Boneparth: The Man Inside the Suit

In an interview, Jones Apparel Group ceo Peter Boneparth talks about his path to fashion and the acquisition of Barneys New York

After a decade on Wall Street, however, Boneparth became dissatisfied with the life of an investment banker. His children were very young at the time, and he didn’t have enough control over his schedule.

“Eventually, I just didn’t want to be one of those people who had to fly off all the time and miss things,” said Boneparth, who is always intent while listening and speaking, though he will idly trace the outline of his ear or pick at a stray thread or hair. “My family’s really the cornerstone of everything I do other than work.” That’s also apparent when he speaks of his wife, who is his adviser and the only girlfriend he’s ever had as an adult.

In addition to a young family, Boneparth had a theory he wanted to test. The apparel industry in the Nineties was entering a phase of consolidation, though people weren’t necessarily talking about it, and Boneparth saw opportunity.

He left the familiar world of investment banking in 1997 to become president of Norton McNaughton, an embattled manufacturer of moderately priced apparel. “Some people told me I was really pretty crazy because it was maybe irretrievably broken,” he said.

“It sounds like I was this big risk-taker, but at the end of the day, my analysis was, there’s really not that much risk,” he said. “When you’re awake at night and staring at the ceiling in the what-can-go-wrong scenario — I’m a lawyer, [my wife] was a graduate of business school.” Accordingly, a failure in fashion wouldn’t put the Boneparths out on the street.

The question never was, “What if I’m not successful?” he said, but “What if I hate it?”

In the end, however, the proclivity to take such chances has deep roots.

“With my dad, I learned a lot the hard way,” said Boneparth. “He made a lot of mistakes, unfortunately. He was the ultimate risk-taker.”

Despite blue laws on Long Island prohibiting it, Boneparth’s father always kept his retail furniture business open on Sundays. As a result, he was repeatedly arrested before the laws were changed. It became part of the Boneparth family’s weekend ritual.
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