Originally conceived as a retailer catering to the working class, Barneys has undergone a sophisticated upgrade in merchandise and aesthetics over the years.


Barneys New York can be credited with introducing the overarching term, “shopping experience” into the international lexicon. By mixing elegant with edgy, Barneys has built a lasting reputation for editing its apparel and accessories collections for a market where individual style is affirmed by a Barneys label for both men and women.

In the world of fashion merchandising, Barneys is a rare 95-year-old specialty store survivor. Founded in 1923, when the Chelsea section of downtown Manhattan was a rough-and-tumble mix of small shopkeepers catering primarily to a blue collar and working class neighborhood, Barney Pressman carved a niche. He opened Barney’s Clothes at Seventh Avenue and 17th Street as a destination for popular-priced basic men’s clothing with inventory hung on plain pipe racks and displayed on second-hand tables.

Word of good value clothing for men – and also for women – quickly got around town. Barneys lost its apostrophe and gained a strong regional customer base. A multi-story brick-and-mortar store was constructed to cater to increasing numbers of fashionable shoppers who sought a distinctive option to uptown designer boutiques.

Fred Pressman, son of the founder, viewed Upper Madison Avenue residents as a receptive customer group with the disposable income needed to raise the corporate bottom line. As a result, he launched Barneys on Madison Avenue in 1993. Four years later, he shuttered the Chelsea store, which was first leased to a Loehmann’s and then to the Rubin Museum of Art. Meanwhile, a version of the popular Barneys Coop opened on Atlantic Avenue in ultra-hip Brooklyn in 2010, followed in 2013 with the more designer-influenced Upper West Side store. Back in Chelsea – and in the city’s financial district where empty office towers were being turned into residences – prices were climbing fast in the hot Manhattan real estate market.

All of the lighting is subtle in order to direct the customers’ attention to the merchandise. Handrail coves on the centerpiece staircase are continuously lit by LED tape light.

Barneys management agreed that the store’s clientele now had no hesitation to live and shop downtown, and the decision was made to reopen the Chelsea store. It took on a sleek second life last year.

Steven Harris Architects, an award-winning firm headquartered in New York’s Tribeca section, collaborated with lighting designers at Cooley Monato Studio in downtown Manhattan to create a gleaming, 58,000-sq.-ft., five-level store that expresses its own personality in an environment where the merchandise is the star. Barneys’ creative director, Dennis Freedman, participated in the store’s planning. “It’s a little more loose, a little more funky,” he says, comparing it to Barneys Upper East Side store.

Rather than the ambient glitter of cut glass chandeliers found in many traditional high-end stores, the sparkle at the Chelsea store comes from the reflected light bouncing off highly polished bases of free-form display tables that stand out in relief against a contemporary background of white and pale tones.

“We carried through the Barneys theme of luxury with the selection of architectural materials: mirrored stainless steel columns, marble-lined walls, plush carpeting, and velvet-upholstered seating,” says Freedman. Visually linking each level is a slender corkscrew-like staircase; there are no escalators in sight.

Lighting designer Emily Monato points out the existing conditions around which she and her team began their design program. “Our objective was to allow the spaces to feel open and dynamic,” she states. “We had to take into account large floor expanses, irregular column grids, and low ceiling heights. We undertook a complex study on how to optimize the effect of specifying a minimal number of light fixture locations with LED fixtures to make the settings bright and inviting.”

The number and placement of ceiling apertures, Monato says, is specifically related to each merchandise area, “not tied to a rigid grid, so there is built-in flexibility. They are recessed, regressed, and with the beveled trim, they seem to disappear.”

The colorful mural along the wall inside Fred’s Restaurant appears to “glow” thanks to the illumination provided by concealed lighting fixtures and those accenting the decorative coves on the ceiling.

Custom built-in millwork lighting beamed onto products from close proximity draws customer attention to the glass display cases. Here, continuous linear LED lighting and miniature stem-mounted adjustable accent lights create individual drama for such items as jewelry and watches.

Monato and architect Steven Harris agreed that the staircase would be the store’s centerpiece, with the lighting to be subtly integrated into its sculptural outline. Hand rail coves are continuously lit by low-wattage LED tape light to follow the structure’s defined curves. At every third tread, small low-wattage LED in-grade uplights provide a soft glow to the underside plane, enhancing its swirling contours.

The ceilings on Levels 2 and 3 for men’s and women’s apparel are a design element with curved illuminated free-form coves, echoing the shapes of the ground floor display tables.

“Light from the ceiling’s accent fixtures throughout bounces off the glossy metal table tops,” Monato notes. “Everyone was pleased at the grand opening when they saw the beautiful golden patterns on the ceiling,” she adds.
Fred’s Restaurant on Level 4 extends the store’s ability to communicate a special sense of place initially established on the selling floors. Rosewood feature walls are grazed and highlighted as well as the bar’s vertical surfaces. A 36′-long mural that dominates the room’s long wall is evenly lit from above. Over the dining tables is a free-form lighting fixture that matches those on the lower floors.

The interior designers on the project were from award-winning Rees Roberts + Partners, also located in Tribeca. The design received a 2017 IALD Interior Award of Excellence, with one of the judges noting, “The level of attention to detail, as well as the construction, is impressive, especially on the breathtaking staircase.” Another judge added, “Barneys New York is a beautiful example of elegant simplicity.”