagle’s Eye. The company became ultra successful and turned a sizeable profit for Burch but, ever-savvy, he had the foresight to move on once he had set up a smooth and profitable business. From there, Burch has had a hand in countless projects and businesses. His many pursuits are under the management and support of J. Christopher Capital, of which he is the chairman.

Burch’s ambition is nothing if not consistent. It radiates from him as he sits across from us, dressed in bright, comfortable, yet sophisticated threads. His ego is in check and his eyes, excuse the cliché, are piercingly kind. Seemingly un-jaded, he remains as full of ideas and goals as one might imagine he had during his many early projects. From technology to real estate, Burch has been around the block in many different fields and maintains stakes in an impressively long roster of profitable businesses.

He has invested in Internet Capital Group—a technologically geared consulting company—as well as electronics startup Jawbone. He was also an early investor in both Guggenheim Capital and Voss Water, and was instrumental in the development of the Faena Hotel + Universe in Argentina.

“We just get really great people to work for us. My whole job is to find great people. So I may come up with a concept myself but it’s really the team that works alongside me that builds all these products,” Burch said.

Burch owns other fashion labels outside of C. Wonder, including Monika Chiang, the yet-to-be launched No. 9 Christopher and a collaboration with Kelly Cutrone on a new line called Electric Love Army. He is also co-chairman of the über popular fashion house Tory Burch.

“When I invest in people I look for people with something that’s different or unique,” Burch said. “I focus on people that are special and have an edge over everybody else, whether it’s in technology, hotels or in my own brands. We start with an idea or concept and we build it for one specific customer.”

As such, C. Wonder has a very specific customer in mind–working mothers who deserve to indulge.

 There’s no doubt about it – C. Wonder is the type of store in which you while away hours, easily floating from one escape to the next– Palm Springs to Vail and back again.

“We [cater] to one customer,” Burch said. “So C. Wonder is built for moms with children, working moms and non-working moms. We built it for them, with all the products that they could possibly want.”

Burch’s love for all things technology are reflected in C. Wonder’s fitting rooms, which come equipped with interactive touch screens on which shoppers can dictate their music, lighting and even call for assistance.

“When you walk in our dressing rooms you can play your own music, [select] whatever lighting you want,” Burch said. “So you can listen to Motown, or you can listen to a symphony.”

Customers can even check out right in the dressing rooms; they might realize that one key component is absent from the C Wonder boutique– cash registers. Rather, the staff can check out customers on Apple iPod touches from anywhere in the store.

“Everything in our stores is kind of revolutionary,” Burch said. “You can check out anywhere in the store; we have RFID technology, which we don’t believe anybody has fully integrated in any store.” RFID is a way of tracking items in a store using intelligent bar codes wirelessly using radio waves.

But what stands out most, surprisingly, are the boutique’s bathrooms.

“We’re most proud of our bathrooms,” Burch said. The black and white-tiled bathrooms boast portraits of animals, an oversized mirror, tchotchkes, and even a pelican dangling potpourri from its beak. “Everyone loves our bathrooms.”

There’s no doubt about it – C. Wonder is the type of store in which you while away hours, easily floating from one escape to the next– Palm Springs to Vail and back again.

The eclectic inventory, unique décor and affordable price tags, create a relaxed and inviting shopping experience– something that’s hard to come by in the frenzied New York neighborhood of Soho.

That, it seems, is exactly what Burch intended.

“That’s what we want people to do, feel like they can just take their shoes off and relax here, enjoy the music,” he said. “We don’t want people to leave.”

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