Barneys shutting down is 'surreal' but 'not surprising,' says the millennial CEO at the head of a luxury eyewear brand that Jeff Bezos and Brad Pitt have been spotted wearing

Eyewear Barneys

  • Garrett Leight, the founder, CEO, and Creative Director of
    luxury eyewear company Garrett Leight California Optics, used to
    sell his products in
  • Barneys was one of his first introductions to the mass retail
    , and Leight said it was “surreal” that the retailer was
    closing down. 
  • But at the same time, Leight said he wasn’t suprised. He said
    the retailer failed to establish an “identity” to connect with
    younger buyers, and that this should be a lesson for other big
    department stores. 
  • Visit Business
    Insider’s homepage for more stories.

If anyone is feeling the impact of
Barneys’ recent shutdown
, it’s Garrett Leight, the 35-year-old
luxury eyewear designer who sold his brand, Garrett Leight California Optics
, at the once-esteemed retailer. 

is such a big part of my life,” Leight said in an interview with
Business Insider. “When I launched [GLCO], it was like, ‘we want to
open in Colette and Barneys,’ and that was all.”

Leight’s father, Larry Leight, is the founder of the high-end
eyewear brand Oliver Peoples, which also sells in Barneys. Leight
recalls that, while growing up in Venice, California, he would be
surrounded by the iconic black bags and watch as his father
conducted business with the retailer. 

If anything, it was a dream come true once Leight’s own eyewear
brand (which has been sported by household names, from
Jeff Bezos
Brad Pitt
) finally made its first shipment to the department
store. Leight’s eyewear brand launched in 2009 and officially
debuted at Barneys in 2011. 

“There’s this whole intimate experience about opening [in]
Barneys, and it was like the very first thing I shipped,” he said.
“It was such an important part of our brand.”

Leight, like many others in the retail sphere, is still shocked
that Barneys is set to close its doors for good. The entrepreneur
was one of his first introductions into the luxury
retail market, a sentiment that’s true for many others in the

Garrett Leight + Elena Doukas

“Surreal … but not surprising”

“It’s a bit surreal,” Leight said when we asked about his
reaction to the sale and shutdown news. “But I mean, it’s not
surprising, you know — I think they just didn’t do the right
things to stick around.”

The famed department store, which was once a symbol of splendor
and wealth, filed for bankruptcy on October 16. It is set to be
sold to the investment firm B. Riley Financial and Authentic Brands
Group — owner of brands like Nine West and Volcom — who have
filed to purchase both Barneys’ name and assets. 

In the end, Barneys
is selling for only $271 million
, with all its remaining stores
set to close.

“This development is a positive step forward for Barneys and a
strong recognition of the value of Barneys’ assets and brand name,”

a Barneys spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider
“We are working hard to achieve a successful sale process that will
preserve the integrity of this incredible brand and ultimately
benefit our employees, customers, vendors, and other business

As Leight remembers his time spent working with Barneys, he
said part of the store’s downfall was that they failed to
establish themselves as a brand to the younger generations —
himself included. 

“I’m not really sure who the voice was or what the voice was [of
Barneys]. I don’t really know what they stand for. Even in leaving,
they just made
an Instagram post
, and it just had a hashtag on it,” Leight
said. “Today, millennials and Gen-Z — we want to connect with
something. We want to know who we’re supporting, and I just don’t
know what [Barneys’] identity was.”

Magician Alchemist GLCO Garrett Leight

Modern consumers wants brands to have a “face”

On the same note, Leight knows that it is difficult for these
large retailers to find ways to connect with younger audiences,
especially in the digital era. He said that consumers today are
looking for the “face” or “message” of what these big name brands
stand for, so that the young consumers know and understand exactly
what they are supporting. 

“It’s not easy,” he said. “[But] you’ve gotta dedicate some
effort — both financially and creatively — to creating
something that buyers [and] consumers can connect with.”

If anything, Leight noted, Barneys’ bleak outcome should be a
lesson for other department stores on how to survive in a new era,
with a new generation of consumers. 

“Their competitors need to make sure that they’re doing the
right thing,” Leight said. “Or they’re next.”

SEE ALSO: Fashion
prodigy Zac Posen shuttered his fashion label on Friday. Here’s how
he went from enrolling in a top design school at 16 to becoming a
household name with celeb clients like Oprah and Gwyneth

department stores once thrived a decade ago but no longer

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Barneys shutting down is 'surreal' but 'not surprising,' says the millennial CEO at the head of a luxury eyewear brand that Jeff Bezos and Brad Pitt have been spotted wearing