From discount men’s clothing store in 1923 to highly coveted designer show room haven, the rise and fall of New York’s favorite department store is one of extreme lows and extreme highs.
In 1923, Barneys was founded by Barney Pressman. Pressman sold his wife’s engagement ring for cash and set up shop in a 500-square-foot building on 7th Avenue. In the 1930’s Barneys became the first Manhattan clothing company to advertise via radio and television. For the next three decades, Barneys remained a popular and well respected men’s discount clothing store.
Then – things got a little shook up.
Fred Pressman, the son of Barney Pressman, inherited Barneys and enlisted the help of fashion designers Hubert De Givenchy and Pierre Cardin to transform Barney’s from men’s discount superstore to men’s designer department store.
By the 1970’s Barneys was a full on high end retailer of men’s clothing. Fred Pressman then appointed his sons Gene and Bob to establish a women’s department at Barneys in order to get more business.
In 1986 Barneys opened it’s first women’s store, which became an instant success.
By the 1990’s Barneys was ready for international expansion, starting with stores across the US and Japan. In 1993, Barneys opened it’s world famous New York location on Madison Avenue, boasting 230,000-square-feet.
However, the 1990’s is also when things started to go downhill for the luxury retail giant. Closing a store in Cleveland and opening its first “Barneys Warehouse” were the first telltale signs that the retailer was struggling. Soon, many vendors refused to sell to Barneys because of their history of late payments and the debit collectors came knocking.
While all of this financial hardship occurred in the background, the Pressman brothers continued to hold lavish parties and flaunt their business. The Pressman brothers even went as far as attending a holiday party in 1995 where they told everyone in attendance that Barneys was thriving – when only a few days prior they had made the decision to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy, “if necessary”.
As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, Barneys three largest flagship locations were given to Isetan – Barneys financial partner. As Barneys struggled to find their place in a quickly evolving marketplace, leadership was passed around. Truly, no one was ever able to make up for the time Barneys had lost on getting ahead of e-commerce. The retailer continued to struggle through the early 2000’s and throughout the 2010’s until ultimately filing for Bankruptcy in August of 2019.
Now, Authentic Brands Group has placed a bid for $270 million to buy Barneys out of bankruptcy, and if they get their way, you’ll be seeing a lot more of Barneys – and they’ll be inside Saks 5th Avenue.
What the future holds for Barneys is unclear – however whatever happens – we’re holding strong on Barneys Till I’m Dead.