Barneys New York, the iconic department store that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August, has finally released a statement on its financial struggles, and has done it as only Barneys could: with a cheeky new window campaign, “Dear Shopper.” It features mantras “inspired by sensational headlines,” per a press release, such as “BARNEYS TIL I DIE,” “NOT CLOSED,” and “THE EMPEROR HAS CLOTHES.”
The campaign was spearheaded by the store’s creative director, Matthew Mazzucca, in partnership with High Snobiety editor-in-chief Thom Bettrigde and Interview editorial director and Wieden + Kennedy global creative director Richard Turley. (Bettridge was the executive editor at Interview until he decamped for High Snobiety in July. Turley is also a co-creator of Civilization, the avant-garde newspaper that found its way to a Junya Watanabe menswear collection earlier this summer.) “The lens we went into it with,” said Bettridge in a phone interview, “was that Barneys has never been more relatable than it is right now,” explaining that “financial distress is a common American trope.” Turley added that they wanted “to encourage them to be a little bit more vulnerable and out front.”
“It’s been really hard to navigate,” Mazzucca said in a phone interview, of the fracas around Barneys’s financial woes. “We haven’t really had an opportunity to speak for ourselves.” Not only about Barneys’ struggles specifically, he said, but the larger retail environment in New York: “Certainly we’re not the only ones,” he said, who are feeling the pressures of sky-high rent and the dominance of e-commerce. They wanted to explore “what it means for true New Yorkers” that these factors have driven so much change in the city. The campaign came together in about two weeks, arriving just in time for a New York Fashion Week launch.
The Barneys team decided to use the windows rather than a news story because it felt more cohesive. “Putting something in the press, putting [together] something that can be broken apart, doesn’t feel right,” Mazzucca said. “This is something that like, you can’t disassemble and make a different thing out of.”
The corporate big guns, including CEO Daniela Vitale, didn’t need any convincing: “She’s bold,” Mazzucca said, “and thank God for that!”
Plus, it’s, ya know, on brand. Window witticisms have been a Barneys New York signature for decades, a tone long set by creative-ambassador-at-large Simon Doonan. More generally, acerbic but stylish advertising is part of Barneys’ DNA, since it transformed from a discount menswear store into a temple to forward-thinking fashion in the late ’70s. The company put Andy Warhol in commercials in the ’80s, and in the ’90s, creative director Glenn O’Brien (himself an Interview alum) put the season’s best fashion into painted advertisements by Jean-Philippe Delhomme, complete with dry creative upper-class ripostes: “Ruth had multiple personalities. They all had credit cards.”