Byline: David Moin
NEW YORK — Rigged with parakeets, vintage operating room lamps, reproduced wire mannequins circa Paris in the Fifties, and dressing rooms covered with postcards and Tic Tacs — not to mention perhaps the most colorful, offbeat assortment of denims, accessories and sportswear of any major store in the city — the revamped Barneys New York Co-op is set to officially debut Thursday.
It could have a soft opening late today, if the crew can pull all the final quirky touches together by then. On Tuesday, Barneys gave WWD an exclusive preview, and although the bird cages weren’t yet hanging, it was clear that the Co-op is not your typical upper retail level.
The concept is one that’s crucial to Barneys’ future, one that gives a lesson in cool merchandising to the rest of the retail pack and stays true to Barneys reputation for hyping what’s hip.
It’s also Barneys first real growth maneuver since emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last January, and could be a model for a chain of Co-op shops. Officials previously acknowledged they plan to convert the Barneys warehouse on 17th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues in Chelsea, into the first free-standing Co-op. The warehouse is practically caddy corner from the site of the former Barneys flagship, and could get Co-opted by spring or early summer. An “in” spot, like Miami’s South Beach, theoretically could be the next site for a second Co-op.
However, Barneys isn’t about to rush headfirst into another rollout. After all, an over-aggressive expansion is what landed Barneys in bankruptcy court in the first place. A Co-op rollout would be limited, presenting a slice of Barneys, and a healthy one at that. Co-op accounts for 25 percent of Barneys’ overall women’s volume and is the most productive women’s area in the store, next to designer. Barneys spent about $3.5 million to convert the previously unused 10,000-square-foot eighth floor to the Co-op, which previously was housed completely on the 11,500-square-foot seventh floor and will be renovated to reflect the eighth floor. The eighth floor has more casual looks, while the seventh is geared toward collections. Barneys believes Co-op volume, at around $12 million last year, will leap 40 percent with the additional floor.
As Barneys sees it, any discussion about taking the Co-op outside of the flagship is somewhat premature.
“We’re still in the developmental stages with the Co-op,” said Allen Questrom, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Barneys. “It’s an experiment, but we really like this concept and think it has legs.”
Why is this floor different? For one, no one who visits the floor will ever again accuse Barneys again of pushing too much black. Think technicolor, across the clothes, the mannequins and the display tables, but the rainbow effect is not overdone and is nicely choreographed with the soft white halide lighting, white mesh shades, sculptured walls and a touch of vintage, seen in the mid-20th century chandeliers. Also, the unusual use of fixtures doubling as sculpture pieces is not really about reflecting any style of architecture, but rather to create energy and give a transparent quality to the floor so that the merchandise isn’t overshadowed.
Compared to other Barneys selling floors, and for that matter most retail floors in town, the Co-op is much more open, brighter and youthful in approach. Created by the design firm of KramerHutchison, collaborating closely with Barneys, the Co-op comprises most of the seventh and eighth levels of Barneys’ Madison Avenue flagship.
It’s also less expensive than Barneys’ designer floors, though the price range is still broad, with jeans running from $82 for a pair of basic Billy Blues to a $500 decorated Oggetti jean.
T-shirts are also a major thrust on the floor, from such labels as 3 Dots, Juicy Couture and Petite Bateau, as are leathers, including private label motorcycle jackets in vivid orange and red, as well as good old-fashioned black, priced at $350.
“It’s about making dressing more fun and whimsical,” Questrom said. “It’s how we display items to relate to the collections. The customer sees how it all goes together. The whole business is driven by unique items and combinations of items.
“There’s a lightness to it, a clean look and a lot of color. It’s a very young, contemporary feeling, a SoHo kind of feeling. It’s casual.”
And one geared to pull customers close to the merchandise — through self-serve fixturing, like packaged Bond T-shirts, priced $15 to $30, set on stainless steel pegboards, as well as the “jeans bar,” the most noticeable feature on the floor. The bar is situated right off the elevators and has about a dozen different labels and a wide range of prices, styles and fits.
“Jeans are a tremendous, tremendous, tremendous business for us,” said Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager, women’s. “There are so many different styles and so many different companies. The jeans bar makes you aware of the diversity.”
“The floor evokes a modern feeling, based on the spirit of the movie Magnificent Obsession, with kind of a hospital, modern twist to the space,” said Jeff Hutchison, partner in KramerHutchison. “Everything is very simple, but yet with a sculptural element to it, like the curved fitting room vestibule wall. The use of color enlivens the floor, yet with the white backdrop, we really highlight the product the most. We worked hard with Barneys to make sure that in the design of the space, the fixturing was strong, but not overpowering, and one of the things that was very important was to have some key focal areas to the space, whether it’s the jeans bar or the Fresh bar, and that you really know this is a floor about a mix of product and a lifestyle.”