Kith’s Co-Founder Is in Final Talks to Buy Barneys New York

Multiple outlets are reporting that Barneys New York, which filed for bankruptcy on August 6, is in advanced negotiations with a potential buyer: a group of retail executives led by Sam Ben-Avraham, who operates New York trade shows including Liberty Fairs, PROJECT and Capsule, and is also a founder and backer of Kith, the New York-based streetwear chain and eponymous clothing label co-founded by Ronnie Fieg.

In a call with bankruptcy court late last week, lawyers for the department store said that they had received several letters of indication from interested buyers; in a second call Thursday, Barneys’ lawyer stated that things had advanced to negotiations with one buyer, who remained nameless. The Wall Street Journal reports that that buyer is Ben-Avraham.

A Barneys spokesperson would not confirm the potential buyer but said the store “intends to reach an agreement by next Friday,” October 11. The Journal reports that the bid is worth about $220 million, and would include an agreement with the landlords of Barneys’ remaining stores in New York and Beverly Hills. (The rent of the Madison Avenue flagship, which doubled to almost $30 million in January, has been cited as a reason for the store’s struggles.) Ben-Avraham did not respond to a request for comment.

Ben-Avraham has been putting his mark on the New York retail landscape since the mid-’90s, when he founded Atrium, a boutique that sold streetwear alongside high fashion brands like Balmain, Moncler, and Ralph Lauren. “When Sam opened Atrium he wanted to recreate the department store format on a specialty store level,” the store’s men’s buyer said in an interview, when the Brooklyn outpost opened in 2012\—a premise not unlike that of Barneys’ during the golden age of the ’80s and ’90s, when the store had a reputation for exclusive products and undiscovered designers. When Fieg partnered with Ben-Avraham to found Kith in 2011, the pair opened the first two stores as outposts in the back of Atrium’s Brooklyn and Manhattan locations. When Atrium closed its final locations, in Soho and Miami, in 2016, both were converted into Kith stores.

While a number of brick-and-mortar retailers have struggled, Kith only seems to thrive: while some store-owners find it a challenge to get people into physical spaces, people wait in line just to shop at Kith. The brand’s bread and butter is, quite literally, linking and building with the so-called “kith and kin” for which it’s named: its own collections are a parade of collaborations between the brand and signifiers of the Kith lifestyle, from Vogue to Nobu to Disney, and it’s made a number of savvy partnerships—including a shop-in-shop in the flagship New York location of Barneys’ hometown rival, Bergdorf Goodman, the uptown foil to Barneys’s downtown creative cool. Its Kith Treats project pivoted Fieg’s obsession with Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch into a kind of branding agency for Instagrammable desserts. The Kith label is the product of a savvy research process: Fieg has the luxury of seeing what sells in-store, and then producing his own variation. It may seem that Kith has built an empire on breakfast cereal and fancier brand names embroidered on its own garments, but almost everything product, snack, and limited collab shows the seams of a lucrative business deal. Fieg has largely been the public face of Kith, but should Ben-Avraham be successful in his bid, he is likely to become a much more familiar name. (Fieg has called him “my business partner and mentor since the beginning.”)

Ben-Avraham has also demonstrated a keen awareness of the retail experience, which has reportedly been a priority for Barneys as it has sought a buyer. His trade shows are packed with consumer-facing panels, music performances, and pop-ups in addition to the usual slate of wholesaler programming. The fate of Fred’s, the see-and-be-seen canteen where diners eat $38 chicken salads elbow-to-elbow with Michael Cohen and Bruce Springsteen, was questionable throughout the bankruptcy proceedings, though one imagines that it could become a keystone under Ben-Avraham. (You can see the 2022 Page Six headline now: “Cohen Screams For ‘The Fiegster’ In Post-Prison Trip To Barneys’ Ice Cream Outpost.”)

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