For fashion’s sake

As Barneys returns Downtown with new store, LLNYC scouts its unusual offerings

Barneys’ new Downtown store (Photography Credit: Scott Frances)
Barneys’ new Downtown store (Photography Credit: Scott Frances)

Where is the Rag & Bone?” A customer trying on shoes asked a sales clerk at the new Barneys store on 17th Street and Seventh Avenue. “I don’t think we have any,” the sales clerk answered in a perky tone. “We’re experimenting with what we stock now; we might change things around.” In other words, if you want Rag & Bone, you’d better head Uptown.

For now, this new Barneys store — right around the corner from its original location on 17th Street (currently occupied by the Rubin museum)—noticeably lacks easy-to-sell “it” pieces and focuses instead on more unusual items from both well-known and smaller designers. You can buy Proenza Schouler here, but not its trendy PS1 bag.

This is not to say the store doesn’t stock popular pieces — you just have to look harder to find them. On the second floor, I spotted a display of the much-coveted Mansur Gavriel bucket bags ($595), wearable Chanel flats in tufted leather ($750) and the beloved Acne oversized motorcycle jacket in black shearling ($2,800).

For the most part, though, these items are exceptions. The first floor of the store, which holds most of the accessories, is a bright and gallery-like space. I loved a super smooth satchel bag from hipper-than-thou Byredo in green ($2,200). A crossbody bag from Loewe in the shape of an elephant was a magnet for street-style stars ($1,150). 

If you want Rag & Bone and other popular brands, you better head Uptown.

Go down the immense marble spiral staircase in the middle of the store to the makeup department. There you can sniff scents in a fragrance column (a glass tube that filters out any contaminating smells) from Frederic Malle and rub a 24-karat gold face massaging stick on your skin from the Japanese skincare line Tatcha ($195).

On the second and third floors, men and women’s clothing is crammed together with not much of a common theme; on offer were an Alaïa pony hair coat ($12,390) and gold pointy men’s boots from Saint Laurent ($895).

A lot of the clothes are outrageous and maybe even a little silly, but the store’s focus on fashion for fashion’s sake is a refreshing change from the stagnant luxury retail scene in New York. Without distraction from trendy items, I could focus on the clothes and consider their merits. Sophia Kah may not be well known, but its lace dresses are so lovely I would wear one to my wedding. And they must be cool; they’re at Barneys.

That’s enough context for me, but the question is whether Barneys’ cachet will be enough to draw other customers without the trendy staples, or will it succumb to the easy money Rag & Bone provides.

Only time will tell. As I was leaving, I passed the Mansur Gavriel bags; a swarm of Asian tourists were modeling them in the mirror. Something tells me those bags will soon be long gone.