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The New York Times just published an extremely lengthy tome on the current makeover/Renaissance happening at Barneys New York. Written by Cathy Horyn, it clocks in at eight pages and encompasses just about everything you might want to know about the reinvention of the department store under the reign of Mark Lee.
However, the story isn't really about Mark Lee at all: It's about Richard Perry, husband to Lisa Perry and whose hedgefund, Perry Capital, acquired Barneys from Istithmar World this May. That means Richard Perry owns Barneys.
Here's what an investor who knows Perry had to say. "He's still the same guy he was 30 years ago. He's smart. He's kind of goofy. He talks too loud, he laughs too loud. He hasn't modulated any of those things, which is likable. He lets his wife enjoy this fantasy existence of a 1960s sensibility. He looks like this uncomfortable person in the middle of this stage set of an apartment. He's been pretty shrewd about the value of art."
Speaking of art, the Perry naturally had a lot to do with those windows this summer that had absolutely zero items of clothing displayed in them. Lisa Perry, arguably known the world over as the queen of Mod, is an art buff herself, and husband Richard is certainly one too. Within the first page of the story, we learn that the terrace at the Perry's penthouse includes a Jeff Koons metallic green diamond that one of their neighbors says "emits a laser-strength glare." (And then we learn that "Richard dismisses the gripe as baseless.")
But despite Perry's ownership of Barneys, he didn't have much to do with the recent renovations. Horyn explains that due to the time frame in which Perry Capital closed on the Barneys deal, "he had no input in this remodel, nor in the new shoe floor that replaced the once-intimate wood-paneled salon." Nevertheless, he seems quite satisfied with the bag department on the main floor. He argues that they deserve to be presented in a "gallery," and adds, "I think bags are the most beautiful art in the market today."
Not everyone is enjoying the makeover, though. Horyn's story includes a lot of input from former Barneys executives and employees, most notably Gene Pressman. His most biting: "Just because somebody goes and builds a big shoe floor, and then the next guy goes and builds a bigger shoe floor, is not reinventing yourself." He also addresses those Lady Gaga windows: "The Barneys customer doesn't want a Lady Gaga Christmas ornament for $50. They don't care. They want beautiful things."
Tim Howe, the visual director of the Chicago store who quit last year, also chimed in, calling the windows "embarrassing" and says, "The beauty of Barneys was that it had a small-store mentality; it was allowed to do things that were different and creative. It was the last holdout."
· What's a Store For? Barneys Remakes Itself for the New New York [NYT]
· All Barnes New York Coverage [Racked NY]