MIAMI — Gene Pressman would like to get his hands on Barneys New York again.
The notion may largely be wishful thinking at this point, but it proves that the former co-chief executive officer of Barneys retains a measure of the outsize ambition and imagination that helped build the retailer into the posh emporium it is today — and helped drive it into bankruptcy in 1996.
"I think Barneys is at a crossroads, like the great days of Rome. They are expanding and can do no wrong. But it's always at this kind of moment when just around the corner, there could be trouble," said Pressman as he sat poolside last week at the Four Seasons Hotel here, where he was attending the DNR Menswear CEO Summit. (WWD is a sister publication of DNR.) "They need someone to give them vision and leadership and to say what the next thing is now."
Pressman, 56, clearly believes he could again provide that kind of vision — and he wasn't shy about expressing that sentiment in a candid interview in which he discussed his 27-year tenure at Barneys, the store's rumored impending sale by Jones Apparel Group and a new book he's cowritten with Noah Kerner, a co-founder of New York marketing firm Noise, called "Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today's Cluttered Marketplace."
Asked if he's interested in rejoining Barneys management if it is sold, he flatly stated: "The answer is yes. This is a great moment for a new transition at Barneys. Part of the problem is that every time you have new parents, you lose something in the process, and that's what's happening to them. So far, every group of parents has done a yeoman's job of protecting the general essence of Barneys, but you have to wonder how long that's going to last."
Of course, whether or not a new owner of Barneys, based in New York, would want to bring Pressman back into the fold is a question mark. The company has been posting strong sales and is on an expansion streak: Barneys will open two flagships, in San Francisco and Las Vegas, by January and four new Co-op units by 2008, adding to the seven existing full-price stores and 13 outlets.
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