Sam Ben-Avraham seems to have found some friends in his quest to buy Barneys New York out of bankruptcy.
Sources said the trade show veteran and Kith backer has been in talks with fashion financier Gary Wassner to raise money and try to take control of the luxury retailer. Wassner has been close to the Barneys business for years, helping designers ship goods to the company as chief executive officer of factoring firm Hilldun Corp. He also sits on the unsecured creditors committee in the Barneys bankruptcy and is a vocal advocate for American designers.
Wassner did not return a call Sunday and Ben-Avraham could not be reached.
Ben-Avraham’s background in trade shows has industry experts wondering just what his plans for Barneys entail. But if Wassner ultimately takes part in any deal, it would suggest more evolution than revolution at the retailer, which has a reputation for supporting cool designers but hasn’t been able to cover its bills in recent seasons.
Ben-Avraham is seen as a savvy player who could reshape the Barneys experience and help bring in new customers and new brands, but he has yet to formerly submit a bid to buy the company.
Barneys has been looking for a buyer for at least a year, but no one was willing to take the plunge without the cleansing aspects of a bankruptcy, which let the company close 15 of its 22 stores and has opened up an opportunity to renegotiate the crucial leases for the firm’s flagships on Madison Avenue in Manhattan and in Beverly Hills.
Five parties officially indicated interest in buying all or part of Barneys out of bankruptcy and by last week, Ben-Avraham was in the lead, contemplating a deal to buy the retailer for roughly $220 million.
One of the key questions has been just how such an acquisition would be funded.
If a deal is finalized by the next court date on Oct. 11, the Ben-Avraham bid would act as the stalking horse — or baseline— in a court-run auction on Oct. 24.
Barneys’ lenders in the bankruptcy — Brigade Capital Management and B. Riley Financial Inc. — have given two extensions to the retailer so far, helping to keep alive dreams that the company will continue as a going concern. If no deal materializes, Barneys would likely be liquidated.
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