In Exclusives, Insight, Retail

As a New Yorker, a Barneys shopper, and a Barneys vendor, this closing is personal. Bankruptcy is one thing, but liquidation, being sold off for parts, and licensing the name feels like brand sacrilege. The die was probably cast weeks ago, but like many, I held out hope that Sam Ben-Avraham’s passionate effort or a last-minute white knight would swoop in, save Barneys, be willing to keep some of the business intact and breathe new life into it, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.

Barneys was worth saving. It was special. In the fabric of New York City, Barneys was the cool downtown Yin to Bergdorf Goodman’s sophisticated uptown Yang. It was more than a store; it was part of the city’s culture.

For the beauty industry, Barneys was the original incubator of independent brands and the department store “apothecary.” Being first, innovating the concept of retail, and taking risks on young brands was all part of the DNA that made Barneys special. They provided a platform for countless brands to be discovered, nurtured, and grow into industry leaders—think Kiehl’s, Byredo, Nars, Le Labo, (Malin+Goetz), to name just a few.

Ben-Avraham changed the name of the “Save Barneys” Instagram account he started to “The Spirit of Barney,” which pretty much sums things up. Barneys will never be the same, but hopefully, this new incarnation will keep some of what made Barneys special intact and find its place in the new and evolving retail landscape under the new ownership.

The Beauty Industry Speaks: 

Andrew Goetz, Co-Founder, (Malin+Goetz): “I foolishly hoped a knight in designer armor would charge in before the Trojan Liquidation Horse, but alas that was not to be. It’s sad on so many levels, both personally and professionally. I distinctly remember heading down to Barneys in seedy Chelsea in the 1970s for my bar mitzvah suit. Decades later, Barneys has been an intrinsic part of the success of Malin+Goetz. We are deeply saddened for all the people who now find themselves unemployed, and the great cultural loss to New York. It’s really sad in so many ways. Thankfully, we can now all take solace in the suburban ennui comfort of Hudson Yards—on the edge, but definitely not edgy. Barneys… RIP. We will miss you more than you can possibly know.”

Matthew Malin, Co-Founder, (Malin+Goetz): “When I moved to NYC in 1990 to work for Saks, I lived on the UES and regularly made my way downtown to shop in Chelsea at Barneys, their original location. By 1993, I was a beauty buyer at Barneys, helping launch independent niche brands to the market for the first time. I worked for Kiehl’s and Prada before co-founding Malin + Goetz in 2004, following the inspiration of these incredible, family-run businesses. It was Barneys, again, that was the launchpad for our brand, like so many before us, and remained, 15 years later, one of our largest and most visible accounts. Until now, Barneys has also been a go-to for my personal shopping, just three blocks from our apartment of 22 years in Chelsea. While NYC has many of the world’s best retailers, several of whom we have working relationships with, I can already feel Barneys’ void in my personal life, business and city.”

Bettina O’Neill, President, Bettina O’Neill & Associates: “Barneys New York was a magical place for many years of my career. I met so many creative, brave, and authentic people who believed passionately in what BARNEYS represented. Barneys beat to its own drum and as long as we respected that, it seemed to flourish, if not with capital, then at least with soul. Barneys was a place for clients to discover the new, cool and unexpected. We didn’t follow trends, we created them.

One such person was Judy Collinson—she truly was Barneys and lived every day protecting its integrity and heart. Barneys was beloved as was Judy, Julie Gilhart, Tom Kalenderian, and Simon Doonan. I didn’t know the Pressmans, but I believe that this team did their best to honor their legacy.

During my 16-year tenure as the Cosmetics VP DMM, I met so many creative geniuses and launched so many of their exclusive brands. It makes me smile when I see the global success many of these vendors have reached and I was happy to have been part of it. The experience at Barneys shaped me, allowing me to continue to help brands develop and grow to their full potential. I’ve learned that honor, integrity, and passion are key to not only a successful business but to an authentic life.

Barneys, you will be missed by all who you touched and hopefully will live on in each of us who had the honor to be part of the magic.”

Charles Denton, Chairman and CEO, Erno Laszlo: “From my perspective, I believe it was possible to save Barneys, of course not in its current form, but as a scaled-down, resized offering that could focus on its core consumer. But I guess it was just too challenging for the leadership, who probably didn’t get enough support to fully realize a new vision.

I remember Barneys as always being my first stop upon arriving in New York. I was armed with a shopping list from friends and family back in London and my own desire to tune my eye into the latest trends in luxury retailing. For perhaps three decades Barneys reigned supreme. Delivering a master class on how to remain above the rest. It was simply the coolest place to be seen. Brands lined up in the hope that they might get listed. Barneys was both a tastemaker and kingmaker in one.

It’s a sad loss to see the iconic brand slip into the abyss. I don’t see a future for the brand as a licensed mark. Its reason to exist will be forgotten, replaced with some watered-down retail concept inside another struggling retailer. Barneys was a cultural phenomenon, it was the pinnacle of the New York lifestyle. It inspired fans to reach well beyond the mediocre that retail has become.

The idea behind Barneys was bigger than the brands it stocked. It had an attitude, whether you liked it or not, that defined its brand status. As a licensed mark, it will be a shadow image of its former self—without the heart and soul that a brand like this needs in order to inspire, influence, and rebuild its reputation as a thought leader in fashion and beauty.”

