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She’s Got Style

Designer Jhane Barnes shifts her focus



That’s Jhane—with a silent h—like with VanDerRohe and Jasper Johns. Maybe it’s a modern thing—honestly.

Photo Douglas Foulke

Yves Saint Laurent allegedly said “Fashion fades, but style is eternal.”

Ironically, the first thing that Jhane Barnes told me when I called her to discuss style was that she was out of the fashion business. Barnes’s got style, and it’s bigger, more enduring, and more fundamental than the business of fashion. Barnes’s style is strictly modern, and she’s now focused on designing commercial furniture, floorings, and textiles—and men’s eyewear. While you might not know her work, you’ve probably walked on a carpet she designed, and she has certainly earned a spot amongst the top modern commercial stylists of the last three decades.

To be sure, Barnes still revels in the prominence she had as a men’s fashion designer, producer, and retailer, and when she was winning prestigious Menswear Designer of the Year awards in the 1980s. As her rags-to-nicer-rags story goes, she ran from the start, with a small investment secured right out of college at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Barnes began to produce men’s pants—without back pockets, and paired with blouson jackets—to replace the traditional suit, and found popular success after developing a following of well-known and devoted personalities.

She designed fabrics using her own looms and was capable of taking a garment from idea to sold. She says her approach was “to design clothes for men that fit their bodies, the way clothes are designed for women, because men come in all shapes and sizes and don’t fit the standard forms that men’s designers use.” For Barnes, “men’s clothes have always been more about the fabric, the pattern, the texture, the way a particular garment draped, how something made the wearer look and feel, than filling the slot in the guy’s closet for one of his utility blazers or some other conforming outfit.” Barnes closed her men’s apparel business in 2014.

In 2011, she sold the second of the two homes in Pound Ridge, where she had maintained a residence for almost two decades, and purchased two homes in Waccabuc, one designed by Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff : Goettel Architects, where Barnes resides, and one by John Ciardullo Associates, where she has her office. “I would never live in a traditional house,” she says.  

Barnes’s throne of operations is at the center of a strikingly modern, large, soaring, geometric main room of wood and glass. Like everything else, Barnes insisted it be strikingly modern. She is surrounded, with reach-out-and-touch efficiency to almost all parts of the room, by racks of textile samples, displays of floor sampling, a floor-full of carpet samples, and what looks like a really slick, all black, computer and large-scale printer from off The Enterprise.

What Barnes explains, is that technology is really at the core of her strictly modern design. She uses customized, math-based software, developed by engineers at Syracuse University, to input requirements for an algorithm which will best fulfill her design goals, including things from pure aesthetic to how many times a given pattern will repeat and what that will mean in terms of how many carpet panels will need to be produced for a given space. “For me, it’s all about the process. My unique process dictates that each thing I produce is purely original. If I’m recognized for anything, it’s that I don’t copy anything, not even myself. In my work, I’m not inspired by the work of others. The world inspires me. Then I use my software like an artist uses a brush—which is a lucky thing, because I can’t paint.”

Nowadays, Barnes wins awards from organizations you probably haven’t heard of for the originality and excellence of her furniture, textiles, and carpeting, and gets paid by companies you probably have heard of, like Knoll, Tarkett, and Bernhardt Furniture, to project her brand of style into the modern interiors of commercial buildings (Google, Rolls Royce, and Bank of America, to name a few).

I would say she was something like the famous modern architect Mies Van Der Rohe of commercial interiors, at least in terms of the flavor of modernity expressed in each of their styles; but Barnes cautions me that she “never wanted to create things that were like those of other people.” I asked her about what she might do if asked to do ‘the red carpet;” she said she “didn’t know exactly, but it would be textured and have a pattern.” She’s presently most excited about her upcoming installation of engineered carpets at some huge airport.

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