By  on March 4, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- Barneys New York plans to shake up the city Saturday when it opens the doors to its new store on Wilshire Boulevard.

The launch is expected to trigger a costly battle along the Wilshire retail corridor -- a half-mile row that already has Neiman Marcus, I. Magnin and Saks Fifth Avenue.

At a time when Barneys' finances have been under scrutiny because of late payments to vendors, the store has poured more than $50 million into the new unit.

Robert Pressman, co-president, predicted the store would ring up as much as $70 million in sales during its first year, a hefty volume considering that the building contains only about 100,000 square feet of selling space. This would dwarf Saks Fifth Avenue at $38 million and I. Magnin at $50 million. Only Neiman Marcus, which does about $90 million annually, would outpace Barneys.

But critics and competitors -- often one and the same -- have questioned whether a store so ingrained with a New York mentality can succeed in Beverly Hills. But one look at the store seems to answer that criticism.

With a light, open interior, a majestic winding staircase and sunlight flowing in through an atrium and the many windows, Barneys may be more Los Angeles than many nearby stores that claim the city as their own. A restaurant on top of the five-story structure will open up to the outside, where tables offer a view of Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles.

"We built a store that both visually and in product is geared to the Southern California market and at the same time blends in the spirit of New York," said Pressman. Architect Peter Marino, who designed the store, said, "Every floor is wide open, and windows give customers framed views of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. When you look up through the atrium, there's always blue sky."

Other unusual features: large aquariums with exotic fish on several floors, a marble frieze designed by Ruben Toledo featuring mosaic portraits inspired by Isabel Toledo - his wife - and French limestone floors in the women's designer area. Fixtures are contemporary and made of materials such as gunmetal and polished nickel.The exterior and interior have a neo-Spanish feeling, something Marino felt was appropriate for Southern California. The dominant feature of the store is a winding neo-Spanish baroque staircase with black, hand-made, wrought-iron spikes supporting the handrail.

"Without a doubt, this is the best one we've done," said co-president Gene Pressman. "This store is a little more laid back, but it's very much in tune with what's going on out here. This is more urban-suburban, whereas New York is very urban."

Women's accessories, jewelry, handbags, hats, cosmetics and designer shoes are on the first floor, with men's accessories, furnishings, shoes and luggage. Women's designer collections, eveningwear, personal shopper and Chelsea Passage are on two. Women's sportswear, swimwear, CO/OP sportswear accessories and shoes, eveningwear, lingerie and infants' wear are on three. Floors four and five are devoted to men's wear.

A list of women's designers shows that Barneys fared well in getting its desired lineup in the store. Dolce & Gabana, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Comme des Garcons, Christian Lacroix, Romeo Gigli, Azzedine Alaia, Dries Van Noten, John Galliano and Jean-Paul Gaultier are some of the names emphasized on two. A major women's shop for Giorgio Armani is in a prominent space by the staircase, while an equally good location on the other side of the staircase is devoted to Jil Sander.

Designers in the CO/OP casual sportswear area on three include Vivienne Tam, Susie Tompkins, Basco, Max Studio and Vivienne Westwood. Sportswear on three includes CK Calvin Klein, DKNY, Industria, Liza Bruce and Think Tank.

While Saturday's opening may be the beginning of the official sales battle among Wilshire's heavy hitters, it is not the first skirmish for positioning.

Saks executives in New York tweaked Barneys' nose several weeks ago by retracting an offer made by local Saks officials to let Barneys use their parking lot for its opening party. Saks officials cited insurance problems.

The lot, which is behind Barneys and is closer to Barneys than it is to Saks, would have been the ideal place for the party. Instead, Barneys will offer visitors doughnuts and coffee inside the store from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. While competitors deny gearing up for the Barneys onslaught, a stroll through I. Magnin and Neiman Marcus shows things have definitely been spruced up. Joseph Cicio, chairman and chief executive officer of I. Magnin, has spent much of the last year freshening the store, adding a hip young designer floor and working to loosen up the staid carriage trade image. Cicio also had Jil Sander in town several months ago to open a large boutique in Magnin's designer area.Neiman Marcus has worked steadily as well to complete renovations by this week. On Saturday, Barneys shoppers who walk a few blocks west to Neiman Marcus will, coincidentally, be offered free cake to celebrate the store's 15th anniversary on Wilshire.

Neiman's also has boosted the number of in-store events of late, including hosting a high-profile Richard Tyler party last week.

Some in the community have wondered why Barneys didn't give its Beverly Hills opening the kind of blowout that its store on New York's Madison Avenue received last fall when it opened with a major gala.

"I didn't feel a big party was appropriate here because these people have gone through a lot of suffering the past year," said Gene Pressman, alluding to the earthquake and wildfires. "Maybe this fall we'll throw bigger parties.

"In New York, we kept it so exclusive that it was a no-win situation," he added. "The people who weren't invited were annoyed. This is more an announcement of a store opening. Anyone can come."

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