Sally Hershberger, Celebrity Hair Stylist: “I remember coming to New York as a teenager and going to Barneys when it was on 17th Street—it always had the best shopping. There’s really nothing like Barneys—at nearly 100 years old, it has touched so many generations over nearly 10 decades. There’s just so much history being lost and it’s a sad chapter in our lives.”

John Cafarelli, Founder and President, Ernest Supplies: “When I first launched Ernest Supplies people would ask me, ‘How will I define success?’ I would tell them, ‘Success will be when customers can’t live without our products AND when we sell at Barneys!’ Back then, selling at Barneys was the ultimate dream. There are few things as fabulous and elevating for a brand than to be able to tell people to ‘find us at Barneys.’ This fabulousness wasn’t just a New York or LA or even just an American thing. The glamour and prestige of Barneys was global.

When we started looking for retail partners in London, we’d casually mention that our brand sold at Barneys and you could see the buyers’ eyes light up. The halo of the Barneys brand helped light the way for countless small brands like ours. Over the years, however, the dreaminess of selling at Barneys sort of began to fade. It felt like there was almost constant turnover on the merchandising team, invoices went unpaid for months at a time, and the customer traffic and subsequent sell-throughs made one wonder how they paid the rent every month. So, it really wasn’t a total surprise when I heard the news that Barneys had filed. The Barneys’ business model just couldn’t keep up in the world of 2019 retail.

I can’t help but feel lucky, though, that we got to be a part of it all. Barneys took a chance on us as a brand. This is why Barneys was magic—they gave us the chance for people to discover us. There are so many things I’ll miss about Barneys, but the opportunity to discover might be what I’ll miss most. I’ll miss the incredible and awesome people with whom we worked—like Taylor, our buyer, George on the floor in Chelsea, and Nicholas in visual merchandising. These guys made the dream a reality for us and I’ll be forever grateful to them for that. I’ll miss meeting over a salad at Fred’s. I’ll miss the fashion highlight of the season for a bootstrapped entrepreneur—the Barneys Warehouse Sale. I’ll miss those awe-inspiring staircases at Chelsea and Beverly Hills. Most of all, I’ll miss being able to tell people to ‘Go find us at Barneys.'”

Maureen Case, CEO, Augustinus Bader: “Barneys and cool NY are intrinsically entwined. As a young woman when moving to NYC in 1989, visits to Barneys helped me sharpen my personal style. The curation was both cutting edge and eternal. Daniella Vitale has done an amazing job in the headwinds of retail today. It is the end of an era…”

Philip Berkovitz, Founder and CCO, Philip B: “Barneys opened our eyes and minds to fashion and beauty in ways that were sometimes subtle and sometimes sublime—it was modern cutting-edge elegance at its finest and it was always an exciting shopping experience. It was a platform for young designers like myself to open the door to our future and a portal to share our thoughts, visions, dreams, creations, concepts, and products with the forward-thinking, adventurous consumer.

Unfortunately, as society has gone more right and conservative, creative expression is becoming a narrow path, and Barneys was all about the creative, out-of-the-box expression. Much like great art, it is there to make you think, do you like it? or not? and why? Great art can inspire you to search your soul. Barneys was a soul shopping experience, it inspired us to think—to think different, think big, think small things were precious. Thank you, Barneys, for unleashing wild and wonderful creativity—truly inspirational and aspirational. You will be missed.”

Ulrich Lang, Co-Owner, Ulrich Lang New York: “The first time I visited Barneys—then downtown only—was in the late 1980s. Like everybody else, I fell in love with the store immediately and once I started my brand I knew it was Barneys or nothing. We were lucky to work with Barneys for 15 years after they took us on in 2004. Once Barneys selected you, they did not kick you out after a few months—it meant you fit into their carefully edited offering. Barneys helped us build the brand over the years and sent a ‘halo’ effect to international retailers who discovered us through the store and its marketing. But most of all it was about the people—from the buying department to the sales floor to the customers that got us where we are today.”

Mila Moursi, Founder, Mila Moursi Skin Care: “I am still in disbelief that an institution like Barneys New York is actually gone. It has been such a roller coaster and now we know, it’s actually a goodbye. I am pretty sure that other founders and designers feel the same gratitude toward Barneys NY. They have been a great partner and window to the world for me. It was run like a family and that same culture trickled down to the customers that we have built a great relationship with. I am grateful to Mark Lee and Bettina O’Neill for holding my hand and giving me advice any time I needed it.”

Ted Gibson, Celebrity Hairstylist and Owner, Starring Haircare: “My products are sold at Barneys. I wore a shirt this week that I bought at Barneys 15 years ago with one of my celebrity clients. I would go to Barneys to see the latest fashion and beauty. I loved going to Freds to have a great meal with my friends. Unfortunately, these things you don’t have to go to Barneys for anymore. Retail is a destination and that destination has to have something that people need in order for them to leave their house.”

Jin Soon Choi, Creator for JINsoon Nail Lacquer: “It is truly sad that Barneys no longer exits. Barneys was an iconic luxury fashion house that played an important part in the history of New York City for its status as a luxury shopping mecca.  Not only did I enjoy shopping there myself, but I also was never more proud to say that JINsoon Nail Lacquer was sold there. We can only hope that the memory of Barneys will live on forever.”

Fabian Lliguin, Rahua Co-Founder and President: “Barneys New York is our city’s heritage store which has a special place in everyone’s heart for iconic fashion and molding the taste for new generations. Evolution is inevitable and this will be a new time for Barneys New York. We will continue to support and wish them the best of luck and a bright future. Beauty is Power!”

Photo: Barneys via Instagram
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