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Cooler Than Ever

By Jennifer Press Marden

Photography by Nick Mele

12.06.18

The former CEO and creative director of Barneys talks about his one-of-a-kind creative journey.

Gene Pressman has helped to define cool, whether in the context of the 30 years he spent as CEO and creative director of Barneys, the store his grandfather founded in 1923; or in co-writing the book Chasing Cool. In fact, it’s part of a winning equation for enduring relevance and connecting to the customer.

Do you abide by a particular creative philosophy? My philosophy has never changed. Whatever ambitions I’ve had, they’ve been focused on doing something that was different. I don’t like things that are the same. My mind doesn’t stop. I guess most creative people’s minds don’t stop. ... We’re a little nutty that way!

How did growing up in the Pressman family influence who you are today? I’ve been lucky enough to have been brought up in a very intellectual and creative family who is socially responsible, and I think that’s as important as anything else.

What was your vision and style of leadership that helped to lead Barneys toward becoming synonymous with “cool and modern” for men and women? I used to kid that on my tombstone I wanted it to say, ‘Here lies Gene, who was put on this earth just to aggravate.’ Honestly, I think it’s through a sensitivity to others, a little charm, a sense of humor and, probably most of all, through vision.

What’s next for you? I have been thinking about retail again. I have said that I don’t want to be in fashion retail anymore for many reasons. It’s hard to improve on something you’ve already done for 30 years. I love the theater of retail, and I’ve realized that the one product that you could sell that would not be hurt by online sales, but, in fact, be enhanced, experienced and touched, is food.

Pressman is currently immersed in a number of exciting ventures where the word “food” could easily be inserted for fashion. Stay tuned for more!