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barneys clothing

Barneys clothing

In 2007, I moved to a 500-square-foot studio apartment in Chelsea not too far from the old Barneys store. The space had become a Loehmann’s, a luxury discount store that suited my needs perfectly. I would spend hours in bad lighting picking through racks for $40 dresses the same way I imagined other, more elegant women would rummage through cardboard boxes at Barneys’ famous warehouse sale to find $800 designer sweaters discounted to $500. I would try on my findings in the shabby Loehmann’s communal dressing rooms, where women of all shapes and sizes and backgrounds competed for mirror space, and I would delight in getting a Loehmann’s receipt that would show me exactly how much money I’d saved off the retail price. By the time Barneys returned to its old Chelsea space for a short run starting in 2016, I was too busy mourning the loss of Loehmann’s to be excited about the homecoming.

Even as I watched the company flounder from afar, Barneys always stood for the kind of glamour I coveted but could never attain. In its heyday, Barneys was, according to New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman, “unabashedly elitist, proudly exclusionary — you got it or you didn’t, and if you didn’t, that was your problem, not theirs — and imbued with an arrogance that, at a certain point, began to chafe.” Who shopped at Barneys? All of the important fashionistas, including the ones on TV: the ladies of Sex and the City, the ladies of Gossip Girl, the cast of Mad Men.
I’ve always been a bargain shopper. When I moved to New York in 2000 I discovered H&M. At the time, fast fashion didn’t mean sweatshop labor and climate damage — it meant that I could find a brand-new sensible office dress for $14.99 and still have enough money to pay for groceries. I thought my penchant for cheap clothing was temporary, that sometime in my 30s, after a decade of working in the corporate world, a switch would flip and suddenly the clothing I saw in fashion magazines would become available to me like a birthright. It hasn’t happened yet.

I want to tell you about how I remember Barneys in its early glory days, all avant-garde charm and quirky excess, but my strongest memory of going with my family as a child had nothing to do with the store: It was the grilled cheese I’d get at the diner next door, whose name has been lost to time. Later, I would read about power lunches that big shots had at Freds, the restaurant named after Barney’s son, and I’m sure the salade Nicoise is great but nothing was better than that diner grilled cheese.
The store continued to grow in cultural cachet in the 1990s. Barney’s grandchildren, my very distant cousins I admire but have never met, were running the store at the time and adding their own personal touches. In a November 2019 article in Vogue, Steff Yotka writes, “More than just a place to discover Rick Owens leather jackets and Proenza Schouler bustiers, Barneys acted as a connective tissue in the New York creative scene. It was where in-the-know people went to shop . more upscale, whimsical, and international.” The store carried unique products that patrons came from all over the world to purchase, with exclusive deals with designers from Christian Louboutin and Azzedine Alaïa to Proenza Schouler, a brand I have only ever shopped when it made a special line for Target.
I do have one great piece of personal trivia that has allowed me to dream big retail dreams, one that I pull out at parties to impress a certain kind of New Yorker. My great-great-uncle — my grandmother’s uncle — was Barney Pressman, the Lower East Side haberdasher who founded the legendary New York department store, Barneys. My great-great-uncle opened his eponymous men’s clothing store in 1923 at 7th Avenue and 17th Street in Chelsea, and over the next decades of the 20th century it would evolve into a worldwide fashion destination.
Saying goodbye to the store that was always out of my reach.
My great-grandfather, Samuel Pressman, was Barney’s brother. When Barney opened the store on 17th Street, Samuel worked there too. Samuel’s Hebrew name was Tomkin Schmuel, so at the store everyone called him Tommy. My mother grew up going from her home in Jersey City to Chelsea to call on her grandfather whenever a man in the family needed a suit. She remembers that, as a child, the store seemed much less intimidating than uptown department stores like Saks.

I have no memories of such lavishness at the store in the 1980s, although 7-year-old me is still mad that she missed Madonna. Barneys may have become a destination of clothing that functioned as art, but for the most part it had nothing to hold the interest of a little girl from suburban New Jersey. We still primarily used Barneys as a place to buy men’s suits. At the time, we had a 15-percent-off family discount. That got us just about nowhere back then, and it was fine when the family discount expired, because 15 percent off of increasingly unaffordable clothes is still unaffordable.

Saying goodbye to the store that was always out of my reach.

Barneys clothing

New York already has its replacements. We visit the heirs apparent.

And wizardry is what I feel at Dover Street Market, each and every time I go, which is why I don’t go more often. To do so would be hopelessly destabilizing to my bank account and my personal silhouette.
It is glitzy and slightly awkward. In its European-ness, it reminds me slightly of 10 Corso Como, which is … still open, I suppose? Tough to say — I haven’t heard that name in years.

The selection is limited and ambitious, and spaced out enough to encourage serious consideration of Marine Serre face masks, or Margiela Tabi shoes, or a patchwork argyle Molly Goddard sweater.
Which is maybe what would happen at the Webster, were it not so narrow. The New York location, which has less flamboyant offerings than the one in Miami, occupies a slender building in SoHo; it’s hard to admire the clothes without being mindful of a wall at your back or side.
And now it’s gone, or receding. Let’s all meet up at the Barneys pop-up inside Saks Fifth Avenue five years hence, likely to be a tiny but glitzy corner featuring cheap logo tees and mugs and a vintage installation of old Barneys house-line clothing curated by Procell.
Sure, there may be no Louis Vuitton or Balenciaga, but the ideas that are animating the makeovers of those brands are happening on a more germinal level.
Kith crashes a Porsche Cayenne into that daydream, gleefully. It is a luxe street wear hub, a nightclub in daylight hours. The clothes are geared toward rappers and the rapper-adjacent. The engines that are powering the shift in high-end men’s wear aesthetics are all emanating from here.

Even though it has been in New York for four years (and in three locations), Totokaelo still feels as if it’s only for people who have the password.

New York already has its replacements. We visit the heirs apparent.