By  on August 7, 2009

TOKYO — Neil Barrett is marking his 10th anniversary this year, but kicking back and celebrating is the last thing on his mind.

Instead, the designer is spending the week in Tokyo meeting with clients, checking in on his year-old flagship designed by Zaha Hadid and plotting the future of his company — which may or may not include the sale of a minority stake to a new investor.

Barrett, known for his modern take on men’s tailoring and his ties to a bevy of celebrities, said he has relished his independence, but is ready to consider selling a stake in his Milan-based company as long as he retains control. He revealed that he’s been talking to a potential investor, whom he declined to identify, for about six months but doesn’t feel rushed to make a decision.

“I don’t want to be forced to and then be thrown out like Jil Sander or Helmut [Lang],” Barrett told WWD during an interview at the Aoyama store. “We know the stories. We’ve heard them. We don’t want to hear them again. It’s boring.”

For now, the designer is focusing on other matters, including fine-tuning his flagship here and — if he’s lucky — squeezing in a bit of shopping at his favorite store, lift étage, in the trendy Daikanyama neighborhood.

“I love Japan. I just think they’re the craziest fashion eaters in the world. They just eat it up and spit it out,” he said, dressed in a white cotton T-shirt, jacket and tapered jeans.

That’s not to say they are easy to win over — quite the contrary, in his view. “I think they’re more critical than anyone in the world. They seem the nicest and the friendliest, but they’re not,” he said. “If you don’t create that newness, then they’re not interested.”

Barrett is paying particular attention to the evolution of the Aoyama store since the brand plans to roll out a smaller version of the Hadid concept to its shop-in-shops around the world. The first of these will bow in December or January of next year at a new space in Joyce Hong Kong. The Bergdorf Goodman shop-in-shop in New York will be updated sometime next year. Three shop-in-shops and a flagship in South Korea also are destined for a facelift, but the timing has not been determined.

“We’ve never really done a proper store concept,” said Barrett, who spoke candidly about the bumps he and his team encountered with the Aoyama store. Hadid designed a sculpture for the second floor, but it proved too heavy to move into place. It also wasn’t compatible with Japan’s building codes for earthquake safety.

Now Barrett is mulling the best way to finish off the store’s upper layer. He said he’s in contact with a Japanese artist, whom he declined to name, about creating a sculpture to be incorporated into his runway show in January before making its permanent home in the Aoyama store.

“It’s going to kill two birds with one stone. It’s made here, shipped out and then shipped back. But it’s light,” he laughed, adding that smaller pieces of Hadid furniture will be arranged around the structure to round out the second level’s layout.

Elsewhere on the retail front, Barrett said he is looking at possible locations for his third freestanding store, in London or Italy, to complement his flagships in Tokyo and Seoul. The brand’s men’s and women’s wear generated sales of 68 million euros, or about $98 million at current exchange, at retail last year.

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