Despite being known as the epitome of Upper East Side chic, Tory Burch, at 48, still looks every inch the sorority sister and high school tennis champion she used to be. Yet Downtown New York is where her heart really lies, she says, citing the area's restaurants, energy and music - specifically (and, perhaps, surprisingly) its rap scene. "I'm always going to concerts, much to my boys' dismay and embarrassment now that they're getting older," Burch laughs, the day after her spring-summer 2015 show at New York Fashion Week. "The twins are turning 17 and I have a little 13-year-old, and they're very interested in hip hop … I taught them everything they know about music and now suddenly I'm uncool!" Burch's disclosure is the first sign that we should not judge this book by its cover. With her all-American cheerleader beauty Burch looks as though she was born into the pages of a glossy magazine. But scratch beneath the surface and there is a complex, self-aware woman, full of contradictions and ambition. "I was a real tomboy when I was a child," she says, perching on a plush couch in her elegant New York headquarters. "I could barely get dressed [properly]. I had three brothers, who I used to play sports with all the time." And although fashion wasn't an early calling, Burch is now one of the world's most prominent female designers. And as a chief executive, her strategic prowess has made her brand a commercial sensation, and turned this Pennsylvanian-born tomboy into a billionaire. This year, the impeccably turned out fashion mogul and mother of three ranked No79 on Forbes ' list of most powerful women in the world. Not bad for someone who just over a decade ago was a stay-at-home mother, etching out an ambitious business plan on the kitchen table. "It's just been such an incredible 10 years. If you had asked me 12 years ago what I'd be doing now, I probably wouldn't have known," says Burch. "I was thinking of starting this company or [going back to] school, so I was researching both, I had children, including twin boys. "Now, we're on this journey, we've amassed an incredible team. I think one of my strengths is knowing great people and surrounding myself with them. I feel very privileged to be where I am." She has, indeed, arrived at an enviable place. Tory Burch the brand now has mainstream, global recognition, boasting 136 free-standing stores in more than 50 countries and over 3,000 points of sale - including a soon-to-open 9,600 sq ft flagship store in Shanghai. The "affordable luxury" sector is booming and American designers are injecting fashion with fresh energy and a cool, confident point of view. BURCH'S LABEL WAS BORN during a career break. After rising up the ranks at Harper's Bazaar magazine, she had moved into public relations and advertising, working at Vera Wang then Ralph Lauren and Loewe. "When I found out I was pregnant with my third son, I had to make the difficult decision that so many women face: do I stay home and be a mom, or have a very busy career? "I was given the chance to be the president of Loewe US. My career was super important but I had three babies under the age of four and, for me, there was no way I'd be able to do both at the same time." But after being a full-time mother for four years, Burch was itching to return to fashion. She was interested in philanthropy and wanted to start a foundation. "I'm not sure what exact career I wanted," she says. "I started to put together a business plan, which was the start of this company, and I thought, 'If it was ever successful, we would also have a foundation and we would tie them together.' Today that's very much part of our DNA, every business decision made is very much tied to the foundation." The Tory Burch Foundation was founded, in 2009, to promote the economic empowerment of women. It has since partnered with Bank of America to create an initiative named Elizabeth Street Capital, which offers affordable loans to female entrepreneurs. It also provides women with business advice and mentorship, all funded by the brand. Burch acknowledges, however, that not every woman yearns to join the upper echelons of the corporate world. "What is 'having it all'? Some people don't want to work, don't want to have a career and that's great, too. It's just a matter of finding a balance that works for you." It's Burch's command of both the creative and corporate worlds - looking at things through a fashion lens while keeping in mind the bottom line - that makes her an inspiring role model to women hoping to make it in an incredibly competitive market. And on top of that, every morning, Burch takes her children to school, and she tries to be home by 6.30pm. "They know that my priorities are them," she says, of her children. "I feel that I'm a great mom, and if I weren't a great mom, I wouldn't be able to be a great CEO. The balance is very hard. It's just finding how to manage time and be effective. It's a challenge every day but it's a great one. "From the beginning, I would say to people, 'I want to build a global lifestyle brand to start a foundation.' I'm not sure I knew what I was in for. I'm a little embarrassed about saying that because I didn't know how much work it would entail." Thinking big, it turned out, paid off. Opening her first store, with very little budget, on New York's Elizabeth Street - an inexpensive area "completely out of the way" - was part of a rough plan Burch had to open three stores in five years. By the end of that period, she had opened 19. BURCH'S STORY IS BY NO means a rags to riches tale. Born to an actress (who is said to have dated Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen) and a wealthy investor (who, it is rumoured, romanced Grace Kelly and Joan Bennett), Burch slid into New York high society with ease. The designer mixes with the likes of Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Jon Bon Jovi, and dated cyclist Lance Armstrong, before his fall from grace. During a rather public legal dispute with ex-husband Christopher Burch after he had launched, in 2011, a label (C. Wonder) suspiciously similar to hers, she kept her composure and, ostensibly, rose above the fracas. Today, Burch's fashion empire is morphing into one of America's