Barneys New York is on track to open its first Arizona store, despite financial problems that have impacted the venerable store along with other high-end retailers.
The company hasn’t set a specific opening date, but remains committed to a fall debut of its 80,000-square-foot store at Scottsdale Fashion Square.
Barneys recently introduced itself to 500 of the Valley’s most well-heeled shoppers, through sponsorship of this year’s Trends Charitable Fund’s annual celebrity luncheon.
The event traditionally draws many of the Valley’s most fashionable women and men, termed “fashionalities” by organizers.
Barneys sent its biggest personality to make the introduction, creative director Simon Doonan, who is in charge of ensuring that Barneys’ image always evokes its mantra of “taste, luxury and humor.”
“We’re a playful brand that takes design very seriously,” said Doonan, who has written four books, writes a newspaper column and regularly appears on network television.
Barneys’ sense of humor and style is manifested in the display windows that Doonan has dressed since joining the company in 1985. Doonan’s windows have become a Barneys’ hallmark, ranging from a scathing portrayal of ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a dominatrix to a more lighthearted Tammy Faye Bakker Messner using a Christmas tree as a mascara brush. This year was a 1960s theme: “Have a hippy Christmas.”
Not so humorous was securities-rating agency Standard & Poor’s double downgrade earlier this month of Barneys’ debt and a warning that without a cash infusion, vendors could tighten credit terms or limit shipments.
Owner Istithmar World Capital, the investment arm of the government of Dubai, came to the retailer’s aid with enough cash to allow Barneys to pay for merchandise shipments for the rest of the year.
“We will continue to monitor the company’s performance but we are confident that no further injection is needed at this time,” Istithmar CEO David Jackson said in a statement.
Istithmar bought Barneys for $942 million from Jones Apparel Group Inc. in 2007, when business was booming for luxury retailers.
That swiftly changed with the recession, which has significantly crimped demand for luxury goods and produced huge sales declines at high-end retailers, prompting speculation Istithmar may try to sell Barneys. Saks saw sales at stores open at least a year fall 23.6 percent in March, while Nordstrom sales fell 13.5 percent at comparable stores that had been open more than a year.
Barneys is privately held and doesn’t regularly report same-store sales.
Barneys was founded by Barney Pressman in 1923, with $500 raised from pawning his wife’s engagement ring. For 50 years, Barneys sold exclusively men’s clothes, but in the 1970s, added women’s wear which now makes up about 60 percent of its inventory. The stores also carry cosmetics, housewares and jewelry.
In the U.S., Barneys operates nine traditional stores, 19 smaller and sportier Barneys Co-Op stores and 13 outlet shops.
While its stores in New York and Los Angeles are the size of traditional department stores, they are more spontaneous and less formulated, Doonan said.
What really sets the stores apart from competitors such as Neiman Marcus and Saks, according to Doonan, is the “edit” or merchandise selection.
Doonan noted the Barneys buyers’ goal is to “exceed the expectations of customers with exceptional and exclusive merchandise.”
“Not everything on the runway looks good,” Doonan said. “Our buyers have fantastic taste and incredible eyes for what does.”
Barneys is known for spotting new trends and has consistently supported emerging designers such as Derek Lam, Trovata and Thom Browne, among many others.
Clothes by designers Giorgio Armani and Miuccia Prada first appeared in the U.S. at Barneys, Doonan said.
Barneys is betting that its sense of humor and eye for fashion will hit a bull’s-eye with Valley shoppers.
Phoenix businesswoman Christine Gustafson, organizer of this year’s Trends luncheon, doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“I can’t see a better up-and-coming shopping area to enter,” she said. “This community always has women who can spend money on the right fashion and the right look.”