Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Barneys CEO: ‘Single digits’ the new black

March 20, 2008

The U.S. economy’s funk is felt even in the luxury temples of fashion, the CEO of Barneys New York says.

 ”The economic downturn, unfortunately, is going to affect everybody,” Chief Executive Howard Socol told Reuters at the cocktail party launch of Donatella Versace’s menswear line at the Barneys New York store at 61st and Madison.

Known for cutting-edge fashion, Barneys is the first department store to exclusively offer Versace’s menswear 2008 collection. Previously, the line was available only in Versace boutiques.

 ”For 4-1/2 years, we’ve been in the mega-double digits,” Socol said, referring to percentage gains in sales growth. “Now we’re happy with single digits.”

The price of gasoline may not affect Barneys customers, he said. But even fashionistas will spend more carefully when the stock market is rocky, Wall Street lays off droves of people  and the national debate is over whether the U.S. economy has entered a recession.

 That’s where Barneys’ ability to lure top designers like Donatella Versace could work some retail magic. Ditto for creating buzz.

 The paparrazzi swarmed the store’s Madison Avenue entrance on Tuesday night when Donatella — in a tight black leather dress and dangerously high heels — vogued and vamped in the windows showcasing her clothes. 

 When asked about life under the new owner Istithmar, a Dubai-based investment company, Socol said, “It’s not been that different than when we were under Jones. They let us do our own thing. They let Barneys be Barneys.”

 As for the designer herself, Donatella Versace took a minute during the cocktail party to talk about why she chose Barneys for the department store launch of her menswear line.

“I always come to Barneys to shop. I love this store, especially the beauty department,” she said over the din of rock and roll spun by DJ Kiss on Barney’s third floor. “Everything at Barneys is unique.” 

(Photo courtesty of Versace)

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