Barneys Remakes Itself for the New New York

December 17th, 2012

Barbel Schmidt for The New York Times

The new shoe floor of Barneys New York.

The elevator door opened in the Sutton Place penthouse of Richard Perry, the hedge-fund manager, and there he stood in the white foyer wearing a black knit suit whose slumping shoulders made him look like a bony country parson. Perry is a man of meticulous habit, a super-athlete who prides himself on his sophisticated sense of style. He has a closetful of suits by Thom Browne and Lanvin that don’t have shoulders that slant like a roof. This one was a blip of misjudgment. But Perry, no doubt out of devotion to his wife, Lisa, a fashion designer who made the suit in the same double knit she uses for her mod dresses, decided to wear it that night. And it was an evening of some importance, for the Perrys were off to a party at Barneys — their first since Richard bought the renowned specialty store.

Barbel Schmidt for The New York Times

Richard and Lisa Perry in their Pop Art apartment.

“Welcome! Welcome!” he boomed as I stepped off the elevator. A moment later, from the apartment’s depths, Lisa appeared, a small, sunny woman with ageless girl-next-door features and tawny hair cut in a chic mop. Lisa grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago and still retains, after more than 30 years in New York, a Midwestern accent, along with an easy friendliness. She was wearing a yellow-and-gray-print dress of her own design and high heels.

Richard was keen to show me the apartment, which is something else. It is a pure example of the Pop and neo-Pop aesthetics in that everything is magnified and lurid, like the huge Jeff Koons metallic green diamond planted on the terrace, visible from the foyer — and a source of vexation with a neighbor, who claimed the rock emits a laser-strength glare. (Richard dismisses the gripe as baseless.) The apartment is like someone’s idea in 1963 of a home of the future, down to the panoramic curve of the living room, the bottomless whiteness and the oval leather sofa large enough to seat 30. On the walls hang paintings by Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Dine. It’s not a room for relaxing; even trays of hard candies, displayed with absurd precision, seem to treat enjoyment strictly as a still life.

Far from being the white elephant that some supposed when the Perrys bought the penthouse in 2000 for $ 10.9 million (the main drawback was its two ballrooms), the place fed new goals for the couple. Lisa, at one time an abortion-rights advocate and a Democratic fund-raiser (“I really wanted Hillary to be president,” she says, and to illustrate the couple’s regard, a portrait of Hillary by Chuck Close hangs in the apartment), had begun to collect ’60s fashion, like Courrèges. Strangers would often ask her who designed her outfit, she said, and “that’s when the light bulb went off.” By 2007, she was selling Lisa Perry creations at stores like Jeffrey and Bergdorf Goodman. She persuaded artists or their heirs, like Lichtenstein’s widow, Dorothy, to let her reproduce artwork on her designs, for a small percentage of sales (that is then donated to the artist’s cause). But she was bedeviled by the pressures of a small wholesale operation, so she decided to focus just on her shop on Madison Avenue and some kids’ clothes for Barneys. By that time, and perhaps not wholly coincidentally, Richard had bought a large amount of Barneys’ debt. He had also endorsed his wife’s Pop aesthetic, buying all the biggest art guns. It astonished Lisa how far he went. She said: “I was going to do Pop Art lite, I call it — stuff that looked like Pop Art. Warholesque.” She laughed at how this sounded. She said that it was the analyst in her husband that made him want to dig deep, “whether it’s a company, whatever it is.” Before their Pop Art phase, they collected French Empire antiques, and Richard would crawl under tables to see how they were put together. The apartment makes Lisa happy, but she admitted: “I even walk around saying, ‘Do I really live here?’ I did not grow up like this.” Richard described his art foray in candy-store terms, saying he went through a book on Pop Art and said, “I’ll take this, this and this.” But that’s a typical bit of Perry swagger. (If he made the gluttonous “this and this” comment, the art adviser Dominique Levy, who has worked with the Perrys for a decade, said it was not to her, and that Perry pushed to make unexpected choices.)

Richard motioned me over to the window to peer at the green diamond, which would look just dandy on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

He said, “Did you know that Koons considers it a symbol of human creation?”

Lisa laughed tensely. “Richard, I don’t think Jeff meant — ”

Cathy Horyn is the fashion critic for The Times.

Editor: Lauren Kern

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.