Cover image for The rise and fall of the house of Barneys : a family tale of chutzpah, glory, and greed
The rise and fall of the house of Barneys : a family tale of chutzpah, glory, and greed
Levine, Joshua.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, [1999]

Physical Description:
256 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD9940.U6 B375 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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It took three generations to build Barneys into the world's most fabulous clothing store--and less than a decade to tear it down. This fascinating book is at once a family saga, a cautionary business tale, and a riveting, superbly detailed, behind-the-scenes account of how a secondhand store founded on pluck and chutzpah grew into a glittering international retail empire, only to founder on greed and hubris. Book jacket.

Author Notes

Joshua Levine was born in the Bahamas. He has a law degree and practiced as a criminal barrister for several years in London. He gave up law and became an actor, appearing in amateur theatre productions. He also worked as an assistant producer, working on a documentary about Handel's Water Music. He wrote a stage play entitled, Crash, and went on to write programs for BBC Radio 4. He is the author of Forgotten Voices, Beauty and Atricity, On a Wing and a Prayer, Operation Fortitude, The Secret History of the Blitz, and Dunkirk.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The story of tony retailer Barneys of New York is a lesson in hubris, which Forbes senior editor Levine relates with good detail. The Barneys saga follows three generations of the Pressman family. The oft-told story of Barney Pressman pawning his wife's engagement ring in 1923 to open a small Seventh Avenue store that sold men's clothes at bargain prices is, suggests Levine, apocryphal. Nonetheless, Pressman continued with his discounting strategy until 1946, when he turned the business over to his son Fred, under whom Barneys was transformed into the epitome of understated elegance. Barneys was the first U.S. store to offer European men's wear on a wide scale. Gradually, Fred's sons Gene and Bob took over the business, and in less than 10 years they bled the business dry. Even a massive transfusion of cash from its newly acquired Japanese partner failed to sustain the store. Both Gene's lavish lifestyle and Barneys' ill-advised attempts to expand its empire became the subject of scorn, and many observers noted Barneys' collapse with barely concealed glee. --David Rouse

Publisher's Weekly Review

The once glittering image of Barneys takes a further drubbing in this dishy, highly entertaining history of the Pressman family store that got too big for its very expensive britches. Levine, a senior editor at Forbes, meticulously lays out the financial goods on the famed clothing store, which began in 1923 as a Chelsea storefront selling secondhand men's suits and, before filing for bankruptcy in 1996, set the standard for upscale retailing. The nuts-and-bolts business details are interesting in themselves: patriarch Barney Pressman started the business with $500 he got from hocking an engagement ring, and the empire ended with his grandson Bob's byzantine accounting manipulations masking $550 million in debt. On the human level, Levine makes clear how the flamboyant, warring personalities in the family (boisterous, stuttering Barney; cool and savvy son, Fred; and the wild boys of the third generation, brothers Gene and Bob) figured in the store's 70-year arc from rags up to the height of fashion and finally back down to financial tatters. The end of this archetypal story of family, money and betrayal was played out as a dynastic high drama that some have called the "Yiddish Theater Euripides." Levine lavishes his most loving attention on Barney Pressman, a blustery and wily self-promoter who reveled in billing himself as "the cut-rate clothing king." He shows no mercy toward Gene and Bob, who not only lost the family store but also, according to Levine, were more concerned with putting money into their pockets than into their business. With a sure command of both numbers and narrative, Levine fits his prose to his subject matter in fine, high style. Agent, Alice Martell. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Forbes editor Levine chronicles the fortunes of Barneys, a firm built on the hard work of two generations and destroyed by the third. (Barneys filed for Chapter 11 in 1996 and emerged from bankruptcy just this February, having been bought by two companies, Whipoorwill Associates and Bay Harbor Management.) Barney Pressman began by selling used clothing and opened a store in Manhattan's Chelsea area in 1923. Barneys became noted for its ability to fit anyone. Barney's son, Fred, proved to have a talent for the business as well. Wives and children were all involved, and just about every new venture turned to gold. The third generation, Bob and Gene, expanded Barneys to other cities and built a second New York City store they felt would rival any in the world. No expense was spared in any of these ventures, which was perhaps the problem. Levine does a fine job of chronicling the business's rise and paints an informative picture of the industry over three generations. Recommended for public and university libraries and company libraries in the retail area. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/98.]ÄLittleton M. Maxwell, Business Information Ctr., Univ. of Richmond, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Chapter 1 The Lesson of the Cupsp. 1
Chapter 2 Clothing Menp. 11
Chapter 3 "How Do You Handle Your Dad?"p. 39
Chapter 4 Uno Dei Grandi Maestrip. 67
Chapter 5 "Hey, Wanna Feel my Stomach?"p. 93
Chapter 6 Blackp. 123
Chapter 7 "Why Use Faux Goatskin When You Can Use Real Goatskin?"p. 153
Chapter 8 Honorp. 183
Chapter 9 "The Crown Jewel of the Retail World"p. 213
Chapter 10 Greeters at the Family Storep. 231
Indexp. 247