Barneys New York Finds a New Home at Forever 21

Authentic Brands Group has revived the Barneys brand at Forever 21, which it also owns.

Just in time for New York Fashion Week, the iconic, now defunct luxury department store Barneys New York has made its return to fashion, albeit not in a way that many of the brand’s devotees would have imagined. Fast fashion retailer Forever 21 has released a limited-edition collection featuring the Barneys brand.

On the surface the collaboration might not make much sense, given that Forever 21 and Barneys hail from opposite ends of the fashion spectrum. But the brands have one very important thing in common — they were both bought out of bankruptcy by brand management firm Authentic Brands Group.

Model Taylor Hill fronts the Forever 21 x Barneys collab.
Model Taylor Hill fronts the Forever 21 x Barneys collab.

The new 32-piece unisex Forever 21 x Barneys collection dropped online and in approximately 200 Forever 21 stores on Sept. 7, and it is fronted by former Victoria’s Secret Angel Taylor Hill. The collection spans blazers, pants, denim, tops and outerwear, with prices ranging from $29.99 for a T-shirt to $129.99 for coats — higher than the typical F21 price point, but markedly lower than just about anything available at Barneys back in the day.

Barneys filed for bankruptcy in August 2019 and was bought by Authentic three months later for $271.4 million. Forever 21 also filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and was bought by SPARC, a joint venture between Authentic and mall owner Simon Property Group, for $81 million in 2020. (Just last month China-based fast-fashion juggernaut Shein joined the SPARC venture, acquiring a one-third interest.)

The trajectory of the two brands since their acquisitions has varied dramatically though. While the bulk of Forever 21’s brick-and-mortar stores were kept open, every Barneys location across the country was shuttered and the brand has been largely dormant, outside of a store-in-store concept and branded beauty line, both at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Forever 21 on the other hand has been attracting a significant amount of attention, with a full digital overhaul, new stores and countless collaborations that have recently included Sanrio’s Hello Kitty, Mattel’s Barbie, Care Bears and the late singer Selena.

The Barneys collab follows what is becoming a familiar strategy at Authentic: feature its vast slate of fashion brands in exclusive collaborations with one of its few retail brands that still has a retail business. Other recent F21 collabs have included the Authentic-owned Juicy Couture, Reebok and Nine West brands, as well the debut of F21 fashions and branded homewares at SPARC-owned JCPenney.

Still, the Barneys deal stands out because of the significant high-low divide between the two brands. But given the unwavering fervor of Barneys loyalists, it has the potential to bring an entirely different type of shopper into Forever 21.

Forever 21 CEO Winnie Park told the Wall Street Journal that the line is focused on “wardrobe essentials that stick around and have longevity,” adding that “it’s great timing because we can play up a brand that is identifiable and iconic, and also symbolizes quiet luxury.”