A couple weeks ago, Amelia had the pleasure of sitting down with the legendary Simon Doonan on the patio overlooking Oak Street at Fred’s at Barney’s New York. Simon, a window dresser, turned Barney’s Creative Director, turned global fashion icon and ambassador, was in Chicago as part of the book tour for his sixth book, The Asylum: A collage of couture reminiscences…and hysteria. You can read the first part of the interview here, and without further ado, here is the second installation of our chat with Simon Doonan…
How has online shopping changed the relationship between retailers, such as Barney’s, and customers?
I think actually our customers at Barney’s love our website, but in a funny way, as much as they might use the website it’s given them a new appreciation of the store experience and how much fun it is to walk into a store and see all sorts of people. That’s the thing that’s so incredible about Barney’s all the most interesting people shop at Barney’s and you get to see the best edit of international fashion. So those two things, seeing and visually touching the edit, and then seeing all these interesting people because from architects to actresses, to makeup artists to sports figures all the noteworthy people shop at Barney’s in any given city. I always tell hotel concierge you can send your customers to Barney’s and they’ll see all the most interesting people.
How has e-commerce changed the way Barney’s buyers operate?
Well the buyers’ job has gotten a lot more complicated. The website is phenomenally successful and it’s a whole other store that you have to think about and buy for. It has its own idiosyncrasies just like any store. For instance, Chicago you have to make sure you have plenty of coats, and the website has its own idiosyncrasies, but the buyers know what they’re doing. A lot of them, like me, have been with the company for a long time, and then we have the new vision of Daniella Vitale and Mark Lee.
What is most important to the Barney’s buyers? What do they look for first? For example, the exclusivity of a brand, or the potential longevity of a brand?
Mark Lee, Daniella Vitale, and Tom Kalenderian, they want it all! They want the best product, the most luxurious product, the most exclusive product. Barney’s has always been a merchant driven company, and they’re like scientists or rather archeologists they really look and look and look, and find amazing things. Everything from Shinola, which we had first, the watch line from Detroit, to Sacia to… well the history of Barney’s is a history of exclusives… We had Armani first, Zegna, and Prada, all those. Jil Sander. Everything gets launched here. Dries Van. It all gets its launching pad at Barney’s.
What designers have specifically caught your eye at the moment?
There are so many interesting ones. Celine is fantastic. Thom Browne. Saint Laurent. There’s a lot of new energy this season. It’s a great season!
How have you seen New York Fashion Week evolve over the years? What was the mood and scene this year from your point of view?
I’m spoiled because I went to fashion shows when they lasted an hour, like Vivianne Westwood, and Jean Paul Gaultier in the 90’s. John Galliano. Alexander McQueen. I write about that in my book. Back then shows were full of surprises and they were a lot longer. They were very creatively driven. Now, there’s a lot more shows so designers can’t indulge themselves in that way anymore, they have to sort of get on with it. There’s an emphasis on efficiency, so a little bit of that whimsy has been lost where models forget where they were, or would fall over, or would sit down in the front row, or editors would reach out to grab the fabric and the model couldn’t move forward. There was an informality to it, and not it’s more systematized because it has to be. The fashion landscape is now more vast. It’s an exercise in efficiency. There’s a lot of creative innovation, you just have to recognize that it’s in amongst a lot of product.
What shows did you enjoy most this year?
I only went to about 10 shows. I tend to go to the ones that are Barney’s favorites like Proenza Schouler, Narciso Rodriguez, Prabal Gurung. I go to the ones that are important to Barney’s plus a lot of them are my friends and they’d be upset if I didn’t go. For instance Alexander Wang is a good friend. So I don’t know if I’m qualified to give an overall assessment, but I can say this… there are a lot of people complaining about the hoopla, and it’s definitely become a whole other spectator sport. The sense that it’s a trade show has disappeared completely, and it’s like a Mardi of … it’s like Day of the Locust with a million hangers on trying to get discovered outside the gates of paramount studios. But the whole thing of street fashion, and people dressing up to go to the shows, I enjoy that because it’s fun, it’s silly, why not? It’s pretty benign. Fashion exhibitionism is important. I could do without a million people handling me, I have to just remember that I’m an ambassador and be very gracious and charming, try to be helpful. You have to recognize that if you’ve been in this business for a long time you’re in a position of privilege and you have to be nice to people. Quite frankly, I never got anywhere in life by ambushing people in the street, but people give it a go, and it’s America, why not? You can’t admonish people, you start to sound like an old fart.
Who should be sitting in the front row?
The buyers! The retailers. In the old days, shows were on one side le client, the client, at Parisian shows, and the other side was stores, and then the press was all jammed in at the end. There would be important editors there too, but they certainly weren’t more important than le client! Now, le client isn’t there at all, the press is in the second row, and the bloggers are in the first row. So it’s kind of a bit loopy. There’s a sort of fetishizing of the blogesphere that’s kind of hilarious and fun but it is a bit strange when I see our buyers who are very, very knowledgable and very senior in the business and have an incredible lexicon of knowledge in their head, and one of them might be in the second row. That’s a bit galling!
If you’ve ever wondered how Simon and his husband Jonathan Adler make their marriage work, or what Anna Wintour is really like… stay tuned for Part III of the interview coming soon!
[Photos By Hallie Duesenberg]