The Trove: Barney Bishop

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…

1. Eliana’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies. “They are so rich…She uses dark chocolate off the bar,” he says of his wife’s variant on the humble chocolate chip. “She makes the batter one day, bakes another. The batter develops as it rests…silky, delicious.”


Chocolate Chunk Cookies, © A Chica Bakes.

2. Couch/Quiche Sundays. The Bishop’s enjoy bistro chic from the comfort of home on Sundays when Eliana whips up a mean quiche, a little salad and mimosas to wash it all down. “We just veg out on the couch and watch the Food Network until it’s time to fight over who’s going to make dinner,” he laughs. Joining them in the Sunday sofa chill is their long-haired, miniature dachshund, Kingston.


BB chills with the incredibly photogenic Kingston.

3. Fragrance. With a highly developed and discerning sense of olfaction, Barney  has been a passionate collector of fragrances since childhood. Everyone who knows him, knows this. Whilst in Paris in 2008 for Eliana’s marathon run, Barney made his way to highly regarded French perfumer, Frédéric Malle to indulge in their scent chambers–“nothing to interrupt the scent experience.” He delighted in the moment as a non-French-speaking, African-American, het man “in this frou-frou place” where “fragrance became the bridge to communication.” When in broken English the shop girl asked him what he was drawn to, his sophisticated response made her “erupt in a smile” and bring out a fragrance for him to sample.  He sniffed and asked if it contained Cumin.  She laughed.  Affirmative. “We bonded,” he says, “dialogued about it,” as best they could.  Before he realized that last summer’s in-flight surprise was a marriage proposal, Barney, true fragrance aficionado, thought that upon opening his closed eyes he’d be presented with a bottle of Musc Ravageur from Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle.

Though he counts 35-40 fragrances in his personal collection, one that consistently tops his list is Rose 31 from Le Labo.

4. Dad’s Steamed Kingfish.  What makes it so good? “It’s just the way he seasons it…plus we get to sit and eat together and rap about whatever is on our minds while throwing back a brew.”


Bishop,
père is skilled not only in sports, but in the Bajan art of steaming fish.

5. Killian’s Irish Red. Though he may have had “an occasional Heineken at a lime, West Indian talk for party,” Barney once “hated beer.”  That changed on St. Patrick’s Day 2009 when he had drinks at an East side bar featuring specials on Killian’s Irish Red lager and Johnnie Walker: “the hops and barley of Killian’s offered a depth and complexity that just grabbed me. I drank three more along with shots of Johnnie and have never looked back,” he says with winking smile.
Slow roasting the barley to a rich, caramelized malt lends Killian’s its distinctive ruddy hue and creamy finish.

6. Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken. “There’s just so much damn flavor I can’t even describe it, but I have it every time I go there.”  And he knows good chicken– his southern-born mama can fry the yardbird too.”


“Northern Fried Chicken” from Blue Ribbon Brasserie. Photo, Robyn Lee.

7. Lamont’s Bottle of Penhaligon’s Lp No.9. The popular 1999 Penhaligon’s fragrance for men was one that Barney had “outgrown” and given to his brilliant, beloved younger brother who seemed to fancy it.  The well-loved bottle resided on Lamont’s dresser and provided solace and connection when Barney faced the unthinkable– his brother’s sudden passing.  He shares the story on his blog, Fragrant Moments.

A cherished, fragrant memento.

8. Family. “Family is central to who I am.”  When Robert of St. Michael, Barbados and Eula of Pantego, NC wed, they set the foundation for an extremely close nuclear bond. “We, us four, were mad tight.” Lamont’s death was so unexpected, “it rocked us,” after a life filled with love, respect and no major family riffs.  And as the family cherishes Lamont’s memory, they adore his look-a-like son Aidan and mom Aquila Lovell and welcome Eli, the new Mrs. Bishop.


The “Four Musketeers:” Lamont, Barney, Mom and Dad Bishop in a treasured family portrait.

9. Have a Little Faith. Regardless of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie fame, sports fan Barney knew him as an ESPN journalist.  He came across Albom’s poignant tale juxtaposing the lives of two men of differing faiths and races, while searching for an in-flight read at an airport bookseller.
Lovingly rendered in Albom’s hands, the faith journeys of affluent Philadelphia’s Rabbi Albert Lewis and inner-city Detroit’s Pastor Henry Covington provide inspiration.

