Barneys New York recently announced it would open the High End, making it the first major retailer to launch a luxury cannabis lifestyle and wellness shop. The new shop will be housed in its flagship West Coast location in Beverly Hills.
And Barneys is not messing around when it comes to actual boutique flowers: One of the most legendary cultivators of the last decade, Mario “Mr. Sherbinski" Guzman, leads a lineup of some of the most hyped high-end cannabis products of the moment.
“Barneys New York has always been at the forefront of shifts in culture and lifestyle, and cannabis is no exception,” Daniella Vitale, CEO-president of Barneys New York, said in announcing the launch. “Many of our customers have made cannabis a part of their lifestyle, and the High End caters to their needs with extraordinary products and service they experience in every facet of Barneys New York.”
While other classy brands will be coming on board for the launch, there's no denying that Mr. Sherbinski and his Sherbinskis brand will represent the most elite offering in the shop. His Gelato is coveted by anyone with a nose for fine cannabis and various rappers who just like great pot. Most recently it was all the rage at Stephanie Shepard’s Grammys afterparty. The weed was so good that Usher just started dancing in the living room.
Matthew Mazzucca, creative director for Barneys New York, explained how it all came together. He said Barneys has witnessed a cultural shift when it comes to cannabis and saw the opportunity to bring a luxury perspective to this culture. “The idea was to create a new category that fits the lifestyle and expectations of our Barneys clients,” Mazzucca told L.A. Weekly.
The most obvious question was how Barneys transitions its standards to the emerging cannabis marketplace.
“Barneys New York is always looking at the intersection between innovation, art, design and culture," Mazzucca said. “We seek to bring our customers that curation at the highest, most elevated level. Right now, the Barneys shopper in Beverly Hills may also be interested in cannabis culture but they will be looking for something that suits their tastes and expectations.”
Mazzucca said that with the High End, Barneys has created a category that caters to its customers' needs with the same level of quality and service they expect from everything they find at Barneys New York.
The Wait for Luxury
The cannabis luxury space has been a bit tricky to define in past years. For a decade after Proposition 215 passed, any kind of luxury was going to be a big red flag for medical marijuana dispensary owners doing their best to provide for patients and stay out of prison. What’s the point of a crystal chandelier if it’s just going to end up in a Department of Justice evidence impound? Good luck trying to convince the jury you’re not a drug dealer. So dispensary buildouts tended to have a vibe that fell somewhere between a medical clinic and a speakeasy.
2008 would be the year that vibe started to change, but it would still take a few more years to really get going. The two main factors were incoming President Barack Obama and then-California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s new guidelines provided best practices for proving you were a legit medical marijuana entity in the event the state came calling.
But on the federal level, after a few years the DOJ believed its leniency of the early days of the Obama administration may have caused a proliferation of larger-scale grows. 2011 saw the four U.S. attorneys in California say they would go after large-scale operators; then a flurry of letters hit landlords across the state threatening to seize the properties occupied by state-legal medical marijuana operations. Still not a time to get fancy.
But then it all cooled off a bit, especially once Sanjay Gupta showed everyone how CBD improved the quality of life children with some of the most vicious forms of epilepsy, like Dravet's syndrome. This changing of the national mindset on medical cannabis created an atmosphere that felt safer, and that was when the green rush entered warp speed.
Luxury and marijuana had previously been terms only combined when talking about the best flowers or hash on the planet, and even then it was debatable. In the end luxury is a user experience, and even the top of the mountain had been coming out of the same Mason jars as its lower-quality peers for most of the last 20 years.
We saw the brands that had survived the Dark Ages of pot put their foot on the gas and new faces pop up, and eventually, as in the case of Sherbinskis, people already crushing got things in order for what we’ve seen the market become. But few have been able to transition the mystique of the past into the present like Sherbinski.
What Will Be on the Shelves?
In a world that loved O.G. Kush, nothing shook the foundations of the cannabis establishment like when the original Cookies strains hit the world, most notably the Thin Mint phenotype crafted by famed San Francisco breeder and Cookie Fam patriarch Jigga. While Cookies was rocking the world, Jigga would collaborate with Sherbinki on Gelato before they took it in separate directions over the years.
