Downtown-Barneys loyalists still insist that their beloved fashion emporium brought on its own financial collapse by selling its soul to the Mephistopheles that is Madison Avenue. So they may be heartened to learn that Jeffrey of Atlanta -- greater Chelsea's "next Barneys," if such a thing is possible -- is establishing a Jeffrey New York flagship much closer to the Old Homestead steakhouse than to Le Cirque 2000.
In August, former Barneys shoe buyer Jeffrey Kalinsky will open a New York branch of his ultrachic mini-department store in the gritty heart of the meatpacking district. Kalinsky, who for the past nine years has taught the moneyed wives of the New South how to accessorize Jil Sander with Helmut Lang, just signed off on three floors of the onetime National Biscuit Company headquarters, a lugubrious redbrick behemoth at 449 West 14th Street.
The store's minimalist, gallerylike spaces will carry the ne plus ultra of men's and women's fashion, including Gucci, Manolo Blahnik, and Marc Jacobs. As much as anything, though, the store's draw will be Jeffrey himself. In Atlanta, Kalinsky is a constant presence on the sales floor, equal parts keen-eyed personal shopper and trusted confidant. "I love my clients," Kalinsky says. "They become my friends."
Of course, some of his other friends happen to be named Pressman. But Kalinsky is sensitive to insinuations that he's coming to town to spar with Barneys on Barneys' old turf. "I'm not coming to compete with anyone. I'm just coming to offer my brand of retailing," he says. "I'm going to occupy 18,000 square feet, and Barneys is, what, 200,000?" (Nevertheless, Kalinsky has talked to the building's brokers about expanding the store to 94,000 square feet.) "And Barneys is Barneys. My gosh. I'm just a little guy from the South who's opening a small store in the meatpacking district."
But it's no secret that on this once-dire quadrant, chuck-roast properties are being turned into filet mignon. In the past five years, galleries and modeling agencies have cropped up alongside local institutions like Western Beef. Keith McNally is planning to open his as-yet-unnamed Balthazar follow-up in the neighborhood, and brother Brian is rumored to be eyeing the area, too. However, the neighborhood's primary motif remains the loading dock, where yellowy sides of beef hang on hooks.
Nothing captures the district's bizarre transition better than the eight-floor Nabisco building. Until recently, it was a windowless Moishe's mini-storage warehouse. But over the past year, clients like Milk Studios and the KCD fashion public-relations firm have colonized the building, punching windows in the walls to open up stunning river views. "Two years ago, we were still trying to lease it out as a warehouse," says Grubb & Ellis's Alan Weisman, who with partner Stuart Siegel is the building's broker. "Moishe's purchased it for $25 a square foot. Now these tenants are paying $25 a foot each year in rent."
Kalinsky isn't worried about trying to lure the city's Prada set to one of New York's few neighborhoods that could still function as a Taxi Driver exterior. "My customer already works in the building," he says. "Besides, the rent was reasonable. And I think it's a beautiful neighborhood. Period."