Barneys New York, back when it was still just Barney’s Mens Store, was a showcase account for Scali McCabe Sloves – although there was hardly an account at the agency that didn’t win awards and plenty of them. But there was something about working on Barney’s. Just the list of writers who’d created its history of legendary ads was enough to give a rookie the night terrors.
A writer named Steve Gordon, for example, came up with the classic Barney’s commercial, ‘Men of Destiny.’ He went on to write and direct the movie ARTHUR. And, of course, Ed McCabe himself who wrote the infamous line ‘You Go Out of Your Way to Get Here, We Have to Pay You Back.’ (For the uninitiated the original Barneys was at 7th Avenue and 17th Street, hardly New York’s shopping mecca in the 60s and 70s.)
Just before I started working on the Barney’s account, a young eager account executive was hired and even though he was as handsome and preppy looking as, well, a model out of any Barneys ad, he was just another nervous kid excited as hell to be working on Barneys. But for all the great ad potential, for all the great awards, Barney’s was still considered one of the toughest high-profile accounts to work on in New York. A tough account with a tough client. Milt Guttenplan.
If the name alone presents you with an image, it’s probably right. Milt came across as a dour man who’d seen too much to suffer fools easily. He had high standards and an unyielding loyalty to that store. He was part of its fabric. He protected its image like a mean junkyard dog.
Which was great if you were a writer trying to do great ads for Barney’s, because Milt demanded nothing less. So for a creative person, a client like Milt Guttenplan was a dream come true – incredibly the first ad we did for Barney’s won a One Show gold pencil for me and my art director partner, Carl Stewart. Yes, Carl and I loved Milt. But, if you were an account guy – and were missing a certain thickness about the skin – Milt could be a challenge and then some.
Yes, he reserved his most punishing ire for account executives. ( I think Milt confused nervous zeal for insincerity – and insincerity was intolerable.)
One day, our chronically beleaguered account guy shambled in to the office where Carl and I along with a few other creative people were corralled. He looked terrible.
“Just coming back from Barney’s?,” somebody asked.
“Oh man,” he said “I can’t take this. You can’t…I mean, you wouldn’t believe what working on this account is…doing to me. I don’t even want to talk about it…”
“Oh yeah,” Carl said matter of factly. “You can’t get it up, right?”
“We’ve seen it before,” Carl offered. Heads nodded.
“We call it the Barney’s Syndrome…”
The account guy’s jaw dropped.
“You mean there’s a name for it??!!”