TOP OF THE HEAP
You know you’re on the map as a great shopping city when Barneys New York opens its most decadent store in years on your main street.
The influential retailer, famous for its kooky window displays and inspired mix of up-and-coming and established designers, has landed at the new Palazzo Las Vegas hotel and casino, boasting more than 80,000 square feet of men’s and women’s fashion, a collection of commissioned sculptures and decorative artworks and quaint custom furnishings that evoke a kind of “Roman Holiday"/midcentury Italian glamour.
Despite its size, the store harks back to the company’s first retail shop on West 17th Street in New York -- which introduced Barneys’ magical hybrid of exclusive boutique and swanky department store. Although the Beverly Hills location, comparable in size to the new store, feels more like an enormous Saks or a Neiman’s, the Las Vegas store is unmistakably Barneys: intimate and eccentric.
The store anchors the hyper-luxe resort’s collection of high-end stores, the Shoppes at the Palazzo. The shops, which include other Vegas firsts such as Tory Burch, Diane Von Furstenberg, Chloe, Anya Hindmarch and Lambertson Truex, will open over the next few months.
But proof of Barneys’ top-of-the-heap status is everywhere. Though most of the boutiques are tucked into windowless wings of the casino, Barneys boasts its own expansive front window -- and separate entrance -- on the bustling Strip. Signs pointing the way to the hip fashion emporium are visible from virtually every poker table and slot machine. The Palazzo’s developer, the Las Vegas Sands Corp., even extended the gondola-filled Grande Canal in the neighboring Venetian shops up to the new store.
Despite the glitz overload, Barneys was careful to keep its aesthetics decidedly non-Vegas -- striving for a slightly amped-up version of itself (meaning playful mannequin vignettes, free-standing art pieces, custom furnishings and plenty of elbow room).
“We had to make sure we pumped up the volume in terms of design,” said David New, executive vice president of creative services, “make it bigger, splashier and bolder than our stores in Boston or even Dallas.”
Creative director Simon Doonan is quick to point out that boldness of design doesn’t equal mindless decadence. “It’s not that chinchilla bedspread glamour,” he said. “We didn’t do anything goofy like gold faucets. It’s really like a hotel in Capri that’s never been renovated.”
The work of decorative artist John-Paul Philippe, a longtime Barneys collaborator, defines the store’s aesthetic. Philippe’s designs swath everything from the glass-and-paper base of the cosmetics cases to the sculptural ceiling borders to the massive windows overlooking the Strip. There are sections of backlighted glass illuminating paper shapes in sunburst hues, window panes covered in a subtle roulette-table graphic and hanging mixed-metal objets soldered into sun-and-rays shapes.
But Philippe’s pieces aren’t the only works of supreme quirk in the store: There’s a giraffe made entirely of jeans, a sculpture of a horse rendered in heavy silver coat hangers and a series of framed mirrors that artist Carter Kustera printed with silhouetted portraits and sassy phrases such as “Agnieska used to be a cage dancer.”
Of course, fashionistas flock to Barneys for its meticulously curated merchandise -- decadent clothes that don’t make you look as if you’re trying too hard. And the Vegas store doesn’t disappoint.
The first floor is a wonderland of accessories, with miles of jewelry cases filled with conservative gold from Mallary Marks and Jennifer Meyer, antique baubles from Olivia Collings and bold, directional pieces from Abraxas Rex, Tem and Renee Lewis (whose wares take up an entire wall -- and include pendants easily double the size of anything in Beverly Hills).
“We’re expecting a lot of jewelry buyers here,” said Doonan, flashing an apricot-sized gold nugget ring on his hand. “I broke this out to wear in Las Vegas, because it makes sense here. I would feel kind of stupid wearing it in Boston.”
The store stocks a clutch of high-end beauty brands such as YSL and Natura Bisse but has a much more enticing variety of fragrances, including outsized displays for Frederic Malle and Le Labo, which custom-mixes perfumes on the spot, using refrigerated essential oils. The rest of the ground floor is dedicated to all manner of gorgeous handbags.
The store’s second floor houses the spacious shoe salon, where you can test-drive glittery Christian Louboutin stilettos while perched on a fuchsia-and-lime-striped love seat. Steps away is the airy women’s designer collection department -- defined by rack after rack of subtle-but-sublime looks from Vionnet, Martin Grant, Marni, etc. On the same floor are Barneys’ sportier (and cheaper) CO-OP collections.
The third floor, which has a woodsy-with-a-wink vibe with its teak flooring and moose antler-backed chairs, is all menswear, with an emphasis on suiting. “Suits are really big in Vegas,” Doonan said. “I had a hard time with that at first, then I realized it’s because people have time here.” Still, time is relative in Vegas, and the store offers same-day alterations for basic fixes -- so you can make that 9 o’clock dinner at Guy Savoy in dapper new pinstripes. Brands include Etro, Kiton and Gucci.
Doonan, who hosted a cheerful “Pancakes and Fashion” breakfast for the city’s concierges, said Barneys is reaching out to a customer that’s been largely ignored in Las Vegas.
“You think you have to come to Las Vegas and sell butt-crack jeans, but that’s not true anymore,” he said. “People here are ready to embrace a more informed sense of style. We’re bringing Valextra to the showgirls of the world. They’re ready for a more demure look.”