Inside Barneys Beverly Hills' Total Transformation (Exclusive Photos)
As the hip retailer transforms its best-selling floors and launches restaurant Freds with an Oct. 15 fete, L.A.'s design luminaries — Jennifer Meyer, Andrea Lieberman and Greg Chait, included — stop by to give props with a photo tour of the retailer's new digs
Ever since Barneys New York swung open its Wilshire doors in 1994, during the dark days when no one in Los Angeles wore black, it has been a haven for chic types who appreciate the curated, cutting-edge delights of everything from the latest Dries Van Noten to Frederic Malle perfume. But this being L.A., 20-year-olds can undergo radical facelifts, which is what the Beverly Hills institution has experienced since makeup began migrating to a shiny new basement in fall 2013.
"The renovation of the Foundation cosmetics level has proved to be very successful," says Barneys COO and senior executive vp Danielle Vitale. "We wanted to ensure that the space allows for a generous shopping environment." Shoes and bags, two of Barneys' briskest sellers, now join jewelry to take up the entire first floor (answering Freud's age-old question, "What does a woman want?"), and the men's fifth floor now is home to Freds, replacing Barney Greengrass (which shuttered in February). Headed by chef Mark Strausman, the restaurant has been spruced up by TriBeCa architect Steven Harris, also responsible for the makeover of Barneys' Madison Avenue emporium. "Steven's residential aesthetic makes both stores feel like living environments," says Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman. "We wanted the Barneys customer to feel at home."
Why the retail refresh? "It was time to share the love with L.A.," says Barneys CEO Mark Lee, after focusing "for the past few years on the renovation of the Madison Avenue flagship. In L.A., we've completed three floors [basement, one and five] and will work on the remaining three [two, three and four] over the next couple of years."
Meanwhile, L.A.-based designers could not be more thrilled about the changes or mindful of the fact that Barneys has been a crucial component of their success. "It didn't change my business — it made my business," says Jennifer Meyer, 37 (Tobey Maguire's wife and daughter of NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer), who launched her delicate jewelry collection in 2006. "Barneys was my first meeting. After they picked me up, I walked in the store and saw they'd created a plaque for the jewelry case and thought, 'I hope I don't disappoint them!' " A.L.C.'s Andrea Lieberman, 46 — a former stylist for Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani whose wearable separates start at $185 — and jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth, 38, also found a retail partner in Barneys. Neuwirth, whose diamond jewelry retails for as much as $32,000, remembers submitting early pieces to the store's New York buyers with a Magic Markered note.
"Everyone said, 'You can't do that!' " she says with a laugh, but "they cared that the jewelry was creative more than [they cared] about the presentation." California Optical's Garrett Leight, 30, didn't even want to launch his first eyewear collection (from $325) in 2011 unless Barneys picked it up. "I just knocked down their door," he says, "and when their checks started coming, it was like they were my investors: I put the money right back into the business." When Barneys buyers spotted people wearing iconic-modern jewelry by Hoorsenbuhs' Robert Keith, 45, and Kether Parker, 43 ($700 to $17,000), they headed straight to where the boys were staying at The Mercer hotel and placed a big order, "cementing the brand," says Keith. Stephanie Danan, 41, and Justin Kern, 34, were both film business professionals (producer and screenwriter, respectively) who decided to create a new collection for working Hollywood women like Danan, who must not be overdressed by day nor underdressed by night. "We did what we need how to do to give a story and emotion to the collection," says Danaan. "We made a film and uploaded it." Within an hour, says Kern, "Style.com called us to ask if Barneys would have our information. They were the first to buy it and they put it on the designer floor, even though we have a more reasonable price point," he points out. "Because they displayed us in this way, the rest of the stores wound up following suit." Adds Danan with a smile, "We're the epitome of the Barneys' story." And high-end cashmere brand (as much as $7,000 for a blanket) The Elder Statesman's Greg Chait, 35, says, "They're one of the only stores in the world that could handle what I do."
Clockwise from seated: Chait, Leight, Parker and Keith
The retailer has seen a lot of action during its two decades, starting with an opening of great fanfare, recalls Barneys creative ambassador Simon Doonan: "For a seated dinner for one night — banquet tables, blazing candelabra, floating orchids, Wolfgang Puck food and celebs-a-go-go — we removed all the fixtures. Ashley Judd, Peggy Moffitt, Anjelica Huston, Demi Moore, Jacqui Getty and [photographer] William Claxton" were there, he adds. "Lyle Lovett performed, and Sharon Stone introduced him." In 2002, says Doonan, "I remember Robert Evans climbing in the street window for a photo op alongside the clothing from his closet that he loaned us in conjunction with The Kid Stays in the Picture."
Doonan also gave up his clothes, for a good cause, in 2010: "It was the launch of Jerry Weintraub's book When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead. He, Bruce Willis and Wolfgang wrote their names on my white Band of Outsiders tux for an auction for amfAR." But Doonan's most vivid Barneys memories might be of the late designer L'Wren Scott: "She attended so many events and always brought glamour and humor. When the goody bags ran out at an Ungaro show — Giambattista Valli was the designer — L'Wren brought the house down by stealing a mannequin. She ran into the elevator carrying it. Hilarious!"
"We're excited to bring Freds' philosophy to L.A.," says executive chef Mark Strausman of the Barneys New York institution that opens to the public in Beverly Hills on Oct. 16. "We expect it will turn into the power-lunch spot that it is in New York." Greatest hits, from the Madison Avenue salad to the robiola with truffle oil, will remain, "but California's healthy lifestyles inspired me," says Strausman of the menu that is a far cry from the bagels of predecessor Barney Greengrass. The 3 to 7 p.m. Sunset Menu features an infused-tea program, juices and Cote d'Azur with crudites. Speaking of sunsets, the terrace views are so breathtaking, you might overlook the chic mod decor.
GANG'S ALL HERE: L.A.'s own design talent photographed at Barneys Beverly Hills on Oct. 2. Back row, from left: Cameron Weiss (Weiss Watch Company), Andrea Lieberman (A.L.C.), Garrett Leight, Justin Kern (CO), Stephanie Danan (CO), Kether Parker (Hoorsenbuhs), Raquel Allegra, Robert Keith (Hoorsenbuhs), Irene Neuwirth, Greg Chait (The Elder Statesman). Seated, from left: Jerry Lorenzo (Fear of God), Rachel Loren (Loren Stewart Jewelry), Jennifer Meyer, Yuki Matsuda (Yuketen)
This story first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.