Julie Gilhart leaving Barneys

Julie Gilhart speaking at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

It is quite sad to report that Julie Gilhart will no longer be Fashion Director and Senior Vice President at Barneys. Together with Judy Collinson, who will also be leaving Barneys, she championed emerging, often experimental designers in an otherwise often mind-numbing department-store horizon.

What’s more, Gilhart was an early and outspoken supporter of sustainable designers, such as John Patrick Organic and Loomstate, and also, more generally, of sustainable consumption/production practices of good design which followed a realistic tempo for fashion. She often brought Dries Van Noten, an independently owned company and designer, who produces two well-made collections yearly as an example of integrity in design. Gilhart has spoken on the topic of sustainability in design quite extensively, including at the panel Sarah Scaturro and I moderated at Pratt in conjunction with the “Ethics+Aesthetics” exhibition, as well as contributing to our exhibition catalogue. She also spoke at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

Partially the victim of an incredibly ill-timed over-expansion, Barneys seems to be destined to go down-market or, perhaps more simply in a generic direction. This decision seems an ill-advised attempt at temporarily saving their bottom line while in the long run diluting their brand identity and potentially damaging their bottom line more permanently. (Brands like the Gap and/or American Apparel, albeit completely different in scope, are clear examples of such a downward spiral.)

If that’s the case—and taking away the unique and quirky aesthetic of Gilhart and Collinson from the mix seems to suggest it is—one will be hard-pressed to see why the so-called luxury consumer would shop at Barneys over Net-a-Porter, or, if outside New York, at a department store such as Neiman Marcus.