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People Top 5
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- June 21, 1976
- Vol. 5
- No. 24
It's the Barries—father George and Son Richie Turn Scents into Dollars
In business together since 1963, when Barrie the elder bought Fabergé for $26 million, and Barrie the younger signed on as a salesman, the two have parlayed a $10 million perfume business into a sprawling international conglomerate boasting sales of more than $180 million per year. "We never had a rivalry like a lot of kids have with their fathers," explains the chain-smoking George. "Richie started at the bottom and worked his way up. I'm sure there was resentment from my staff, but he worked hard at jobs other people couldn't do." The self-assured Richard, his father's executive vice president from 1971 to last April, emphatically confirms the statement. "We've run the show together for the last five years," he declares. "I've created a lot of new products. I should be president."
The Brooklyn-born George, a onetime professional musician, began selling cosmetics in 1945 for Minnesota manufacturer Raymond Lee. Within a year business was booming, so Barrie borrowed $8,500 from his father-in-law to set up his own company, Caryl Richards, in a rundown New Jersey garage. (The company was named after Richard and his sister Caryl, now married. Son Craig, 27, Richard's half-brother, is head of Fabergé's salon division.) "I bought some second-hand tanks and hired a chemist," he says. "Then I took to the road and sold a line of products that hadn't even been designed yet."
From the beginning, Barrie concentrated on packaging and fragrance. "Way before we were involved with Fabergé," he explains, "we always worked on the assumption that if something smelled good, people were going to buy it." Immersing himself in the delicate chemistry of scent, he became an expert appraiser of perfume. "It amazes people—even chemists—that I know how much resin or whatever is in a product," he says.
Barrie's investment quickly paid off. Caryl Richards turned a $30,000 profit in its first year, and in 1961, with sales over $7 million, Barrie bought out his old boss, Raymond Lee. Two years later he took over Fabergé. Not content simply with prodding the company into third place in sales of cosmetics and toiletries—behind Revlon and Avon—he has recently plunged into showbiz. Brut Productions spent $2 million on the movie A Touch of Class in 1972, then watched it rack up hefty profits and win five Academy Award nominations, including one for the film's musical theme, which George Barrie wrote with lyricist Sammy Cahn. (Barrie earned a second nomination this year for the theme from the Elliott Gould movie Whiffs, another Brut offering. "Two out of two isn't bad," he gloats.) Brut Records has issued albums by Robert Klein (Mind Over Matter) and Sugar Loaf Jerry Corbetta (I Got a Song). Brut Television co-produced the popular suspense series The Protectors, starring Robert Vaughn. And Brut Publishing Co. has issued its first book, a manual on the psychology of marriage and sex.
Intrigued by celebrity selling power, George lured Cary Grant and Polly Bergen onto Fabergé's board of directors, and hired sports stars like Namath, Billie Jean King and Muhammad Ali for Brut TV commercials. The Ali spots were made before the controversial fighter regained the heavyweight championship. "We put the first commercial on NBC, and I think we lost the entire Southern district in one day," recalls George. "But after Ali won the championship back, I asked if he'd do another commercial. He said, 'I didn't forget what you did for me when I was down and out,' and he took the minimum amount of money."
Twice married and once divorced, George Barrie lives in Westport, Conn,, but keeps a pied-à-terre at New York's Warwick Hotel, across the street from his offices. His business quarters, tailored to his taste, are a space-age vision in mirrored walls, fluorescent colors, chrome and Lucite; his gleaming black, crescent-shaped desk stands cluttered with perfumes, hairsprays and records. Nearby is his "playroom," equipped with two Baldwin pianos (there is an electric piano on Barrie's company jet), an organ, bongos and drums, where he composes and holds jam sessions. By 5 p.m., when Barrie is in town, business associates begin arriving for the ritual "happy hour," a designation Barrie rejects. "All my hours are happy," he insists.
Diversions aside, Barrie never relaxes his grip on the business. "No fragrance can represent Fabergé without my okay," he declares. "It was Richie's idea to get Margaux involved in Babe, but I supervised the perfume. It is mine, and the name is mine."
The younger Barrie, who at 5'6" stands two inches taller than his father, is quieter, but equally driven. A native New Yorker, he was raised on Long Island and in Florida. After spending a semester at Indiana University—"because I wanted to get away from the Miami Beach and New York crap"—Richard abruptly changed gears, graduating magna cum laude in marketing from the University of Miami. Ignoring his father's advice to take a year off and see the world, young Barrie joined the company the day after graduation, and six months later married his high school sweetheart. "When you're 21 or 22, you don't know as much as you think you know," he admits. "I didn't know how to be married. I was immersed in work; it was like I was blindfolded. And around 30 you want to do the playboy thing. With success you go everywhere, meet famous people. I wanted to be free to go and do what I wanted—and to meet other girls." (Now divorced, Barrie has two daughters, Jaymie, 9, and Audra, 5.)
For two years Barrie played swinger, wore jeans and Western boots to the office, went out on the town every night. "It was fun for a while, and then it wasn't," he recalls. "When something important happened, there was no one to share it with." That problem was solved when he met British model Lynn Partington, 29, with whom he now shares an apartment on New York's posh Sutton Place. "She is a terrific girl," says Barrie. "We've both been around a bit, so we have a good chance to make a relationship work. I'll probably remarry some day, but there is no hurry."
A pilot like his father—he flies helicopters; the elder Barrie flies jets—the youthful Fabergé president relaxes at his 200-acre Diamond-Bar-B-Farms in Pittstown, N.J. "The farm is my life-saver," he says. "It takes an hour and 20 minutes to drive there from the New York office [in his red Mercedes SEL 450]. I run in and change clothes, get on a horse and just ride." A medal-winning rodeo competitor, with a personal string of 25 quarter horses, Barrie has equipped the farm with indoor and outdoor riding arenas, as well as the swimming pool and tennis court.
"I have less and less patience with anyone who doesn't have drive and hunger, and dedication to his job," Richard declares. "I'm not as soft as I used to be." George Barrie would doubtless approve. "It probably was hard for Richie to have such a successful father," he observes, "but he's continually proving that he is as good as or better than I am, and I love it." Richard says: "I'm not competing with my father. I don't want to be better than he is. I try to be great on my own."
December 22, 2014
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