A Visual History of Barneys New York

Published November 30, 2016

There is perhaps no retailer as synonymous with the New York City as Barneys New York. In its 93-year history, the department store has evolved its brand from a discount seller of men’s suits to an iconic cultural institution on the pulse of New York City’s rapidly changing fashion, art, and culture. Now, for the first time, Barneys’ legacy is getting the retrospective treatment in book format. Published by Rizzoli and designed by Sagmeister & Walsh, BARNEYS NEW YORK is a visual compilation of advertisements, campaigns, events, and window displays selected by Barneys Creative Director Dennis Freedman and edited by Interview‘s own Editor at Large Christopher Bollen. Naturally, condensing Barneys’ vast archival content was no easy task: “It was a difficult edit,” Freedman tells us. “Our intention was to show as much diversity as possible. The range of artists and photographers who worked for Barneys over the years was extraordinary: David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Alex Katz, Steven Meisel—just to name a few.”

Rather than a traditional written, chronological account of Barneys’ history, BARNEYS NEW YORK is a “wallpaper” style mix of images, feature pieces (like “When Barneys Dropped the Apostrophe”), and quotes from fashion luminaries and style icons like David Bowie, Giorgio Armani, and Sarah Jessica Parker. There are even recipes from the legendary Barneys restaurant Freds included among the pages. “Having all of these images allowed us to create dynamic and unexpected juxtapositions. There is one spread that shows a limited edition watch by Cindy Sherman opposite an early newspaper ad featuring Apollonia van Ravenstein and Andy Warhol in a formal tuxedo,” Freeman explains.

Scouring the archives, Freedman shares that he was particularly struck by the transformation that Barneys underwent in the ’70s, largely thanks to ad-man Jack Byrne: “Through clever, witty, and intelligent newspaper ads and television commercials, he overhauled the reputation of the store from a place to find bargains to a luxury store that sold the most expensive and chic fashion brands.” Freedman also emphasizes the close rapport between Barneys and New York City throughout the years, citing an emblematic 1970 New York Times interview between then-chairman Fred Pressman and former NYC mayor John Lindsay: “There is a great quote from Fred: ‘We feel the newness of New York practically every day. This is the city. People come here and quickly become city people—more sophisticated, more exciting to know. That’s why we’re here too. To be close to the center, not only of fashion, but of art, theatre, politics, international finance, science, publishing, communications—all of the things that go into making vital people.'”

BARNEYS NEW YORK is available in a trade edition and limited edition, the latter of which features a molded, three-dimensional cover. “We wanted to do something out of the box,” says Freedman. “In the end, we decided to go with a bit-mapped capital B as a way of acknowledging the digital age that we now live in—and of course it’s in iconic Barneys Black.”

BARNEYS NEW YORK (RIZZOLI) IS OUT NOW.