Barneys New York has long had a special draw for the fashion crowd and its sale to Authentic Brands Group Friday stirred up memories — and some hopes that, while the business will change dramatically, the spirit will live on. Here’s how people in the industry reacted to news of the sale on Friday.
Derek Lam, designer
“The change at Barneys has been especially personal [for two reasons]. Not only were they the very first store to carry my collection, but also because I worked in the downtown store in the 1990s. That was when the Pressman family was still running the store. Barneys was such an important part of my understanding that a luxury brand/store with a long heritage could also be a culturally relevant and an important part of the New York scene.
“Over the years, throughout the ebbs and flows of its importance, Barneys remained so important to me because the store represented a tribe, which I identified so closely with — modern, inclusive, irreverant. It was luxury-minded but also culturally resonated. I will miss this Barneys, but I am hopeful some part of the legacy will remain in a new form.”
Narciso Rodriguez, designer
“It’s hard to speculate to the future. It all changed so quickly. It’s a very sad day in New York. They really championed fashion and great designers and they curated an amazing store for so many years.
“They have been amazing partners. It’s a great institution and a great name. It impacts all of our businesses.”
Eugenia Kim, designer
“It’s extremely sad as Barneys was a unique and singular place. However, it is a continuation of what is happening with retail currently. I’m not sure if there will be something that can replace it, and be a soul of the fashion community that it was.
“They were supportive of me as a budding milliner. They were an unusual retailer, as they were both a department store and able to also catch emerging talent at early stages. Being in Barneys was a springboard for which to launch my brand my first year in business. I grew my business steadily with Barneys over the years, even designing hats with the buyers to suit the Barneys customer so many times. When I walked through Barneys so many times for so many years, it was my Tiffany’s (B@T) because their adventurous buys were inspiring to me in so many ways.”
Kim said of the prospect of selling through ABG’s version of Barneys: “We are hopeful and believe our brand can still be a part of the new evolution in an impactful and meaningful way.”
Gary Wassner, chief executive officer, Hilldun Corp.
“Although it’s the end of Barneys as we know it, there’s still light down the road for the brand and I’m hoping that there’s enough brand value that the demand for the experience of Barneys is still real. I think there are still opportunities. I’m talking to Jamie [Salter of Authentic Brands Group] and hopefully there is a way to keep the spirit of Barneys alive.”
Pamela Love, jewelry designer
“Barneys was my first job in fashion, when I was 24, it’s where I really fell in love with fine jewelry. They were one of the first retailers to get behind my brand and have been with me through my own ups and downs. I am very grateful for their loyalty and support. It is a partnership that has spanned my entire career. They raised the bar in so many different ways and gave us something to dream about. I can’t imagine fashion without Barneys. I can’t imagine New York without Barneys. I hope they can live on in some form.”
Susan Beischel, founder and creative director, Skin
“I’ll never forget 14 years ago when the [Barneys] buyer at the time had purchased a Skin robe while she was on vacation and what a thrill it was when she e-mailed me to ask if I would want to sell to Barneys. It was one of my proudest accomplishments. We were always a profitable brand for Barneys. And then I was so excited when Barneys was one of the first major retailers who led the way into sustainable and organic merchandise and featured our organic cotton robe in their ‘Green Holiday catalogue.’
“Barneys was a fashion window to the world not only for consumers but for store fashion buyers, and certainly helped me build my business. I will always be grateful and proud to have worked with Barneys. I am glad the new owners see the value of the Barneys brand, and I hope they will be able to create something as exciting and legendary, too.”
Jason Stalvey, handbag designer
“I launched my collection with Barneys New York, and they have been a pivotal part of the Stalvey business. It is very sad to read that their stores may be closing. It is definitely a reminder of how the fashion business is changing so rapidly and how we as designers need to adapt our business models for the new landscape.”
Neal Kusnetz, president, Ovadia New York
“Barneys has been a great account for us and has sold our product very well when they have had the product. Moving forward we are open to continuing to do business with Saks and Barneys retail brands.”
Robyn Berkley, founder, Live the Process
“It was like a stamp of approval to be in Barneys [to launch with Barneys]. It really determined where people saw you and where you would go. They said, ‘Oh, she’s in Barneys.’ That was an automatic, oh-this-is-very-cool-that-they-cared-enough-to-write-it. I worked with them for the last six years and I have nothing to say except that we are super sad about this. We wished it would have happened differently. I am more sad for all the people who will not have jobs.
“Barneys is part of New York. It’s sad to see something like that go, especially because it was where you looked to for everything. It’s been such a big part of so many designers’ careers, and launching platforms for growth. It’s a place that people go to for reference for their own stores on a global scale. You’re losing part of New York City. I was brought up coming here all the time. There was Freds — it’s very nostalgic.”
