Barneys heir plans explosive tell-all book about retailer’s demise

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An heir to the fallen Barneys luxury empire plans to write an explosive tell-all book about the retail icon’s demise, sources said — and he’s pointing the finger at the rest of his family.

Bob Pressman — whose grandfather Barney Pressman founded the now-defunct chain in 1923 — is in talks with publishers to dish on his elderly mother and siblings in a sensational expose that chronicles the family’s excesses and recounts how it lost control of the business, The Post has learned.

According to an incendiary, two-page proposal for the book obtained by The Post, Fred Pressman — who famously engineered the transformation of his father’s men’s suit business into a luxury mecca in the 1960s — was “a good and kind person” who “was quite close with his parents” and who “worked 7 days a week.”

The proposal also goes on to claim, however, that Fred Pressman “had a very long affair with a well-known Parisian lady. Fred established a company office in Paris for Barneys New York … which made the affair in Paris convenient and the frequent visits to France easy to justify.”

Fred Pressman’s wife Phyllis “found out about the affair but never told Fred to avoid any interruption of her glamorous lifestyle or Fred’s cash flow continuing to flow to her,” the proposal claims.

Bob Pressman, who declined to comment on the proposal when contacted by The Post, has “been sitting on these crazy stories for 50 years” and is “fed up with hiding the truth about his family,” according to a source close to the situation. He is 67 and semi-retired now from Triton Equity Partners LLC — a retail investment firm, according to its LinkedIn page. He lives in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Fred Pressman seen in a black and white photo standing next to blazers in a Barney's store
Fred Pressman, son of Barneys founder Barney Pressman, was said to be a kind, hard-working man, but one who had a long-term affair with a Parisian woman and opened a Barneys office in France to justify his frequent travels to the country, according to a new book proposal.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Phyllis Pressman — who recently listed the Hamptons beach home she and her late husband built 40 years ago for $52.5 million — will be a prime target of the book, according to the proposal. Fred Pressman died in July 1996 — six months after his sons Gene and Bob landed Barneys in bankruptcy court following an overly aggressive expansion. Since then, Bob has had only intermittent contact with his mother, according to the source.

Fred is described as “a wealthy and classy guy” who “grew up among the upper crust on Central Park West and was dating society and WASP-y ladies in Manhattan.” But according to the book proposal, his mother “wanted him to marry a middle-class Jewish lady.”

A ‘blind date’ brought Fred and Phyllis together

Fred and Phyllis met “on a blind date in New York City” when Phyllis was 19 years old, according to the proposal. They got married a few months later and raised four children in a 28-room mansion in Purchase, NY, that had a swimming pool, tennis court and live-in staff, the proposal says.

A black-and-white photo of Phyliss Pressman seated with china in the background
Phyllis Pressman, the author’s mother and Fred Pressman’s wife, seen in this 1993 photo, will be a prime target of the book, according to the book proposal.
Michael Schwartz/New York Post

The proposal goes on to claim that Phyllis “ran the Pressman household in Purchase like a dictatorship.” Reached by The Post this week, however, 92-year-old Phyllis Pressman disputed the claims in a phone interview.

Those included the proposal’s contention that she grew up in the Long Island suburb of Hewlett in the Five Towns. In fact, she says, she grew up in Cedarhurst and Lawrence. She also clarified that she was 20 years old when she and Fred got married.

“Fred was the love of my life,” Phyllis Pressman told The Post. “He was a very unique person.”

Gene Pressman dressed in a tuxedo standing next to a mannequin wearing a dressThe book claims that Bob Pressman’s older brother Gene Pressman’s lavish design for the Barneys New York flagship on Madison Avenue ran more than $200 million over budget.Getty Images

The book proposal likewise takes aim at Bob Pressman’s older brother Gene. The pair ran Barneys as co-CEOs in the 1990s with Robert overseeing finances and Gene taking on the more visible, glamorous roles as a face of the company, attending exclusive parties with fashion luminaries including Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

“Gene was reckless with money and women,” the book proposal states, adding that he had a hard-partying lifestyle and “was notorious for hanging out at Studio 54 in Manhattan.”

On the business side, the book claims that Gene Pressman’s lavish design for the
Barneys New York flagship on Madison Avenue ran more than $200 million over budget.

