UPDATE: November 1, 2019: With her order approving the $270 million bid from Authentic Brands Group and B. Riley Financial, Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Cecelia Morris of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, in Poughkeepsie, on Friday closed out Barneys’ chapter in department store history. In court on Wednesday, as it became clear that no other offers would prevail, Morris reportedly said, “I think we can all agree this is a very sad day,” according to the New York Times. ABG had already declared victory last week, and last-minute efforts thought to be more likely to keep stores open never gained traction.
Authentic Brands Group called itself "the successful bidder" of Barneys New York's intellectual property, with a stalking horse bid worth more than $270 million that also included backing from investment bank B. Riley Financial and other affiliates. A sale hearing is scheduled for Oct. 31. ABG said an emailed press release Thursday that it expects the deal to close Nov. 1.
Lawyers for Barneys said in court papers Thursday that it canceled an auction for its IP. Despite that, Barneys said it is working with a group led by entrepreneur Sam Ben-Avraham that hasn't given up on a rival deal. While so far the rival offer reportedly fell short, Ben-Avraham said this week that it's superior because his plan would keep open five Barneys stores, according to Women's Wear Daily.
In a press release Thursday, Oct. 24, ABG said that following the presumed purchase, Hudson's Bay Co.'s Saks Fifth Avenue would become the retail partner for the brand in the U.S. and Canada. The IP deal includes the Barneys moniker as well as private labels and programs like FiveSeventyFive, Connor New York, Freds, The High End and The Drop.
ABG says it would "leverage its international scale, marketing expertise, and network of best-in-class partners to grow Barneys' presence as a global luxury retailer and lifestyle brand." But anyone who'd rather see Barneys stay Barneys and not morph into a Saks brand is likely cheering on Ben-Avraham's team.
"The deal that is allegedly penned between ABG and Saks will capitalize on the ghost of the creative brand that Barneys used to be by transforming it into a series of soul-less, licensed merchandise for mass consumption," Thomai Serdari, a professor of luxury marketing and branding at New York University's Stern School of Business, told Retail Dive last week, adding that no amount of "curation" or homage "can be as groundbreaking as Barneys has been."
It's unclear what Ben-Avraham's chances are. Certainly ABG on Thursday attempted to present their own deal as done, but a lot can happen in almost a week and the court must still approve the ABG offer.
Barneys, which finds itself in an existential conundrum, is actively working with the Ben-Avraham group, according to a statement emailed to Retail Dive on Friday: "Barneys is continuing to work towards a value-maximizing going concern transaction, including in relation to a potential transaction led by Sam Ben-Avraham and his group of financial, operational, and strategic partners, up to and including the October 31 sale hearing."
The drama is also playing out on social media, through an Instagram account dedicated to @SaveBarneys, where a Thursday post reads, "UPDATE: We won't stand for being bullied," and through an online petition where Ben-Avraham posted an open letter.
"We cannot sit on the sidelines. Let's show the world that we still care by signing this petition. Let's give Barneys the future it deserves. Let's breathe new life into this iconic New York establishment," the letter reads in part. "My competitors have a different plan: one where Barneys has no meaningful future. Barneys as we know it will disappear."