Robert Burke, chairman and ceo, Robert Burke Associates
“I think that a number of unfortunate things happened at one time for Barneys. Besides retail changing dramatically, their lease came up and the rent became unattainable.”
When asked what the change in Barneys ownership means for a young up-and-coming designer today, he said, “It limits the distribution for a young designer today in a specialty store environment. It was a very big deal for a young designer to sell at Barneys. It was a real source of validation for a young designer to sell at Barneys.”
Scott Sternberg, founder of Band of Outsiders, Entireworld
“In terms of what went wrong, it seems like a fatal misallocation of resources at exactly the wrong time. There was an inflection point where they put all of their resources into re-designing what were already fantastic and unique physical stores, stripping them of the humor and idiosyncrasy that created all of that brand loyalty; at that exact moment, they should have been pumping everything they had into their e-commerce identity and platform, which certainly would have benefited from that unique voice and ultimately could have lessened their reliance on that Madison Avenue location.”
As for what ABG can do: “I’m more in the ‘R.I.P”’ school of thought, which would be to allow a great brand to die with its legacy in tact, so it’s hard for me to say on this.”
Julie Gilhart, president, Tomorrow Consulting and chief development officer, Tomorrow Ltd., who was previously senior vice president, fashion director, of Barneys New York, where she worked for 18 years
“When I left in 2010, it was just the beginning of really the escalating of shopping online and the beginning of social media. All of a sudden, those two things changed so many things” and Barneys didn’t adjust fast enough.
As for ABG, she said: “I think here we have to be open to what they’re going to do and have to dig down deep and see what is going to work.” As far as Barneys in-store shops at Saks, she added, “You just can’t use the name and put a sign in the middle of the store. There has to be a lot of thought process that goes into it. The very critical issue is what are you going to do with those 2,000-plus people that may not have jobs. I’d like to know that. How do you absorb those people? It’s about the way you do things. No one’s really talking about that, and it really needs to be talked about.”
Regarding what it means for young designers, Gilhart said, “It doesn’t really change. There are a lot of platforms for young designers now. The history of Barneys was it was a great platform to develop and grow your business, that was when we were at the height of that time, pre-social media and pre-online businesses. The channels are just different now.
“I think any time we lose heritage, it’s like a knife in your heart. Like when a historical restaurant and club [goes out of business.]. As New Yorkers, we’re so passionate about these iconic spaces and we hate to see them go.
“The perfect solution would have been for someone to come in and try to rework it a way so that it could work and still function and still hold the heritage. We also have to be open. Maybe there might be some good in this. I don’t know.”
Allan Ellinger, senior managing partner at MMG Advisors
“I think the Madison Avenue store was way too big and way too expensive. The overhead of maintaining that store, the size, the rent, is a real challenge. That impacted them from the day that store opened. That impacted their ability to be profitable. That more than anything hurt them.”
Stephanie Danan, designer of Co. brand
“It’s incredibly sad, and I think it’s just the beginning of change in the industry. We’ve all been feeling it for a while, but this is a reality check. Barneys really helped make our business by putting our collection on the designer floor. It’s hard to say what went wrong, but the renovations were one thing. By becoming like every other department store, they diluted their brand. The lesson for us as a company and a lot of people is, without a strong point of view, you are dead. You need to be authentic and take a position. You are going to lose some customers but gain other loyal ones. When you try to start to please everyone, you please no one.”
Yves Spinelli, jewelry designer, Spinelli Kilcollin
“I’ve read a lot of opinions of what went wrong: investing too much in brick and mortar, not investing enough in digital, exorbitant rents, redesigning the stores, a convergence of all of the above. I would be remiss to point to any one explanation. In this ever-changing retail climate we’re all challenged to be nimble, and working daily to figure it all out.
A bigger issue is this concept of exclusivity in luxury retail. Barneys built their reputation finding small creative brands. They picked up Spinelli Kilcollin before most other retailers and customers knew anything about our work. They supported us, put us on the map, and our partnership thrived.
A big struggle for small luxury brands is figuring out how to scale and grow. There’s been a credo in the fashion industry that says creativity means staying small, and scaling means selling out. Barneys demanded that brands buy into this exclusivity plan to the point where they were exited if they expanded distribution.
Brands had to choose between scaling their businesses, or staying loyal to Barneys and risk stifling growth and fading away. These should not have been mutually exclusive, and this hurt brands and Barneys equally.
Dwyer Kilcollin and I chose earlier this year to leave a thriving business at Barneys and scale Spinelli Kilcollin by diversifying distribution. It was a very tough decision, and an agonizing process, but ultimately one that’s made our company stronger.
The new face of luxury retail as we see it is to leave behind this antiquated fight for exclusivity in luxury, and provide and create exceptional service and unique experiences for customers. This means inclusivity and diversity for customers and brands alike.”