Gerald Alan Barnes, a 35-year veteran of Neiman Marcus who held top positions on both the stores and do-com sides of the luxury business, died Tuesday at his home in Dallas with his family at his side, after a battle with lung cancer. Barnes was 68.
Described by many as a seasoned executive and a renaissance man, Barnes could prepare a multicourse gourmet dinner, draw a floor plan and talk with authority on historical events, the news of the day or investment strategies. He was also an active Instagrammer, posting images of and capturing the essence of fashion shows, taking great joy in when he got 100-plus likes on the social media platform.
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Barnes began his career in retail fashion at the former Woodward & Lothrop department store as a men’s buyer, where he met his wife Debra while folding polyester pants. He joined Neiman Marcus in 1983, where he rose up the ranks, eventually in 2009 ascending to president and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus Direct, overseeing the dot-com and catalogue businesses. He later got promoted to executive vice president of merchandising over all Neiman Marcus stores and e-commerce. He retired in 2018 and spent the next three years reading voraciously and pursuing a new passion, golf, enjoying the outdoors and walking the full 18-hole course.
“Gerald and I worked together at the Neiman Marcus Group for over 30 years in many different roles,” said Karen Katz, the former CEO of the Dallas-based company. “He loved and appreciated quality and luxury and deeply understood the luxury consumer and what made them tick. He was an early adopter in the world of e-commerce and pushed the Neiman Marcus team and our vendor partners to understand this was the future of retail. This was early 2000s. He never sought out the spotlight and was happy to stay in the background, but he was no pushover. He was a very good negotiator and approached it in a way that was always win-win.…We lost one of the good ones in Gerald.”
“We were work best friends,” said Brendan Hoffman, president and CEO-designee of Wolverine World Wide Inc. “When I ran Neiman Marcus Direct as president and CEO from 2002 to 2008, Gerald was EVP and chief merchandising officer and my right-hand man. We traveled together constantly. He looked very debonair and great in a suit with his silver hair, and he just had this warm personality. The two people I looked to for how to be a good father was my own father and Gerald. He put family first. As a business partner, he had a terrific sense of style and was a great chief merchant in terms of identifying emerging trends, working with designers and brands and motivating his team. I remember going to market with him, he used to say, ‘That’s as cute as can be.’ That was his highest praise for something he thought was going to be a winner.”
Wendy Kahn, president of the branded division of PSS which includes Derek Lam 10 Crosby and ATM Anthony Thomas Melillo, and a former president of Valentino North America, said, “Gerald could be a tough in conversations and strong, but he had this ease and grace and was mannered — there was no fuss. You wanted to do more business with him. Neiman Marcus was a real source of pride for hm, but he was never too caught up in the industry. He truly valued his family.”
“He was a great partner, a devoted family man and truly an all around special person,” said Massimo Caronna, president and ceo, Brunello Cucinelli North America. “Through the years of collaborating with him at Neiman Marcus, we were able to build a successful partnership thanks to his transparency, strategic input, and most of all his innate humanity which was felt in every exchange both personal and professional. Our condolences go to his dear family, who he always talked about with fondness.”
John Koryl, a former Neiman Marcus president and currently president of the Canadian Tire Corp., said he had the good fortune of sometimes traveling to European fashion weeks with Barnes. “What struck me is he knew and was loved by everyone, not just in the business, but the receptionist at the hotel, the server at a local coffee shop, his favorite driver in Paris. Seeing this and his ability to stay connected with his wife Debbie and his children during these long trips showed me the humanity and genuine love he had for his family and everyone he touched. He will be missed.”
Outside of his professional career, Barnes was a master chef, though he called himself a cook. He delighted in planning meals, matching them with the perfect wine, and finding the finest ingredients. He kept his recipes meticulously recorded and shared them, and would hold makeshift cooking classes for friends in his kitchen, which he designed himself. “When we traveled to the European shows over the years, those of us around him learned about foods we had never heard of and he dedicated himself to making sure we understand the beauty in them,” recalled Katz. In 2004, Barnes converted to Judaism to model commitment to his daughters as they began their bat mitzvah training.
Barnes is survived by his wife, Debra; his daughters Sophie and Lily, and his sisters Barbara Saporito and Margaret Anne Hilliard.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Temple Emanu-El of Dallas, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas or UT Southwestern, where Barnes received care in his last months. A memorial service will be held at Temple Emanu-El of Dallas on Monday, 11 a.m. The service will also be on Zoom: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/83484072219 – Meeting ID: 834 8407 221.