NEW YORK — After three months of drama, Barneys New York (“Barneys”) has been sold to Authentic Brands Group (“ABG”) for US$271.4MM. ABG partnered with B. Riley Financial, specifically seeking out Barneys’s intellectual property and assets.
Most of Barneys’s brick and mortar will close, aside from its Madison Avenue flagship, which ABG will keep open as an experiential pop-up. In addition, the Barneys name will transfer to its competitor, Saks Fifth Avenue (“Saks”), in the form of shop-in-shops inside Saks locations.
ABG is a brand management company better considered a “brand hospital.” It purchases once-successful, but now-distressed brands, dusts off and repositions them, and subsequently profits off of their previous brand recognition. ABG owns more than 50 brands, including Juicy Couture and Nautica, as well as the likeness rights and/or estates to some celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe.
ABG’s stalking-horse bid was pre-approved for closing in bankruptcy court in Poughkeepsie on Thursday morning. Desperate discussions went through the night about a potential white knight, but on Friday morning, the original deal closed.
Sam Ben-Avraham, Kith investor, created a “Save Barneys” campaign, pooling capital from several fashion retail veterans, including Andrew Rosen, Intermix founder Khajak Keledjian, and billionaire investor and previous Barneys stakeholder, Ron Burkle. Ultimately, all bowed out.
“After two months of working around the clock, my team and I had to make the hardest decision we could have imagined: to pull out of the race and not go to court this morning,” Ben-Avraham said in an Instagram post on Friday. “Unfortunately, we failed to convince enough people in the business community that it made economic sense to keep Barneys alive.”
David Jackson, the former chief executive of Istithmar World, which controlled Barneys from 2007 to 2012, was also in the running to buy the department store on behalf of the Saudi Arabia-based fragrance company Arabian Oud.
Jackson supposedly said through text message on Thursday afternoon, “haven’t slept since Tuesday,” amid his continued efforts to put together a bid.
One vendor who owns a fashion label, but did not want her name to be used, has sold her products in Barneys for fifteen years. She believes the retailer, once synonymous with a quiet kind of Manhattan chic, lost its point of view and became too homogeneous with other department stores.
Specifically, Barneys was known for introducing emerging brands into the U.S. luxury space. “There’s no novelty, no interesting experience anymore,” the vendor said. “Barneys buyers dared to take the time to go and find artisans in Europe and Japan, but now it carries the same brands everyone else has. They don’t need to come here, they can stay at home and Google to find what they need.”
Barneys filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in August, after losing a rent dispute with flagship landlord, Ben Ashkenazy. The arbitration ruling resulted in a 72 percent hike in rent, from US$16.2MM annually to US$27.9MM, which went into effect in January.
The store’s issues ran deeper than real estate, though. Years of lagging sales thanks to stiff competition from e-commerce upstarts helped push Barneys into the red. It’s not the only retailer to suffer due to shifting consumer behaviour: Lord & Taylor closed a number of stores earlier this year, including its Fifth Avenue flagship, and L Brands shuttered Henri Bendel in September 2018. Some industry voices point to the inevitability of Barneys’s demise based on the challenges facing the traditional multi-brand retail business model.
“Barneys has always been very much a fashion-forward niche player that has a good customer base, but the places and availability of product has changed,” said Steve Sadove, the former CEO and chairman of Saks. “You have so many more brands themselves competing against Barneys, and consumers also have access to digital shops like Net-a-Porter.”
“This is a long time coming,” he said.
Barneys began its sales, which AMG chairman Jamie Salter called “transition sales” or “non-store-closing sales” instead of liquidation sales. However, these sales are five to ten percent off, not accounting for much savings.
Barneys’s most loyal customers will have first access to another sale — presumably more than five to ten percent off — with a representative from Great American Group, the liquidation specialists running the sales stating, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for its most loyal customers to buy items that rarely go on sale at markdown prices.” It’s unclear when the sale will be available to the public.
When visiting Barneys’ e-commerce site, customers are greeted with the header, “All Sales Final.” The page explains that items purchased prior to 1 November can be returned no later than 7 November, that any purchase made after 31 October can be returned no later than 15 November, and that purchases made after 15 November will be final sale.
Customers with Barneys gift cards have until 7 November to use the credit.
While the Barneys liquidation sale will run through February, the retailer expects to sell through much of its inventory through the holiday shopping season.
Timeless Trademark ™ will be updated as more information is revealed on the Barneys liquidation sale.