leading lifestyle brands. With her first book, Tory Burch: in Color , out this autumn, and an already diverse product range - Burch launched beauty and perfume collections last year with Estée Lauder and recently collaborated on a line of watches with Fossil - perhaps her brand will follow in the footsteps of Ralph Lauren or America's latest commercial powerhouse, Michael Kors. As Burch celebrates 10 years at the label, she reminisces about how her style has evolved. "I've actually learned to design, let's put it that way," she says. "I didn't have a design background or a business background, so it's really been great training." With every challenge she has tackled, "from fit to fabrics to evolving our customer", Burch's confidence has grown. Now that she has all but conquered America, a careful push into Asia is at the top of her agenda. She has opened a store in Malaysia and one in Indonesia, and her Hong Kong airport outlet is performing beyond expectations. The big event, however, will be the October 29 grand opening of her biggest global retail space - a 9,600 sq ft flagship store in Shanghai's Kerry Centre, a mall in the city's Jingan district. "The store is beautiful, I'm so excited," says Burch, who last visited the city four years ago. "Every one talks about [rushing] into China, but I'm happy we … took our time … I love Asia, personally, and it's about doing it in a careful and well thought out way." While her label is distinctly American in approach, Burch insists she designs for women around the world, and she will be launching exclusive products for the China market. "Travel comes into most collections … I'm always thinking about how women dress in lots of different cultures." Her inspiration for collections (and those signature print tunics) has come from holidays to Turkey, Morocco, Hawaii and Italy. On her forthcoming trip to China, Burch is "bringing a bunch of friends over … we're thinking of going to Bangkok". A visit to colour-soaked Rajasthan, in India, a few summers ago, she remembers, was a sensual overload. From the scene "on a bus, to the vintage textiles, and the incredible colours and embroideries", it was all referenced in vibrant prints and fabrics in her 2011 resort collection. The key was translating those exotic aesthetics in a luxe yet wearable way, using classic shapes and flattering, elegant silhouettes that speak to the bourgeois as well as the bohemian. The result? Clothes for cool, confident society women, fashion forward but not fashion victims, who are both well-heeled and well-travelled. AN UPPER EAST SIDE aesthetic made Burch's name in fashion, but that's become a stereotype which could be a hindrance as the label evolves. "At the beginning, that's what people said. But I feel that I'm not just that [Upper East Side girl] anymore - I'm much more adventurous," she says. "And although I love that aesthetic and the classic designs that go with that, I also like to mix it up. "It doesn't always work … but you need to push your boundaries." One of those boundaries was moving away from the incredibly successful Reva flat shoe (named after her mother), which Oprah Winfrey featured on her television talk show in 2005, turning Burch into an overnight sensation. "I love the Reva flat but we are about so much more than that. When people learn about the brand, they can see that," says Burch. Bohemian prints, vibrant colours and classic fits have all struck a chord with women who have delved into what Tory Burch has to offer, as has its signature double-T medallion logo, which adorns much of the label's footwear. "I've never been a big logo person, so it was more of the design element," she says. "There were so many things that worked with the logo, like the Reva ballet flat. In the end, we consciously pulled it back [to avoid overusing it]. The company has done a very good job of protecting the logo." Having already achieved big things with her accessories, Burch's focus is now on ready-to-wear offerings. The spring-summer 2015 collection is one of her most impressive and confident so far. The look is liberating and fresh, with neutral canvas dresses paired with crafty, paint-dipped, almost primitive accessories. Other designs feature woven fabrics in rich royal blues and fiery oranges and reds. "I've always loved Picasso's ceramics and, when I started to do more research, [this collection] really came to be about Francoise Gilot, who was his girlfriend [and muse between 1944 and 1953]," she says. "Gilot was an incredibly good artist in her own right, a super-strong woman and I think the only woman who left Picasso and survived." The effortless style Gilot displayed both sartorially and artistically during her time with Picasso in the south of France became the foundation of Burch's collection. Short tunics, tribal patterns and the fringed hems of wrap skirts were all inspired by the French painter and author. "Really elegant but rustic," says Burch, "the idea of high and low. There was an ease to the clothing, it wasn't so constricted and precise. That is what I liked about it." Burch's clothes have always walked off the runways and onto the high street. "A lot of my team are women," she says, "so I think we have a different perspective of what looks flattering and what looks right on us." Globally, her timing might be just right. Consumers everywhere are moving towards a more casual, wearable aesthetic and American designers with sportswear prowess have risen up the ranks. Perhaps the biggest sign of the times is urban designer Alexander Wang now helming French heritage house Balenciaga. "If you think about it, for the longest time there's been incredible designers like Calvin Klein and [Roy] Halston [Frowick] - all these people from way back had something to say. I think American fashion had a bad rap for a while but hopefully that's changing." While nothing should detract from the history of, and reverence towards, the European haute-couture houses, fashion is democratising fast and furiously, thanks largely to American labels and young British brands. Burch is well poised to capitalise on this energy. "Fashion is about mixing it up," she says, "high and low, labels and no label, it's really all just a matter of style."