If there's one thing you can count on in the recent story of Barneys, it's that there will always be bumps in the road. The store has invested a lot its new shoe floor, and it is selling it hard. Barneys is staking a lot on the dramatic, and in some ways radical renovation of its main Madison Avenue flagship and, once again, has devoted its windows to reminding passersby of the new shoe floor in the most extravagant way possible. The centerpiece of the current display is an elaborate installation in the corner window at Madison and 61st Street. Dubbed the "Barneys 500" (pictured above), it consists of shoes zooming around a three-tiered racetrack contraption. Well,when we saw it over the weekend, the shoes were not so much zooming as they were skittering in fits and starts. The whole concept seemed like a set of Hot Wheels made for a foot fetishist that needed a tune-up from the pit-crew. It's an ambitious concept, to be sure, but one that loses something in the execution.
On to the next window, which seemed like a consolation of sorts for customers who miss the exotic fish tanks that until recently graced Barneys main floor. "Swimming With The Louboutins" is exactly what it sounds like, featuring seven Christian Louboutin pumps suspended in a tank as a school of fish flit to and fro among them. Proving that simpler is often better, this is the most successful of the windows, because, let's face it, anyone can be happily mesmerized by a tank of lively fish.
Next, another elaborate mechanical contraption, "Twinkle Toes" features a pair of robot legs in sneakers offering a show every five minutes (at left), and the fourth window offers an old classic, "Count the Shoes", which has the window crammed full of hundreds of black and white Comfort Plus pumps (pictured below) —presumably not available for purchase inside, and, naturally, offering a prize for whoever can deduce the correct number that are piled against the glass. On a recent Saturday afternoon, all four windows were drawing crowds more like what we see at that corner around Christmastime, so they were at the very least doing their jobs.
Not doing its job, so much, is Barneys' Dallas store, which, it was announced yesterday, will be closing next Spring. A longtime criticism of the chain's national expansion has been that its style is better suited to certain parts of the country than than it is to others, and while Barneys has found success in Beverly Hills, Chicago and Seattle, other, more conservative markets have never warmed to Barneys' typically urbane and eclectic taste level the way they might welcome a new Saks, Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus branch. A unit in Houston has already been closed, and the shuttering of the 88,000 square foot NorthPark Center store (near one of Neiman's highest performing locations) reduces Barneys' Texas presence to a pair of Co-op stores in Houston and Austin. On the one hand, cutting losses and closing underperforming units is a crucial part of managing a national chain. On the other, closing the Dallas flagship suggests that the new team at Barneys may not be any more successful at broadening the store's appeal outside certain big city markets than their predecessors.