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NEW YORK — Barneys New York is going psychedelic for holiday, with lots of peace and love thrown in for good measure.
The store has taken the decade of the Sixties as the inspiration for its holiday decorations, promotions and exclusive products. Barneys is tapping into what’s already a strong national vibe, from the Kennedy-esque presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama to the hit cable show “Mad Men,” set in the Sixties advertising world, to the upcoming revival of the Broadway musical “Hair.”
“Peace and Love: Have a Hippie Holiday,” the retailer’s counterculture rallying cry of a tag line, may seem a bit incongruous for a luxury store. After all, hippies weren’t concerned about keeping up appearances when they were living in communes, advocating free love and experimenting with drugs. But Barneys’ Sixties theme isn’t meant to be taken literally. “There’s a bit of poetic license here,” said the store’s creative director Simon Doonan, adding he chose the era because “it’s very broad and very inclusive. I’m very glad we have a theme with such a broad reach because it’s going to be a very challenging holiday for retail.”
As it does every year, Barneys sourced exclusive merchandise tied to the theme. There’s a lacquered wood backgammon board with psychedelic designs; a pair of peace and love ornaments by Jonathan Adler; a Fornasetti plate with a gold peace sign; Valextra peace sign key chains; Jennifer Meyer pendants spelling “Save the Planet,” “Peace” and “Love”; Barneys peace sign umbrellas and organic tote bags, and tie-dye Converse All Stars high-tops.
Flower Children may feel uneasy about Barneys slapping peace signs and Smiley faces on everything from jewelry to cookies, not to mention Fendi’s exclusive large parchment bagette ($2,090) with peace sign key chain ($190), but by now many of them remember more about Yuppies than Yippies.
Loomstate for Barneys New York Green recycled T-shirts with peace signs, $84 to $98, tie into Sixties’ ideals, but Julie Wolfe’s hammered 18-karat gold peace sign necklace, $2,750, and Abraxas Rex’s 18-karat gold surf pendant on a leather cord, $2,875, are purely decorative.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Doonan said of the products. “We are reaching out to all of our designers and asking them to create a peace sign dress.” He named Balenciaga, Lanvin, Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang as among those the retailer has contacted. “Their mandate is to create a dress honoring the 50th anniversary of the peace sign,” Doonan said. “They’re going to be very responsive.”
The creative director said Barneys’ buyers and merchants have responded enthusiastically to the theme. “There’s more merchandise related to the Sixties and peace signs than ever before,” he said. “Sometimes I inflict a theme on them that’s unwieldy.”
Barneys is giving another Sixties icon star billing. The retailer partnered with Volkswagen of America to create a custom Beetle, painted by artist John-Paul Philippe with stylized flowers, peace sign, dove and abstract shapes. The car will be featured in windows, on shopping bags, holiday mailers and gift cards. It will be sold via a raffle, with the $100 tickets available on Barneys’ Web site and in its stores beginning Nov. 10. Proceeds will benefit the Volkswagen Carbon Neutral Project. “The Barneys consumer is very much in tune with the Volkswagen customer and is very environmentally conscious,” said Laura Soave, general manager of marketing for Volkswagen.
Where once the primary focus was its store windows, Barneys has expanded the scale and breadth of its holiday campaign in recent years. “I’ve seen us go from being completely oblivious to the holidays to [this],” Doonan said. “In the last few years we figured out how to make it a more macro experience.”
In preparation for a groovy Barneys holiday, Doonan read books such as Tom Brokaw’s “Boom!” and “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — And the Journey of a Generation,” by Sheila Weller.
During a recent tour of the Barneys design studio, giant peace signs that looked like huge hamster wheels were being assembled from strips of poplar wood. The props will be découpaged with vintage album covers from Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane before they’re installed in Barneys stores. Doonan showed off inspiration boards for two windows, one, an homage to black light, with the message, “Turn On! Tune In! Drop Out!” The other will be devoted to women of the counterculture including Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick, Melanie and Joan Baez.
And now that this holiday is under way, the Barneys creative director already knows what the theme of holiday 2009 will be. “It will be ‘A Witty Holiday’ with everyone from Dorothy Parker, James Thurber and Oscar Wilde to Tina Fey and Jerry Seinfeld,” he said. “Remember, ‘Taste, Luxury, Humor,’ [Barneys’ tag line]. Humor is as nonelitist as the counterculture.”