By  on September 29, 2006

DALLAS — Barneys New York is trying to prove that the second time around can be better.

Nine years after the luxury retailer closed at NorthPark Center mall here, Barneys is opening an 88,000-square-foot store today in a former Lord & Taylor store at NorthPark.

Howard Socol, chairman and chief executive officer, said this latest incarnation is far removed from the 12,000-square-foot unit that shut amid financial difficulties at the chain and criticism that the company had a snooty staff and didn’t understand tastes in Dallas.

“This is not the Barneys that was here a number of years ago,” said Socol, who took over in 2001, as he strolled the aisles during a preview of the store. “You can tell by the store and the attitude of the people.…There was a rap that Barneys was size 2,” and focused too much on black clothing. “That’s not what Barneys is.”

Barneys is jumping back into one of the most attractive retail markets in the U.S. There are affluent consumers, a strong economy and no lack of competitors, such as hometown stalwart Neiman Marcus as well as Saks Fifth Avenue, Stanley Korshak and Forty Five Ten along with branded designer and independent boutiques.

“Barneys has evolved quite a bit since its first turn at Dallas, when it didn’t make the full commitment to the market that it’s making this time,” said Steve Lieberman, ceo of The Retail Connection, a retail real estate advisory brokerage and investment firm here. “Dallas is a megamarket when it comes to retail, and I think Barneys’ entry will give the affluent Dallas-Fort Worth consumer more opportunity to keep their shopping dollars here.”

Lieberman said Dallas has the strongest job growth of any major U.S. market, adding an estimated 92,000 jobs this year. Amid a plethora of construction citywide, there is an emphasis on luxury with the W Hotel that opened in June and the forthcoming Ritz-Carlton and Mandarin Oriental hotels, as well as more high-end condos.

Karen Katz, president and ceo of Neiman’s, which has one of its top three stores at NorthPark, seemed unruffled by Barneys’ arrival.“We feel confident that our shoppers will continue to shop with Neiman Marcus,” Katz said. “What Barneys brings is their own, distinctive point of view in terms of merchandising, display and service — their own personality. No one will mistake Barneys for any other store. There is always room for great competition.”

Rose Clark, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Stanley Korshak, wondered how Dallas would respond to Barneys’ “downtown” style.

“There’s a possibility that it would be too urban for Dallas — not quite feminine enough,” she said. “They do what they do well. But is it Dallas? I think that’s to be seen.”

Barneys has built a two-story monument to style that has been lavished with original drawings by Carter Kustera and two bold architectural focal points by John-Paul Philippe: an oak, etched glass-and-metal angled staircase and a two-and-a-half-story glass exterior entrance.

A mix of contemporary fixtures crafted for the store and antiques provide a backdrop for fashions that are exclusive or narrowly distributed in Dallas. Among the major stores here, Barneys is the only one to stock Junya Watanabe, Miu Miu, Tao, Sari Gueron, Anne Demeulemeester, Rick Owens for Revillon and Kazuko jewelry.

“We’ve been waiting for this for quite some time,” said Socol, who declined to discuss projected sales volume. “We’re incredibly excited about this store. It’s nice to be able to do things the way we want.”

Julie Gilhart, Barneys’ vice president and fashion director who grew up in Dallas’ Highland Park section, admitted she initially tried to talk Socol out of opening a store here. However, after meeting some of the city’s fashion-conscious social flock, she was convinced it was the right thing to do.

As for the complaints about past service, Socol pointed out that his first move as ceo was to hire a vice president of customer service, which he said is an area that “is the lifeblood of my company or any company. We have to treat the customer well. We have to be the best at merchandise presentation and customer service. We cannot be any more committed to customer service than we are now.”Barneys’ style is more forward and urban than what is generally available in Dallas, although many of the same women’s designer labels are carried in smaller quantity at Forty Five Ten. During Barneys’ last tenure here, Dallas women were more into girlish looks. And while affluent Highland Park is still considered a bastion of conservatism, a growing number of well-heeled women have moved on to a broader, more advanced aesthetic.

In the Nineties, Barneys was criticized for stocking too much black in a southern city that favors colors. This season, there’s also a lot of black in collections such as Balenciaga and Yohji Yamamoto and throughout the store, including Barneys’ private label. But that simply reflects the fall fashion trend, Socol said.

Key women’s collections displayed on the second floor include Balenciaga, Lanvin, Givenchy, Marni and Yohji Yamamoto. Barneys also carries Dries Van Noten, Proenza Schouler, Azzedine Alaïa, Rochas, Nina Ricci and Martin Margiela.

“Our feeling is viva la difference,” Socol said. “We always try to be very special and different.”

Designer clothing spans a wide price range, from $300 sweaters to a $21,400 crystal and hand-embroidered Balenciaga gown.

Women’s shoes and Barneys Co-op are also on the second floor and heavily stocked with denim, including some brands that aren’t widely sold here, such as Radcliffe, Tsubi, Capital E and Barneys’ nationwide exclusive on Alaïa Jeans.

The Co-op has a young attitude and more accessible prices, from $45 T-shirts to $300 dresses by Diane von Furstenberg, as well as sportswear by Theory and Marc by Marc Jacobs. Co-op also offers emerging designers like 3.1 Phillip Lim, which ranges as high as $550 for a dress. Most jeans for women and men average $200.

“Our denim business happens to be terrific because we have a different assortment from everybody else,” Socol said. “We are always looking for the next thing. The women’s denim business is extraordinary. I keep saying, ‘how can it continue?’ But you look at some of these lines, and this is the only place you can find them.”

Walking into the women’s footwear area, Socol said, “Shoes are important, and this is shoe heaven.”The labels are formidable, including Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Lanvin, Azzedine Alaïa, Prada, Jil Sander, Miu Miu, Costume National, Marc Jacobs, Chloé, Yves Saint Laurent, Proenza Schouler and Fendi.

The Dallas store retains the chain’s aesthetic. In lieu of escalators, which Socol dismissed as something “everybody has,” Barneys chose Philippe’s artistic staircase. And Socol is particularly proud of the artist’s 37-foot-tall glass-and-steel foyer, which was inspired by the dappled light of a forest.

“This is a glass box, and you’re actually walking through a piece of sculpture,” Socol said. “It’s a very spectacular store. In the evening, [the glass box] lights up, and you walk into this beautifully lit enclosure.”

Inside, the palette is soft and neutral, with cream-colored walls sprinkled with delicate murals and Venetian plaster detail. In contrast, a heavy-grain folded oak wall forms an intriguing backdrop for the Lanvin collection. Floors are fabricated from limestone, precut concrete and ombré taupe mosaic tile. An exception to the pale hues is in the men’s department, where floors are laid with small blocks of veined end-cut oak and the walls are also wood. Plenty of plush seating throughout aims for a residential feeling.

Socol, who envisioned a smaller Co-op store in Dallas until he spotted the vacant anchor at NorthPark, is on the hunt for more locations as the company pursues its national expansion.

“We’re looking at a lot of cities,” Socol said. “A lot of customers want us to come. We’ll open flagships next year in San Francisco and Las Vegas, and we’re opening four Co-ops a year. We have 12 now, and we’ll have 16 in ’07. We’re looking at the Web site for future growth. There are a lot of opportunities.”

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