Barneys Taps Mark Lee as CEO

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Mark Lee

New York—After nearly two years of on and off again searching, Barneys New York and its parent, Dubai-based Istithmar World announced today  hired luxury retail veteran Mark Lee has been hired as chief executive officer.

Lee, who global president and ceo of Gucci Group NV until 2008, is taking the reins of the luxury retail September 1.

The company has been operating without a chief executive since Howard Socol retired in June 2008. In the interim, the 44-unit specialty store has been run by a team of top executives, including Vince Phelan, chief financial officer, and Michael Celestino, executive vice president of store operations.

‘A New Era For Barneys’

Andy Watson,  Barneys chairman and acting ceo of Istithmar World, said, “The appointment marks an exciting new era for Barneys as we look to build the brand and maximize its existing strong platform for growth. We continue to believe that Barneys is a great business that is well positioned to make the most of market opportunities.”

Indeed, Lee, who has had been rumored as front runner for the position for several months, will be taking over at a crucial time for the retailer, which has faced more frugal shoppers due to the recession and carries a huge debt load since Istithmar bought the company in 2007 for $942 million from Jones Apparel Group. Since then Istithmar has twice had to inject cash into the company which has also been rumored to be up for sale. In June, Barneys said that sales were picking up and that its online business was up 50% this year over last year.

Lee, who lead the Gucci brand from 2004 through 2008, has more than 25 years experience in the luxury brand and retail industry. He joined Gucci in 1996 and served from 1997 to 1999 as the senior most global merchandising executive prior to being named ceo of Yves Saint Laurent. Under his leadership Gucci achieved significant brand and financial success including being named in 2008 as the most coveted luxury brand in the world by a Nielsen company survey.

Lee began his career at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1984 and subsequently served in senior executive positions at the Giorgio Armani and Jil Sander brands.

“I am honored to be joining Barneys as CEO. Barneys is a unique landmark retailer, store and brand, one that is synonymous with luxury and style and I am confident that together with the strong Barneys team we can take the company to even greater prominence,” Lee said in a statement released today.