Shoppers looking through men's suits and shoes inside Barneys during the 1980s
Fred Pressman is credited with famously engineering the transformation of his father’s men’s suit business into a luxury mecca.
New York Post

Subsequently, Barneys was forced into bankruptcy, the book proposal claims. “Gene didn’t care because he lived under the multiple delusions of his failed success and self-importance.”

An expansion plan some called overly aggressive

In addition to lavish spending, press accounts of the Barneys 1996 bankruptcy cited an overly aggressive expansion plan and a troubled relationship with a Japan-based business partner. In a statement to The Post, Gene Pressman fired back, denying the book proposal’s accusations.

“It is sad Bob has such a casual relationship with the truth, one of the many reasons our family is so disappointed with him,” Gene Pressman said. “Through the love and support I received from my family, I have been fortunate to live a life dedicated to supporting the arts, creating beautiful things, cultivating innovative ideas.”

Shoppers look at wares inside BarneysBarneys was an iconic source for luxe fashion before it filed for bankruptcy.Frank Leonardo/New York Post

The elder Pressman brother added that, “Regarding Barneys, Bob conveniently forgets he was in fact the co-CEO responsible for the financial stability of firm, a role in which by all measures he massively failed.”

The book proposal, by contrast, claims that Bob “argued with his family all the time when the Barneys New York Madison Avenue store was being built,” protesting the massive tab that was being run up.

Sisters Nancy and Elizabeth file lawsuits against Bob

Three years after the 1996 bankruptcy filing, Bob got slapped with lawsuits from his sisters, Nancy Pressman-Dressler and Elizabeth Pressman-Neubardt, who accused him of cheating them out of $30 million, claiming he took more than his fair share of the business in the reorganization. The sisters had worked as buyers at the company.

The exterior of the Barney's building in 1983
The iconic Barneys building seen in 1983.
Robin Graubard/New York Post

“The Pressman sisters are trying to reinvent issues that have been thoroughly reviewed, and resolved or dismissed in conjunction with the Barneys Inc. Chapter 11 case confirmed by the bankruptcy court over six months ago,” Bob Pressman said in a statement at the time. “They simply do not like that result,” he added.

A New York judge awarded the sisters $11.3 million 2002. Their brother appealed the verdict. The book is promising unreported details on more than three years of litigation that ensued, according to a source.

Nancy Pressman “was known to be publicly very loud and opinionated. She
dropped out of college,” the book proposal states. Liz Pressman “was the most spoiled and the youngest,” the proposal claims, adding that she was fond of “spending her Daddy’s money.”

Nancy declined to comment. Liz didn’t respond to a request for comment.

As for Bob Pressman, the proposal says he “was known as the boring one as he didn’t like to party all night … He kept to himself and felt the other three kids were obnoxious, spoiled brats … Bob liked to say that he was the ‘adopted one’ as he felt like he was from a different family.”

It’s not clear whether the book will delve into Bob Pressman’s own recent headlines. In 2017, court papers revealed he had a torrid affair with a 38-year-old woman he met at a resort in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Pressman claimed the North Carolina woman, Anna Purcell, left their $17,000-a-month rental home in Greenwich after he suffered a stroke, forcing him to call 911 himself and taking thousands of dollars from his wallet while he was in the hospital.

Purcell — who Pressman claimed had accepted gifts including a $127,300 Cartier engagement ring and a $40,000 for a Jeep Grand Cherokee — claimed in court papers she hadn’t known Pressman was married at the time. After Pressman dumped her, he claimed she tried to extort him for more than $12 million, threatening to tell his wife about the affair. Purcell’s lawyer called Pressman’s allegations a “total fabrication.”

Purcell died in 2019, according to public documents, which did not disclose the cause of death.

Pressman’s book would be only the second written about his family and Barneys, which filed for bankruptcy for the second time in August 2019, liquidated its business and sold its brand to a licensing firm for $270 million. In 1999, William Morrow published “The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys: A Family Tale of Chutzpah, Glory and Greed, by Joshua Levine, but without the Pressman’s cooperation.

While the book is in the early stages, Pressman has had preliminary contact with numerous publishers, according to the source. He is bracing for possible litigation to stop publication, but “wants to put out his story,” the source added.

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