cover image The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys: A Family Tale of Chutzpah, Glory, and Greed

The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys: A Family Tale of Chutzpah, Glory, and Greed

Joshua Levine, Josh Levine. William Morrow & Company, $25 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-688-15502-5

The once glittering image of Barneys takes a further drubbing in this dishy, highly entertaining history of the Pressman family store that got too big for its very expensive britches. Levine, a senior editor at Forbes, meticulously lays out the financial goods on the famed clothing store, which began in 1923 as a Chelsea storefront selling secondhand men's suits and, before filing for bankruptcy in 1996, set the standard for upscale retailing. The nuts-and-bolts business details are interesting in themselves: patriarch Barney Pressman started the business with $500 he got from hocking an engagement ring, and the empire ended with his grandson Bob's byzantine accounting manipulations masking $550 million in debt. On the human level, Levine makes clear how the flamboyant, warring personalities in the family (boisterous, stuttering Barney; cool and savvy son, Fred; and the wild boys of the third generation, brothers Gene and Bob) figured in the store's 70-year arc from rags up to the height of fashion and finally back down to financial tatters. The end of this archetypal story of family, money and betrayal was played out as a dynastic high drama that some have called the ""Yiddish Theater Euripides."" Levine lavishes his most loving attention on Barney Pressman, a blustery and wily self-promoter who reveled in billing himself as ""the cut-rate clothing king."" He shows no mercy toward Gene and Bob, who not only lost the family store but also, according to Levine, were more concerned with putting money into their pockets than into their business. With a sure command of both numbers and narrative, Levine fits his prose to his subject matter in fine, high style. Agent, Alice Martell. (Apr.)