BUSINESS If They Can Make It Here…

Will the minimalist chic of New York’s Barneys translate to froufrou Dallas?

ANNE BALL, GENERAL MERCHANDISE

manager and a voice in the national expansion of Barneys New York, doesn’t wear the Dallas look but claims to know it intimately. Sitting in the stark and expensive café in Barneys1 showcase store in the gritty Chelsea section of Manhattan, sporting an androgynous close-cropped haircut and a severely plain olive corduroy blouse, she expounds on retailing in Dallas, where this summer Barneys made Us most flamboyant move outside New York.

“Dallasites are interested in fashion, and they’re eager to reflect themselves. But there’s a tremendous concern for propriety and what’s appropriate in Dallas. What’s appropriate there are intense colors and fabrics that are ultimately luxurious, like cashmere and gold. It’s a deluxe kind of place with a singular style,” she says.

Yet the new store, a blending of dark woods and gray, cream, and maroon rugs in the NorthPark space vacated by Frost Bros., hardly reflects Ball’s idea of the Dallas sensibility. Severe clothes and accessories-like tubular wine-colored wool dresses and granny-style sunglasses-abound. “We’re really the alternative to the prevailing force,” Ball explains. “There will be an audience for us to develop. It will be people whose wardrobes are less concerned with fashion and more concerned with style.”

Whether the Dallas store succeeds is important to the coffers of the New York Pressman family, which has led the sixty-six-year-old Barneys through a monumental metamorphosis over the past decade. It is likely even more important to Ball and her husband, Frank. A former North Dallas resident and Greenhill School mother, Anne worked for seventeen years as a merchandiser at Neiman Marcus. Then she and Frank started the Ball Group, a retail management agency. In 1986 they went to Denver to set up an Au Printemps department store. The venture failed, and the Balls returned to Dallas to run The Crescent’s Stanley Korshak for its owner, Rosewood Corp. Rosewood let them go after a year, in May of 1988. Now both Balls work for Barneys-Frank is senior vice president for sales and operations-and they live in Greenwich Village.

Some observers say Barneys’ chances at NorthPark are good. “Once the shoppers in Dallas come to know street-smart dressing, they’ll understand Barneys,” says Jack Levy Jr., a former Dallas retailer who now lives in New York, where he buys for Cashmere Cashmere stores. “One of the jobs of a good fashion-forward retailer is to teach consumers what they need, not just give them what they want.”

But one established Dallas couture retailer sees no market for Barneys’ goods. “It will not go over. It’s too avant-garde, and very expensive for that look. Girls who want that look can’t afford $600 for a pair of leggings ” says the retailer, who requested anonymity. (Barneys is anything but cheap, with goods like an Armani jacket for $2,125 and a $400 simple, tiny leather handbag.)

The NorthPark store is Barneys’ largest and most comprehensive yet. The other stores-in three exclusive New York suburban locations, a Boston area mall, a Seattle mall, and an Orange County, California, mall-contain only 8,000 square feet. The Dallas store is bigger-by 11,000 square feet. Unlike the others, it includes a Chelsea Passage gift shop, a Roger Thompson hair salon, a full collection of designer men’s clothes, and Piccola Cucina, a restaurant operated and partly owned by Pino Luongo, proprietor of New York’s trendy Le Madri.

Featured in the Dallas store are the work of young design houses, like Basco and Gordon Henderson, as well as “edited” versions of the collections of high-ticket designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, Romeo Gigli, and Alaia. Included too are pieces from Barneys’ decidedly urban and tailored private collection. Clothes from widely distributed designers tike Anne Klein and Calvin Klein have been left out.

Why Dallas for this experiment in spreading the gospel of New York fashion, where black seems to be the staple of every wardrobe? “It’s an important retail market in the country, with all levels of stylish retailers, from Macy’s to Neiman’s to Lou Lattimore,” Ball says. “People are comfortable shopping at many different levels of stores. Besides, I think the city likes new things. It’s bored with bad times and recession. Nothing has opened for a few years. It wants to resume being vibrant.”

Yet one New York institution, Blooming-dale’s, recently closed its Dallas store. Observers of the retail scene said surly, unhelpful New York-style sales help hastened its demise. “We were raised on Stanley Marcus service,” quips Gazebo owner (and Barneys competitor) Shelle Bagot. Ball is quick to say the NorthPark staff has been trained to be especially attentive. By all accounts it is.

Barneys is often thronged, but the question is whether it’s by lookers or shoppers. Stephanie Jams, a transplanted Indianian who is a direct mail executive at Rapp Collins Marcoa, enjoyed browsing, and that’s about it. “It’s not a place where things fit into your normal wardrobe. Maybe I could find a silk blouse or something. But I couldn’t wear most of their clothes to work, and I’m in advertising, which is a bit more liberal,” she says. “Barneys might appeal to the Deep Ellum set. But those skinny nineteen-year-olds can’t afford Barneys. They go to the Deep Ellum shops.” She adds that in Dallas, an automobile city, getting to work and about town is not so tough that “industrial looking” clothes are necessary.

But her friend Melanie Peskett, who grew up in Highland Park and is accustomed to buying clothes in Paris, has a completely different take. “I’ve been crying for a store like this,” says Peskett. “I know the clothes this year are somewhat masculine-looking and somber. Dallas people don’t like that. But it’s a place where I’d spend a lot of money. I don’t want a Barneys charge card!”

At this point, Peskett could be in the minority when it comes to Barneys’ clothes. But there’s some evidence that traditional Dallas dressers could come around to the Barneys look. Roger Thompson, former creative director of Vidal Sassoon in England and operator of the Barneys hair salons that bear his name, says he saw women trading in their complicated Dallas hairdos while he was in town in September training hairstylists. “We’ve turned some real heavy dos with a lot of hairspray standing six inches oft the head into simple, basic little haircuts,” says Thompson.

But even if all of Dallas doesn’t comearound to the Barneys way, chances are thestore is here to stay for some time. If there’sone thing the Pressmans have, it’s the ability to last. Hence the comment from one NewYork real estate executive formerly associated with Barneys: “If their mix turns out tobe too avant-garde in Dallas, they’ll tone itdown. They’re there to make money, notteach fashion lessons.”

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