Luxury retail veteran Mark Lee was tasked with the turnaround of high-end department store, Barneys New York, in 2010. Lee’s appointment followed an exhaustive, two-year search for a chief executive. Previously the chief executive of Italian fashion brand Gucci, until 2008, he previously held positions at Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, and Jil Sander.
With a career spanning more than 25 years in luxury retail, Lee brought solid back-end operational support to the niche fashion retailer that, although long renowned for its focused edit of products from up-and-coming designers, had been plagued by financial woes. It had taken on $500 million in debt as part of a 2007 sale to Dubai private equity firm Istithmar PJSC, which – combined with the chain’s overexpansion – led the retailer to struggle.
In the years that followed Lee’s arrival, he set the transformation in place by replacing largely all of its head honchos, bringing in his former Gucci colleague Daniella Vitale as chief operating officer. Longtime creative director Simon Doonan, who was responsible for Barneys’ witty window displays, was named brand ambassador. In his place, Dennis Freedman, the founding creative director of W magazine, was named the new creative director.
Lee shuttered unprofitable Barneys outposts as well as the CO-OP brand, which carried products priced in the contemporary segment of the market, and renamed the remaining ones Barneys New York. He also stocked more leather goods and shoes, boosting the flagship’s main floor sales per square foot to $9,000, according to Bloomberg. In 2012, the retailer saw record sales and has returned to profitability.
Lee lives in New York City with longtime partner and fellow BoF 500 member Ed Filipowski, a fashion PR executive.