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"Barneys Is My Bodega" and Other Scenes from a Retail Reinvention

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New York magazine's fall fashion issue has a story about the reinvention of Barneys that reads like the moment in a heist movie when the team of experts comes together. The team leader, of course, would be Mark Lee, former Gucci head and new Barneys CEO. Lee has a history with Barneys: Store scion Gene Pressman offered him a job there one Friday 25 years ago, but rescinded it when Lee asked for the weekend to think it over. A quarter of a century later, Lee's running the show. His goal: To steer Barneys away from its whimsical mid-nineties "taste, luxury, humor" ethos and towards a more glamorous, high-luxury feel.

To run women's fashion, Lee brought on Amanda Brooks and former Gucci America president Daniella Vitale. The latter immediately began trying to make the Barneys website match up with the in-store shopping experience. Luxury brands have long worried that e-commerce might downgrade their appeal, but Vitale talked Marni, Balenciaga, and Ralph Lauren (among others) into selling online, and increased web sales 80% in the process. She's also bringing iPads to the first and eighth floors so that people can research their preferred labels and browse the Window as they shop.

Meanwhile, Lee recruited W magazine's Dennis Freedman as creative director. Freedman explains his plan for Barneys thus:

I was talking to [gallerist] Andrea Rosen about it, and she told me that Felix Gonzalez-Torres once said, "Barneys is my bodega," and those words just really resonated with me. This great and powerful artist said "Barneys is my bodega." What could be more inspiring than that? For me, that's my tagline.
In other words, he's all about the high-brow—and also the highly expensive.

It's too early to tell whether this new, more serious Barneys will attract recession-weary shoppers, and New York doesn't try to answer that question. Instead, the story is packed with weird and wonderful details. Did you know that when Barneys womenswear bigwig Julie Gilhart was ousted, she exorcised her demons by burning "25 years' worth of her diaries in a Hawaiian honomopopo ceremony on a Mexican beach"? Did you know that Lee's longtime boyfriend is Ed Filipowski, co-president of major fashion PR house KCD? Did you know that Dennis Freedman's teeth glow in the dark? Seriously, budget some time for this one.
· Barneys’ Fall Line [NYMag]
· Barneys Installs Black Awnings to Announce the Reign of Mark Lee [Racked NY]
· Two Longtime Execs Out at Barneys; Is Simon Doonan Next? [Racked NY]

Ralph Lauren - Rhinelander Mansion

867 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021 Visit Website

Barneys New York, Madison

660 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10065 (212) 826-8900 Visit Website

Barneys New York

660 Madison Avenue, New York NY