For me, walking into Barneys New York is like walking into heaven. The store on 61st street at Madison Avenue is seven floors of gorgeous–-pretty much all of it prohibitively expensive, though just wandering through the racks and touching beautiful clothes is a good consolation prize for not being able to own them.
Last time I was in the store, I asked if they had Marc by Marc Jacobs. No, the saleswoman told me, they try to carry young, alternative designers. Marc Jacobs is too mainstream. They’ll leave the Marc stuff to Bloomingdale’s, just a few blocks away.
The sportswear section is the most affordable in the store, meaning most things are under $500. Even though that’s still way out of my budget, that’s what I usually gravitate toward, partially because the sportswear also tends to be a little bit younger and less staid. Although a pink mouton Chloé cape was absolutely gorgeous, I felt like I was breaking some sort of rule by even coming close to something that cost so much.
Ulla Johnson was the first designer who impressed me. Her beautiful designs are bohemian, featuring indigo block print blouses and flowy paisley dresses in warm burgundies and blues. I particularly loved a quilted jacket in a blue and white abstract print. Her prints are the standout feature of the collection. The subtleties make them perfect: the paisleys aren’t too garish and the florals aren’t too precious. And, like any fancy designer, the details of each garment are well executed.
A particularly unique standout in the store was Raquel Allegra, a California-based designer. Her Fall 2015 collection features impossibly light and flowy silks with variegated tie-dye or batik-like patterns. The color combinations are rich and unexpected, such as a chartreuse background with navy pattern, or dusty blue on top of a barely there peach. All of these are made from gorgeous, delicate silks. I particularly loved a drop-shouldered ombre blouse, with a peach collar that fades into a luminous purple. The overlap creates a watery effect in a color just on the right side of pukey. It’s absolutely unexpected and gorgeous.
One floor down from sportswear is slightly pricier stuff. Isabel Marant, a favorite designer of mine, has a somewhat more affordable line called Etoile. It’s a little bit grungier, but the details are fabulous. A bold wool jacket in green and navy buffalo plaid is finished with a cream sweater cuff and diagonal zippered pockets. The piece that made me want to cry was a gray, collarless blouse with a red and orange floral print, reminding me of the William Morris patterns of the turn of the 20th century.
For those of us who can’t afford Barneys prices, but still want these desirable designs, there are some decent alternatives at a cheaper price point. Free People is a reasonably priced brand similar to Ulla Johnson. It’s known for soft silhouettes and bohemian details, such as crocheted necklines and tassel embellishments. Joie’s florals are reminiscent of my favorites by Isabel Marant. AudraTextileStudio, on Etsy, features hand-painted and hand-dyed silk scarves with floaty, colorful designs that remind me a bit of Raquel Allegra.