by Alexander Julian

I thought it would be easy, writing an MR obituary for my dear friend and mentor Peter Barton. Yet it’s taken me longer than I expected, so difficult is it saying goodbye to such a special friend and life coach.

A true Renaissance man, 91-year-old fashion and footwear designer Peter Barton passed away in his sleep Saturday February 26, according to his wife Phylomena. His multifaceted creativity and joie de vivre were inspirations for all, and he was, in fact, a mentor to many.

Glenn Taylor of Taylor Richards Conger said it well: “I was 26 when I met Peter in 1973 in his showroom. I remember the meeting clearly, thinking I’d never met anyone quite like him, and my first impression proved correct. Over the following years, we had conversations about business-basketball-politics-golf-jazz-family; Peter was knowledgeable and philosophical about each. He prompted me to think about life in a much larger context. Unique, kind, quick witted, well read and very talented, he had an ever-present aura that never dimmed from our first conversation through our last, the week of his passing. It’s hard to lose a friend like Peter as there are so few of his character in life’s journey.”

Bob Beauchamp, former Fashion Editor of GQ and Esquire, noted, “We kept trying to nominate Peter Barton for all the big fashion awards but he always politely declined! He was a charming, talented, dapper, charismatic gentleman with integrity.”

Born and raised in Brooklyn, 16-year-old Peter left Brooklyn to travel the country playing saxophone in a Big Band, an experience that he said taught him all about human nature. (I always believed his musical sensibility gave his designs their rhythm and harmony.) 

After serving in the Army in Korea, he first turned to men’s shoe design, adding other products as he prospered. As a top consultant at Henri Bendel, Peter saw potential in men’s footwear, and left to form Renegades with partner Nancy Knox. They were the first to add color to men’s leather dress shoes. After great success, they were acquired by Genesco, an early conglomerate. Peter famously shook up the staid Board of Directors by jumping up on the Boardroom conference table to ensure each director saw the shoes! “Look at these! This is the future!” he shouted! Surely his Big Band experience informed his engaging showmanship.

“Peter Barton’s Closet” became the only menswear sold at Henri Bendel. His regular customers included Tony Bennett, John Lennon, Roberta Flack, Steve Martin, Keith Jarrett, Cher, Woody Allen, Jackie O (only by appointment when the store had closed). Wilkes Bashford and Jerry Magnin opened “Peter Barton’s Closet” instore boutiques. 

Peter giving his daughter Sophia an education about shoes.

“He was ahead of his time, always projecting suave, casual elegance, always in fabulous taste,” said Mr. Magnin. “He even produced incredible olive oil on his farm in Umbria, which we sold in our store and used in all our restaurants!”

Refusing to even think of retiring, he and his beautiful handwoven scarves made by Dunlop of Maine became a fixture at all the trade shows well into Peter’s 90th year.

On a personal note, although I grew up in the business, Peter taught me so many things, most importantly about becoming a three-dimensional person. Too many people in every industry get consumed by their work and don’t live their lives to the fullest. Peter showed me the way. He influenced so many people; he was a life coach who knew how to live.”

Peter is survived by his loving wife Phylomena, adored daughter Sophia, and three cherished grandsons. He did his best to hang on in order to meet his impending granddaughter, due in August.


  1. Peter was one of the kindest men that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
    A Prince of a guy!! (The Best of the BEST)
    You will always be missed by many, my friend.

  2. Peter was a very special person . . . he was also my best friend.

    We talked every week and if you knew him, you can image he did most of the talking. We talked about a lot of things but especially about the METS his favorite baseball team.

    Peter had class and style and always a smile. He had a zest for life that was contagious. He was always there for me when I needed help or an honest opinion. He was the most positive and optimistic man I have known.
    This kid from Brooklyn with his drive and talent and worldly experience became a true Renaissance Man . . . I will miss him enormously.

  3. A true gentleman. We would have dinner and reminisce about Italy and the industry. He is part of the industry history and will be missed.

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