Barneys New York CEO Mark Lee is a busy man these days. After all, reinventing a world-renown brand is hardly a small task. But this weekend, he made the time to have a few words with us.
Below, Mr. Lee talks about the Barneys world, what makes New York City so fascinating, and what he really wanted to be when he grew up.
* * *
Barneys New York: The whole industry has excitedly watched you assemble your new team. Where would you like to see the brand next year at this time?
Mark Lee: The new team is indeed an exciting group of really talented people. I’m thrilled to be working with them. Together we’ll be working hard to ensure that, day-by-day and month-by-month, Barneys is moving forward with ever-greater style, taste, and surprise at every level. A year from now, we’ll be better and stronger than today — and not as great as we’ll be two years from now. It will be an exciting, constant work in progress.
BNY: What is the Barneys lifestyle?
ML: It’s a modern lifestyle. Urban. Sophisticated. Understated with a sense of the unexpected and discovery.
BNY: You began your fashion career in 1984 as an assistant buyer of European designer collections for Saks Fifth Avenue. Have you always loved fashion? What drew you to the industry initially?
ML: I moved to New York in 1980 with a dream of becoming an actor. But I had always loved fashion also, and I soon realized that in New York one could have an exciting life without necessarily being a movie star. I embraced fashion with full force. I think that, in truth, when I was young I just wanted to be sure that I didn’t end up working at the post office or as a toll collector. What I could never do was something that was always the same. Fashion and retail give you constant change and stimulation.
BNY: What is your earliest fashion memory?
ML: I. Magnin in San Francisco, where I grew up. I was in the store all the time as a child, and eventually sold women’s designer shoes part time when I was still in high school. These were the days of Maud Frizon and Andrea Pfister, among others. They told me at the time that if I could sell women’s shoes, I could do anything.
BNY: Barneys epitomizes New York style. What do you love most about New York City?
ML: I love knowing as I put my head down on my pillow at night that, if I wanted to, I could get up, go outside, and eat any food in the world, speak any language, meet fascinating people. It has energy, international diversity, and culture at your doorstep 24/7. And after having lived and worked abroad and traveled across much of the world, I still love New York City the most.