It was so good that many variations from different seed stock over the years have been worth keeping. This led to various versions making waves. Most notably, the Gelato #33, #45 and #41 drove the most enthusiasm. But when you see the Baccio, Acaiberry and Gello versions Sherbinskis has developed and stabilized the most glorious traits, it's another level. Gelato is a must-stock item, but most growers can compare with what Sherbinski produces, given his experience and scale of production.
So in a world where luxury cannabis has been described in “could be's” and “would be’s,” seeing it actually kick off with great pot is a really positive thing. PR companies have spent years trying to build up cannabis products as "luxury" or "boutique." Despite all the bullshitters, Barneys cut through the haze quick and set a proper standard.
We spoke with Sherbinski about helping set the bar for luxury cannabis. He was quick to point to his San Francisco roots, which mirror those of the cannabis industry founded by AIDS patients and activists looking to provide effective medicine to themselves and peers.
“Just being in San Francisco, in a time when Proposition 215 and SB 420 were really going on, I just ended up somehow just growing and I got lucky,” Sherbinski told L.A. Weekly. “I really enjoyed it. Just being there in San Francisco in the late '90s, early 2000, really put me in the right place for this.”
So many new cannabis brands start from square one with zero name value. We asked Sherbinski about what the process is like when you’re dealing with the opposite. How does someone transition that magic and energy they’ve already built over to a brand without selling it out?
“It was an uphill battle," he admitted. "I had this vision of where I felt like this needed to go. And with my genetics and everyone saying that my stuff was some of the best in the world. I felt like the imagery we had and packaging had to associate accordingly.”
Nobody was packaging their own product a few years ago when it came to flowers. Sherbinski has a hunch that a new day was coming and the packaging itself would be the first standard a flower brand would present to the world, even before a buyer knewg what was inside. But if people presumed what was inside was going to be some heat already, it deserved to look cool, too. Sherbinskis’ first generation of signature orange jars stood out wildly in a world just beginning to accept opaque packaging was best to preserve product quality.
“It was tough back then. A lot of people were still riding the street wave, the black-market wave, and I went a different way. It really slowed me down," he said. "But doing that and having that vision it was what was able to separate me at this time.”
So while some black-market snowballs rolled down the hill ever growing, Sherbinski was essentially standing at the race gate waiting to go Bode Miller on the legal marketplace.
“Honestly, I expected it. I didn’t expect it this soon,” Sherbinski said. “It’s nice to start getting recognized for the work. It’s amazing, living the dream.” He said every day is something new and the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in cannabis. “I feel fortunate to be able to do this every day and live in California. And have this business being driven by the state where I grew up.”
Joining Sherbinski for launch day in Beverly Hills is Défoncé Chocolatier. When Défoncé hit shelves a couple years ago it brought a particular design flair. When the market was artificially regulated by the 100mg cap, removing the battle for maximum bang for the buck, Défoncé was well positioned to stand out against a bunch of products of equal strength. The single-sourced chocolate and cannabis effort has led Défoncé to the High End.
Défoncé CEO Eric Eslao first got word of the possibility last summer, and he felt with the high-end push Défoncé had already made, the collaboration with Barneys was perfect. Eslao admits he had pushed for more quality in the craft than luxury when he envisions Défoncé, but he’s thrilled to see the way it’s being recognized.
“I was never trying to take a luxury position,” Eslao told L.A. Weekly. “I really like the idea of being everyday premium.”
For the masses?
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“Exactly. People who consume on a daily basis. It’s approachable,” Eslao said, noting he loves that the products will now be available at Barneys.
Barneys’ High End also will feature products from Beboe.
“I'm so thrilled that cannabis culture has come so far that it can exist and feel perfectly at home in such a prestigious context as Barneys New York," said Beboe co-founder Scott Campbell. "Barneys has never been shy about pushing creative boundaries in retail, and it makes perfect sense that they would be the first to support and elevate cannabis to new levels."
The High End will be located on the fifth floor of Barneys. Keep an eye out for an expanding lineup of products.