How Barneys went bankrupt, and what's next

The rotating doors still circle, the greetings still greet, but the mood at Barneys is glum. The department store – where Andy Warhol and Carrie Bradshaw both traded – is in bankruptcy, the future is uncertain. It has been actively searching for buyers, and on Thursday night, after a week of speculation about competing bids, a potential winner emerged: Authentic Brands Group, a licensing firm that controls, among others, Juicy Couture and Nautica, which announced that they will purchase intellectual property rights for Barney's New York, pending approval by a US bankruptcy court, and will license it to Saks Fifth Avenue, once Barney's # 39 competitor. But this may not be the final word. Bidders, including a group of investors led by trade show owner Sam Ben-Avraham, wanted to attend the hearing on October 31 to try again.

How did we get here? Once upon a time, Barneys was short on a kind of refinement that didn't take itself too seriously, a place where New Yorkers would go for decades to seek solace or celebration in spending, to buy Alaïa or Dries (even if you need to more than a simple name for both, you were probably in the wrong place). At the moment there is a cautionary tale, a New York treasure that was managed and exaggerated, flattened and floated on hedge fund dollars. Days before bids were posted to determine the company's ownership, the Madison Avenue location was not empty, but shoppers were milling, tourists and artists and vacant rooms – see, it's Met-bound countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo surfing sunglasses with his mother ! – tempted under a cloud. What will happen? Some were heard to say. And, a little more cleverly, If Barneys goes down, is something on sale?

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