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NEW YORK — Ninety years after its founding and 20 years after the opening of its Madison Avenue flagship, Barneys New York continues to reinvent itself.
The upscale retailer over the weekend completed the renovation of the sixth-floor men’s department, creating a new home for classic European brands including Ermenegildo Zegna, Brioni, Isaia, Kiton, Giorgio Armani and Uman, as well as an expanded made-to-measure department.
“We’re trying to break away from the old notion of classic or designer brands,” said Mark Lee, chief executive officer. “The boundaries between classic and fashion are not relevant today. At the end of the day, Barneys is about modernity and we’re housing everything in a modern environment.”
Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear, said the sixth floor previously housed classic and traditional vendors — “almost all American. Those suppliers are still relevant, but the contemporary element of our business continues to grow.”
Years ago, Lee added, the floor would have been designed with a “cliché” of classic men’s wear elements including “dark wood and leather club chairs” to create a traditional men’s store aesthetic. “But that was deliberately struck. Instead, we let it be clean, simple and modern so the brands could shine.”
The new design features mirror-finish stainless steel cases; metal, wood and marble fixtures; intimate seating areas; columns wrapped in leather; limestone floors; cerused oak wood millwork cabinetry, and hand-woven rugs. Lighting has also been enhanced to better showcase the merchandise.
Over the past two years, Barneys has been undergoing a massive renovation project at the Madison Avenue store. It started in July 2011 in the women’s store and the ground floor of the men’s store — featuring accessories — was completed in June. In addition to the sixth- and ground-floor men’s departments, Barneys has completed the renovation of its men’s and women’s Co-ops on the eighth and seventh floors, respectively, and opened a large new shoe area on the fifth floor. Lee has said the 230,000-square-foot store will continue to be renovated at the pace of “a couple of floors a year.” Next up is the seventh-floor men’s department, which houses contemporary merchandise, followed by the fourth floor, home to sportswear.
When completed, Barneys will have an eight-level men’s store, which Lee has called “unprecedented — that’s an incredibly unique and powerful statement in terms of men’s.”
The retailer has not said what it is spending to revamp the flagship, which opened in 1993. However, since Lee joined the company as ceo in 2010, Barneys has been on a reinvention campaign. It underwent a change in ownership, with Perry Capital, managed by Richard Perry, becoming majority owner, and The Yucaipa Cos., another key lender run by Ronald Burkle, as a minority owner. The debt-for-equity deal in 2011 cleaned up the retailer’s balance sheet, wiped out practically all of its $550 million in debt and gave Barneys the funds for some capital improvements.
“We’ve finished the ground floor and this,” Lee said during a walkthrough of the sixth floor Monday morning. “It will give us a jump start on the season: pre-Labor Day we’re planting the flag and saying we’re open and ready.”
The floor was designed by Steven Harris Architects of New York. The ground floor was designed by Yabu Pushelberg.
“Yabu did a great job, but we want to keep evolving,” Lee said. “Keep it fresh and keep it moving.”
He said the design is “very much in keeping with a gallery feel — simplistic and open.” He said Steven Harris is also the architect for the lower-level cosmetics department renovation in New York — scheduled to be completed in early October — as well as Beverly Hills. Lee said the sixth floor is more indicative of the “aesthetic of Dennis Freedman and myself.” Freedman is Barneys’ creative director.
“We wanted to continue the clean and modern approach, but evolve our concept by bringing in classic artisanal techniques and materials, such as geometric folded plaster walls and leather wrapped columns,” said Freedman. “These luxurious details help give the space added texture and warmth.”
Another new element on the floor is the elimination of the walls between the men’s and women’s stores, which allows for a more seamless shopping experience. A “horizontal connection,” as Lee called it, has now been created on the ground floor, fifth, sixth and eighth floors. The ninth-floor Chelsea Passage department had also been comingled. “Step by step,” he said, “we’re getting there.”
By creating crossover areas, it allows the store to showcase men’s and women’s brands together, including Fioroni, a new luxury Italian knitwear line being launched exclusively for fall. Separate men’s and women’s presentations for Fioroni are housed in the area, along with Salvatore Piccolo shirts, Massimo Alba, Inis Meáin, Malo, Boglioli and Greg Lauren.
“The horizontal connection gets the woman to walk over into men’s,” Lee said.
What she’ll find on the new sixth floor, Kalenderian said, are “key anchor brands” such as Zegna, Brioni, Kiton, Incotex and Armani, as well as artisan labels such as Sartorio, a new line from Kiton that he said Barneys is “developing.”
“We’re creating an air of discovery,” he added. “But all of the brands fit the bill for young, modern men looking for tailored clothing and sportswear. And it’s not just the environment, it’s the fit as well. Everything is much slimmer.”
As an example, Lee pointed to Brendan Mullane, creative director of Brioni, who has helped reinvent that venerable brand. “He was Riccardo Tisci’s right-hand man,” he said. “This is not your father’s or your grandfather’s brand. It’s newer, fresher and for a more-fit customer.”
Kalenderian said that when the Madison Avenue store opened 20 years ago, the men’s store offered three floors devoted to clothing: contemporary, traditional and better luxury. Today, there are only two floors, but clothing offerings are sprinkled throughout the store, reflecting the shopping habits of today’s man.
“Now our business is strongest in luxury clothing and contemporary,” Kalenderian said. “So we’ve evolved. The young guy is looking for luxury and the older guy is looking for a modern fit. And we have what he needs, whether it’s on two floors or three.”
Lee said Barneys looks at the sixth floor, not as a clothing department, but as a “collections floor,” since the brand offering includes luxury sportswear pieces as well. “This is fairly new for us,” he said. “We started transitioning about a year ago. This had been billed as a suit floor, but we buy and merchandise everything as collections.”
Kalenderian said the brands too see the opportunity to increase their business by expanding their offering. “They used to be all-clothing brands,” he said. “But now they’re head to toe. This is the way people live and shop today. And this is easier to navigate.”
He added: “Casual Friday may have left our vocabulary, but it changed our lives.”
Barneys men’s fall catalogue also showcases the complete lifestyle offering of the brands it carries, mixing Brioni with Inis Meáin, Maison Martin Margiela and Jil Sander. “It’s a statement to say it’s all equal,” Lee said. “There are no barriers, no boundaries. It’s all chic and elegant and high-quality.”
Between Zegna and Isaia is an expanded made-to-measure department where the store can take orders for clothing and furnishings. Located behind a couple of partitions, the area provides privacy, but is also dominant on the floor. Zegna also has a dedicated made-to-measure table that has been added to its area.
“This customer needed an uplift,” Lee said of the made-to-measure area, which includes custom shirts from Hamilton and others. “It’s a very productive and high-volume area, so he needed a better experience.”
Kalenderian said the service is also offered elsewhere in the store, including the seventh floor.
Lee said the seventh floor — which now looks like “the odd man out in the building” — will be renovated early next year.
To celebrate the new men’s department, Barneys will hold a party tonight called Man Up, with New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Y&R’s David Sable cohosting the event with Lee. Proceeds from the event will benefit the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.