By  on October 25, 2011

Though a small piece of the business, the Chelsea Passage department at Barneys New York is still a part of the big picture strategy for the specialty chain.

Barneys executives are merchandising Chelsea Passage to intensify the range of exclusives and luxury appeal to cater to the same, sophisticated, chic and affluent audience that shops the women’s and men’s designer floors, and to reflect the vision of Mark Lee, chief executive officer of Barneys since September 2010.

“As part of our overall ongoing efforts to bring new and exclusive items to the Barneys New York customer, updating Chelsea Passage to introduce unique, luxury products and services was a natural progression,” Lee said.

A shop for Connor bespoke stationery appeared in September, and next month a Debauve & Gallais French chocolate shop, and Fred’s Foods, a line of packaged foods developed by master chef Mark Strausman and used in his dishes served at Fred’s restaurant at Barneys, will be introduced. Coffee, olive oil, tea and preserves, and baked goods on Fridays, will be offered, so if you like your cup of coffee at Fred’s, you can buy a pound of the beans for $18.

The Barneys Boy and Girl children’s shop has expanded to tween sizes 10 and 12. Lanvin Girl, a collection of 25 pieces for ages 4 to 10, will launch next spring. Barneys next month will begin hosting readings by children’s authors, and put up a photo booth to keep the kids happy. Also, dog accessories from Bottega Veneta and Moncler, and other luxury brands, will be sold beginning in early November so the pooch can look as natty as the owner. Home fragrances and candles from makers such as Ex Voto Paris, Cire Trudon and Frédéric Malle, have been pumped up, representing a more accessible complement to the lush throws priced as high $24,900 in fur, or the linen and leather pillows from de Le Cuona. Other luxury brands sold include Moser, Smythson, Fornasetti, Christofle and Georg Jensen.

“Everything from home, children’s, gift ideas, Fred’s Food and Barneys Dog will continue to evolve to reflect the Barneys shopper aesthetic and solidify Chelsea Passage as the luxury destination,” Lee said.

“The DNA of Barneys, what Barneys means, none of that has wavered,” under the new management, added Tom Kalenderian, Barneys executive vice president overseeing men’s wear and Chelsea Passage. The team is dedicated to merchandising “new, special, luxurious, sophisticated, fashionable product.…It’s not so much of a before and after but a refocusing on our mission statement in the way we merchandise and what differentiates us from our competitors,” Kalenderian said. “We are not always the biggest or largest but we should be meaningful in what we do. Luxury, exclusivity, a sense of surprise — that’s the big picture. The bones of the business essentially remain unchanged.”

Part of the push is to develop “curated” shops, to further that air of exclusivity and product discovery, as the store did with Muriel Brandolini, whose limited edition home products stay for another week, and with its selection of vintage and rare books on interior design, architecture, gardens, antiques and decorative arts as “curated” by Potterton Books, which, unlike Brandolini, is a permanent addition.

“It’s about taking someone who is tastemaker, not necessarily a typical manufacturer, to put together an environment with great sophistication,” explained Kalenderian during a tour of Chelsea Passage. “The overarching message here is really in the concept of designer-decorator creating this environment, not just for backdrop but filling it with very viable, meaningful product that’s important to our client who definitely has an awareness of who she is and what she represents. This appreciation for someone as curator is a very interesting new concept for us to expand upon with respect to the way we merchandise.

“Muriel [provided] all the product for this shop. Some pieces are coming from galleries, others are custom-made, like these beautiful linen drapes that are hand-embroidered. She managed to create products that are commercially extremely viable and at sometimes high price points. The average retail on these pillows reaches $1,000 but you can see by the beadwork this is very valuable product.”

Chelsea Passage accounts for about 4 percent of Barneys’ total volume of around $675 million, or between $25 million to $30 million, and is found in six Barneys locations: Madison Avenue, with the largest department at 9,000 square feet on the ninth floor; Beverly Hills, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas and Scottsdale, Ariz., and on It’s considered among Barneys’ highest-margin businesses, and the highest-margin business in big gift-giving periods. The biggest component is gifts at just over a third of the volume. Tabletop and children’s, including baby products, each represent just under one third. There’s also a bridal registry.

“What is evolving is our connection to the client. There is more of a focus, not just on the trends in the business, but in creating a much stronger connection between the fashion customer that shops for apparel and accessories throughout the store,” Kalenderian said. Also, “There is decidedly an approach in this rendition of Chelsea to focus on luxury…on things that are rare and exclusive. The Barneys core client is someone who is supersophisticated, reads, travels a lot and really wants to be entertained. They are very focused on the brands they enjoy. Sometimes we have to realize they have their own views and ideas and we need to comprehend that to merchandise for them.”

Compared with ready-to-wear, home is different. “It isn’t as fast-paced as fashion where you have quarterly collections and, at the very least, seasonal collections. In the china market, a new introduction could be one object like a salt and pepper shaker. There is not necessarily a completely new assortment of patterns or colors. It’s really up to the merchant to drive that level of creativity and some of that comes from looking for new ideas.”

Chelsea Passage originated at Barneys’ former flagship on 17th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood some 35 years ago, when Phyllis Pressman put her first counter in the men’s store. “She got on a little prop plane hovered over lavender fields in the south of France to find the most exclusive dinnerwear. You might say she risked her life to get a dish. Nobody worked harder than Phyllis,” said Kalenderian.

From that small outpost, Chelsea Passage grew to a larger area on the second floor of the Madison Avenue flagship, and seven years ago relocated to nine thereby doubling the space. Though still small in square footage, relative to other categories, “I think it’s a generous presentation,” Kalenderian said. The move to nine “allowed us to establish strong, meaningful presentations instead of dabbling. We became much more proficient at showing things with greater depth and were able to build businesses and to build brands. When you have too many ideas in a small space, not only the concept becomes fragmented, so does the business plan.”

Could Chelsea Passage become a specialty chain spin-off, just as Barneys developed its Co-op contemporary floor into a freestanding chain? Kalenderian said that’s not currently being contemplated, though in years past it was considered. More certain is that Chelsea Passage grabs a bigger percent of Barneys’ overall business, with women’s apparel generally difficult to sell, and with competitors such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue gradually growing gift and home offerings. “The bottom line is our goal is to grow men’s, women’s and home,” Kalenderian said. “But could Chelsea Passage outpace and take a bigger share of the total penetration of the company’s business? The answer is yes.”

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