So, if you haven't heard, Barneys New York has arranged to focus their Holiday promotion around the still-ubiquitous Lady GaGa. You may be familiar with her. She's this kooky singer...
Anyway, The Shophound is ambivalent about this in much the same way we feel about most of the changes happening at Barneys these days. On the one hand, the former Men's Co-op space on the fifth floor has been impressively outfitted as GaGa's Workshop complete with a series of clever sculptures and installations that turn the place into a wacky Dr. Seuss-ian environment.
On the other hand, it's mostly full of overpriced crap. And we are saying this as someone who generally likes both Barneys and Lady GaGa. We just aren't convinced that they are two great tastes that taste great together.
We refuse to be enchanted by miniature McQueen Armadillo shoes rendered in chocolate if someone thinks that $95 is an appropriate price for perishable foodstuffs. Even if 25% of the price tag is going to GaGa's own charitable foundation, it's still a ridiculous price. You could always argue that luxury stores like Barneys and its ilk are overpriced in general, but, at least most of the time, they genuinely try to justify their high prices by selling special things that justify their steep price tags in some way. Most of what we saw in GaGa's workshop, however, looked like souvenirs that should be sold at a GaGa concert. There are clever items like versions of GaGa's signature hair bow made of hair (around $65) some "cheap" sunglasses $95) and some expensive ones ($295-$465). Well, there was a ton of stuff, really and it included some weirdly, prosaically appealing novelties like a steel Sharpie pen for $18 that could easily be sold anywhere. There was a host of typical gift items like overpriced composition books (the anti-iPads), keychains and wallets. Everything seemed to be touched by shine, glitter or some form of the spiky GaGa workshop logo. The most appealing gift items were a group of plush stuffed monster toys ($48-$95), among the few things offered that we could imagine someone enjoying as more than a stunt gift. Then there were the countless baubles and gewgaws that ranged from interesting to just cheap looking.
The whole endeavor feels like a stunt, however. Barneys will undoubtedly reap the benefit of the enormous amount of publicity the whole promotion has created, but how will it translate into more meaningful business down the line? Contained on its own floor, GaGa's workshop bears little relation to the rest of Barneys as a whole. Even the members of its sales staff, who are way more pierced and mohawked (and young) than even the more daring members of Barneys' regular staff, appear to be specially hired, or more likely cast, for the event. In fact, aside from the Madison Avenue windows (which were not fully completed yesterday), there is little indication that the Holiday season is underway at all in the rest of the store. Having focused all of their attentions on this one project, Barneys has left the rest of its departments entirely bereft of any decorations beyond a few neon signs directing customers to the fifth floor. These signs did not exactly vibe with the elegantly conservative men's main floor department even though its 60th street entrance is graced with the elaborate entrance installation that covers up its display windows entirely. Wandering through the rest of the store, it's hard to imagine that the people who go there to buy their Lanvin, Alaïa and Goyard would really care that much for the glitzy novelty items offered in GaGa's Workshop. What we saw of the windows looked clever, if a bit obvious. Yes, there's an entire window meant to look as if it is made out of hair. It is well executed if not especially unexpected, which pretty much sums up the whole project. It only made us imagine how much fun the now "creative ambassador at large" Simon Doonan could have had with the likes of Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann this year if he were still in charge of the Holiday windows.
While the GaGa department wasn't packed with customers yesterday, we did notice former Barneys chief Gene Pressman looking through the shop. We can only imagine what he may think of all the changes hapening in the store he had such a strong hand in creating a couple of decades ago. On the plus side, the women's side of Barneys' main floor has been completed. We still hate it, but the fishtanks and mosaics in the fine jewelry section have, so far, been left intact, so we haven't lost hope for the place entirely.