10. Latin Jazz. He hit upon some Latin rhythms while scrolling his tuner in search of WBGO many years ago.  He began to listen “with pen and paper close by” to make note of the tunes which intrigued him and would make the trek to HMV or Tower Records to needle drop at their listening stations.

With their remarkable mimicry of instrumental sounds, Cuban a capella group, ‘Vocal Sampling,’ “blows my mind,” Barney enthuses.  Their version of Afro-Cuban classic,'(Castellano) Que Bueno Baila Usted’ is his favorite in their repertoire.
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14 Responses

  1. Once again Sharon, a brilliant article. I especially love the story of how Eliana and Barney got married. WOW! How Romantic and so girl power! Why wait for the man…take it into your own hands…however, Barney is a special man and she knows him..for him to be secure in letting his woman ask him to get married! LOVE IT

    xoxo
    Diane

  2. This made me smile. I’ve know Barney (or B, as I call him) for well over a decade–possibly close to 15 years. And even back then, when we were all “on the come up” trying to make our marks on this fast-paced world of NYC, B was impeccable in his dress. A true fan of haberdashery. He’s also always been a good-to-the-bones kind of person and solid friend.

    Got the chance to meet his lovely bride, Eliana, at a blogger’s conference recently. She’s a darling. Funny, too. Next up? To sample the crazy chocolate chunk cookies!

    Great stuff, Sharon. Once again.

  3. Just one more of your great troves, this is a very special series of fabulous friends. I hope you will consider putting this is a book.

  4. You certainly captured Barney Bishop’s generosity of spirit, equally evident to all of us at NYU. Great profile of a classy guy whose fashion sense is only a small part of his tremendous style inside and out.

  5. This is such a well-deserved profile on a great human being! Barney is a wonderful friend to all who are fortunate to know him. Also, what a beautiful tribute to his wife, brother and lovely parents – kudos, on a great piece!

  6. Wonderful piece. It captured so much but there is so much more to tell. I, however, would simply rename it “The Treasure Trove: Brilliant Barney Bishop.”

    Much love.

  7. As usual, Sharon, you nailed it.

    Barney is oh-so fly! Old-school/new school, dapper and down to earth, passionate and knowledgeable… I’m just glad I know such a stellar individual. Love you madly Mr. Bishop!

  8. I’m such a fan of Barney Bishop. Can’t wait to read this.

  9. Wow, knowing Barney (& the Bishop family) for almost as long as I’ve been alive, I can truly attest to the goodness that came so naturally out of that household. Growing up with Barney & Lou brought nothing but beauty into my life, & gave me a clear understanding of how family should be. I do not own a jewel more precious than Barney’s friendship.

  10. Barney,

    Great piece! Its nice to get a peek into how you became you. A pleasure to read and great photos too.

    Kevin

  11. Thanks all for your comments! @Kevin, you were among the “several well-dressed confrères” who passed as Barney and I spoke.

  12. WOWWW!!!!!!, I have been able to see first hand Barney’s maturation process from a young man to the GROWN MAN he is today. Whether as a neighbor, friend, business associate or as someone who has also had a dear Brother Pass Over. He is incredible and this article truly does tell the story. I can not say enough about the positive and progressive influence of his parents. This piece has brought a tears of joy. WONDERFUL JUST WONDERFUL !!!!!!!!

    STAY STRONG
    &
    HOLD TIGHT

  13. Sharon, I’m so impressed by not only the very interesting people you write about (wasn’t familiar with Barney Bishop, but now I am, and I feel blessed to have gotten to ‘know him’ through this piece — also enjoyed reading everyone else’s comments about him, how cool), but by your care and the ‘flavor’ your pieces pull from and weave around the subject and the reader. Bravo, again! Barney, love “Vocal Sampling” –thanks for turning me onto them! — J.

  14. Wow, what a great article! I’ve known Barney for years through my brother, Dexter. Congrats on the marriage!! Eliana, “you did that”! How romantic that was! Barney, you are a gifted young man and I truly wish you much success.

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