Holding court on West Broadway.
The alliteratively named Barney Bishop was graced with a name befitting his dapper bearing. When we met for coffee recently at Soho’s Ground Support, he sported cufflinks in his white herringbone, French-cuff shirt and a silk pocket square in the breast pocket of his striped linen sport coat. Relaxing the look a bit were dark denims and a crepe soled loafer. He’d just wrapped up a semester in the Master’s program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at NYU and actually had time to sit and chat a while. As we sat outside, several well-dressed confrères passed by, cigars in tow, asking Barney if he’d be heading to nearby “smoker’s sanctuary,” OK Cigars, where he’s been known to partake of a stogie or two.
When the fragrance connoisseur asked what I was wearing, I sheepishly confided that though I’d intended to dazzle with a sophisticated scent that had long since faded, his perceptive nose was picking up on my Whole Foods lavender hand sanitizer. Thus began our convo about one of his great passions. As far back as he can remember, he would steal away to his parent’s bedroom to inhale the aromas wafting from his father’s dresser. His dad would purchase fragrance sets only to get the practical, cooling, scented powders; the bottles of Aramis, Tuscany and so on would go unused, but would trigger a nascent love in his first-born.
In 1994 while working at Saks Fifth Avenue, Jean Paul Gaultier made an in store appearance promoting his new perfume and I remember getting a whiff of it and thinking to myself, this is amazing…what interesting notes. Although it was for women, I wondered why I couldn’t find anything as interesting for men. From that point I was addicted to the power of fragrance.
– From the December 2007 launch of Barney’s blog, Fragrant Moments.
The genesis of the blog is in the exchanges on fragrance between the PR professional and his kindred tonsorial and sartorial spirit, Brian Boye, the Fashion and Grooming Director of Men’s Health. Barney was feeling a creative void and found that “jotting down notes on fragrance” was satisfying. “It is a labor of love” that is growing– a perfumer even queried him about creating a scent. “Maybe in time,” Barney says. For now, he is “really having fun with the journey. Though August Bishop was a shared experience and I cherish it, this is mine.”
I met Barney eons ago when his Brooklyn College classmate, the enterprising Dexter Wimberly pulled him in on a freelance assignment getting the word out about Detroit-based designer Maurice Malone. I was working up a fashion story on African-American designers for Essence and I was impressed with the professionalism of the young men. I had no idea that Barney juggled jobs at Saks Fifth Avenue and UPS and Dexter was a party-promoting, underground rapper. Dexter’s growing music contacts led him to focus on PR/Marketing full-time and he approached Barney with the idea to create a PR agency. Barney naively asked, “What’s that?” The reply? “What we’ve been doing.” So in 1995, they launched August Bishop, LLC, the lofty name a combination of Dexter’s birth month and Barney’s surname. Though he quit the Saks gig, Barney, embracing “working class stability,” continued his UPS job at night.
The young agency got their “big break” in 1998 snagging The Coca Cola Company as a client, which gave them business credibility to land Adidas in 2000. At the time the 3-stripes needed to move “outside the shadow of the [iconic] shell toe sneaker,” the sports fanatic recalls. “We blew the project out of the water. We over delivered what they expected,” garnering press from not only the usual suspects, like The Source and XXL, but from such publications as ID and One Magazine. “We did 10 or 11 launches for them, major.” Then Virgin Mobile USA came knocking in 2002 with the pay-as-you-go concept. “It was not considered sexy,” connoted bad credit, but “we spun the story of [Richard] Branson’s maverick approach, did the consumer launch and within 9 months the program attracted 1/2 million new subscribers.” 2005 brought the “very important client,” L’Oréal as well as their final year of business. The agency had “a great run,” ten years, but the economy changed things and there were cash flow issues, even with big-name clients. The gents grew “tired of juggling, robbing Peter to pay Paul” and decided to “keep it moving.”
During the August Bishop heyday: Barney Bishop and Dexter Wimberly.
The post-August Bishop years have been wrought with love, fraught with loss and filled with tremendous personal growth. Robert Bishop, the steadfast 37-year employee of Kingsbrook Jewish Hospital known affectionately as “Pops,” instilled a sense of propriety in his sons, Barney and Lamont. The sportsman of Bajan legend (in basketball and “one the best wing halves in the game” of football) has been absolute hero to his boys, “communicating many things–values, responsibility…tying ties, grooming.” Lamont’s doctoral thesis in psychology was on the “influence of authority on Black males. He was getting his PhD because of his experience with my Dad.”
Robert Bishop, athletic hero to Barbados; life hero to his sons. When asked about the secret to his 44-year marriage to the beautiful Eula, he says, “we just work together.”
The family was shattered in May of last year when doctoral candidate and new father, Lamont suddenly and inexplicably passed away. “It rocked us. It was so unexpected,” Barney recounts. It is in the education advocate Lamont’s memory that Barney has begun graduate school. “Lamont was super smart–dean’s list all through college. He could wear the skin of the homeboy and turn on the intellect when he needed to.”
Sorrow turned to joy when a few months later, Barney’s girlfriend of eight years, Eliana Ramos, in a gutsy move, topped their “meet cute” (actually on their second meeting when they each went in to plant a hello kiss on the cheek, their lips met) with an “engaged cuter.” Eli told her man that she was taking him on a surprise trip and that he should bring something nice to wear. “I’m particular about my clothes, so I set out a few things for her to choose,” the appropriate garments for the occasion. At some point in flight, Eliana told Barney to close his eyes; she had a surprise for him. When he opened them, there were “rings in front of me. I instantly matured.” “I want to marry you,” she said. “I was speechless,” he remembers. “You’re making me nervous, say something,” she said. “Yes, I’ll marry you, but I need to call my pops for his blessing,” he responded.
When they landed, in Maui, no less, Barney called home. “Eliana proposed and wants to get married this weekend.” His dad replied, “you know I’d like to see this but you completely have my blessing. She’s great!.” She’d arranged everything in advance so they married at sunset, “no stress, on the beach.”
Of his lovely bride, Barney says “I had never seen her look more beautiful!” Read Eliana’s account on her fantastic blog, A Chica Bakes.
After a couple of hours it became clear that Barney enjoys communion– with family, with the fellas, with his love; that the experience of food, drink, sport, even fragrance is best enjoyed shared. Check his trove and you too will see…
Chocolate Chunk Cookies, © A Chica Bakes.
BB chills with the incredibly photogenic Kingston.
Bishop, père is skilled not only in sports, but in the Bajan art of steaming fish.
The “Four Musketeers:” Lamont, Barney, Mom and Dad Bishop in a treasured family portrait.