Why Barneys’ high-end head shop may be the future of cannabis-related retail
The new high-end head-shop concept that opened inside Barneys New York’s Beverly Hills flagship last month is about more than $950 blown-glass bongs, $1,575 herb grinders and a concierge to help you order THC-containing vaporizer pens and pastilles for home delivery. It’s a high-profile harbinger of where cannabis-related retail — and most likely the luxury department store space — is headed in the era of legal marijuana.
The 300-square-foot space that opened March 21 on the fifth floor of the department store at 9570 Wilshire Blvd. — it’s dubbed the High End — is elegantly appointed and stocked with a range of upscale smoking accessories such as hand-crafted stash jars from Siemon & Salazar; imported French rolling papers by Devambez (a gift set, complete with matchbooks, rolling tray and vermeil joint-packing tamper, will set you back a cool $8,850); functional jewelry (necklaces from Good Art Hlywd that double as vape-pen lanyards and a lip-shaped Carole Shashona ring that converts into a stylish joint holder); hemp-derived CBD beauty and wellness products; and an assortment of vintage Hermès and Gucci ashtrays.
Most notably, it also features an on-site representative from Beboe, the Los Angeles-based luxury-level cannabis brand and partner on the project. That person will explain the company’s products to the canna-curious and help him or her place an order for home delivery. (And no, you can’t use your Barneys credit card — we made sure to ask — because the orders are actually placed through a third-party delivery service called Emjay, which launched in L.A. with the Barneys/Beboe partnership.)
Retail focused on the discerning dope-dabbler demographic has been part of the Southern California landscape for a while. Mister Green — an East Hollywood boutique where $319 vintage Tiffany Elsa Peretti lighters, $95 crystal-shaped ceramic pipes and $149 bottles of Hippie … fragrance sit cheek by jowl with coffee mugs and Nalgene water bottles emblazoned with the words “bong water” — opened two years ago this month. Then there’s Higher Standards, an elevated take on the traditional head shop that opened in New York’s Chelsea Market in late 2017 and recently opened its third in-dispensary pop-up shop in the Los Angeles area, offering a tightly edited mix of smoking accessories and gifts ($379 USB-powered dab rigs, $128 joint-rolling machines and $98 Jonathan Adler jars labeled “ganja” among them).
Catering to the well-heeled, deep-pocketed, luxury-loving cannabis consumer at the major department-store level in California and elsewhere is novel — and symbolically important.
Non-medical cannabis use has been legal here since the November 2016 passage of Proposition 64 (it remains illegal under federal law), and a January forecast by New Frontier Data projects that total statewide cannabis sales — estimated at $2.5 billion in 2018 — will nearly double (to $4.9 billion) by 2025.
That means high-profile efforts like Barneys’ are likely to cause a retail and cultural ripple effect. After all, that’s essentially what happened in with dispensaries. When MedMen made them a brightly lit, inviting sea of blond wood more like Starbucks than the dicey dope dens of old, it was front-page news. And today, that look is more the norm than the exception.
To that end, the postage-stamp-sized spot on the top floor of Barneys is an elegantly appointed space that takes inspiration from the work of Richard Neutra and Paul Fortune, with a warm olive green and autumn-leaf brown color palette with marble accents, custom-crafted display cases and meticulously placed merchandise. At first glance the space could easily be mistaken for a shoe salon, but for the row of smoke-gray blown-glass Caleb Siemon bongs standing at attention along the top shelf.
On a pre-opening tour of the space, Barneys’ New York-based creative director Matthew Mazzucca explained that the seed of the idea was planted last year when he was spending a lot of time in Los Angeles. (Recreational cannabis is currently illegal in New York.)
“I noticed that many of my friends, whether they personally engaged in cannabis or not, were starting to curate their homes” to be cannabis-friendly, he said. “This one super-chic woman I know — her house has this beautiful Paul Fortune kind of interior, and on her table was a tray with an Hermès ashtray, three jars of weed, two pipes and all that stuff. I said, ‘You don’t even smoke pot.’ And she said, ‘But I always have guests that do,’ and that was sort of the trigger for me. I really wanted to address this cultural shift that’s happening.”
Scott Campbell, celebrity tattoo artist and co-founder of Beboe (which he launched in 2017 with fashion industry veteran Clement Kwan), described the dedicated space at Barneys as a “coming-out party for cannabis.”
“I grew up in Texas and Louisiana, where possession of the smallest amount of marijuana is a felony offense, and I remember getting pulled over by a cop in Texas one time and basically having to eat all the roaches out of the ashtray before the cop got to my window,” he said. “So, to go from that to having this beautiful installation in a top-tier retail experience makes me excited to just be a part of that movement.”
Campbell thinks the High End is as big a game-changer for luxury department stores as it is for cannabis culture. “It’s basically announcing that luxury retail culture can participate in cannabis culture and vice versa,” he said. “It signifies that cannabis doesn’t have to hide under the rug anymore and that retail can participate in this culture that’s been there all along but just couldn’t outwardly acknowledge. … This is definitely just the door cracking open. It opens up so many possibilities of where it could go from here.”
Although Mazzucca was bullish on expanding the High End to additional Barneys locations — that was even before the Beverly Hills space was up and running — the bigger question is whether or when other major department stores might enter the arena, especially given that current legalization efforts in New York and Rhode Island may add to the number of U.S. states (currently 10) where adult-use recreational cannabis is legal.
Representatives for Canadian retail group Hudson’s Bay Co., which owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, declined to comment, and a representative for Nordstrom said cannabis-related accessories were not currently a focus for the Seattle-based retailer. Also, a representative for Neiman Marcus told The Times that the Dallas-headquartered retailer didn’t currently have any plans to expand from CBD beauty and wellness products into smoking accessories, jewelry, trays or the like.
According to Sasha Kadey, co-founder and creative director of the not-dissimilar Higher Standards retail concept, which late last month opened its second standalone store (this one in Atlanta) and has plans to open three more doors before year’s end, those no comments from major luxury retailers aren’t necessarily indicative of no interest.
“Without divulging the names of the retailers — some of which you may have just mentioned — we have had people reach out to us over the last six months,” Kadey said. “They generally do a good job of monitoring the landscape and seeing what the trends are, and we’re right there in New York[’s Chelsea Market]. So naturally we’ve had a number of folks from those companies — their innovation teams — handing me their business cards and saying they may be interested in doing something.”
Although other major department stores’ embrace of upscale cannabis culture may be as cloudy and unformed as a plume of freshly exhaled smoke, the upside for Barneys’ cannabis-brand partner Beboe has been immediately apparent — and absolutely crystal clear.
“The orders have been great,” Campbell said. “I don’t have the actual numbers, but our sales team told us that [the first] weekend at Barneys we moved more products through that space than any dispensary we work with California-wide. Basically it’s our bestselling dispensary — and it’s not a dispensary.”
For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn
Get The Wild newsletter.
The essential weekly guide to enjoying the outdoors in Southern California. Insider tips on the best of our beaches, trails, parks, deserts, forests and mountains.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.