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With everyone speculating about the future of Barneys New York and its employment ranks, WWD looks back at a milestone chapter in its history: the debut of the first women’s store on 17th Street on Sept. 2, 1986, after two years of delays. There were six floors and “a luxury of space, lots of natural light from narrow, floor-to-ceiling windows and lots of merchandise as well,” wrote WWD that day. Furnishings included lacquered armoires from Belgium, suspended glass rods and pieces by Josef Hoffmann, Robert Oerly and Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, which were picked because, according to architect Peter Marino, “We didn’t want a store that would be dated in three years, so we used a lot of modern classics.” Also new were three parking lots (all free) and a lower-level bistro designed by Jean-Paul Beaujard.

But Barneys’ history in the women’s market goes back to the early Seventies, long before the retailer even introduced women’s wear in 1976. Four years earlier, on Dec. 13, 1972, WWD reported on an uptick in female shoppers at the then-men’s-only store. “We’ve never lifted a finger to get women’s apparel business,” said president Fred Pressman, “but we’ve found that, over the years, the number of women shopping in the store has grown considerably.” They were primarily purchasing sportswear “from European resources,” the paper noted, “which are tight fitting, have low rises, are cut well and are contoured.” Lessons Pressman learned: Women were more patient shoppers, they often bought multiples in different fabrics, and wives would talk their husbands into buying Cardin, Bill Blass, Philippe Venet and Givenchy. “[The retailer] recently acknowledged its debt to women,” the paper continued, “by running a full-page ad in The New York Times thanking women for shopping in the store.”

This story first appeared in the December 3, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

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