“At the time, it was the epitome of chic and fashion-forward in New York,” recalls designer Stephen Burrows when he reflected on Henri Bendel. This iconic landmark store in New York had a great run, making its mark on the fashion scene for over 100 years. Here is a look back at the history of Henri Bendel.
Henri Bendel, The Man
Born in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1868, Henri Bendel had his sights set on something big. He was an innovator with cutting-edge ideas for women’s fashion, so he left his home state to move to New York. There he worked as a milliner and was able to open his own shop in Greenwich Village in 1895. He gained a reputation for being a man of infallible taste, and the city’s elite flocked to him. His boutique became known as a beacon of luxury.
The Early 1900s
Bendel was a smart businessman and excellent at marketing. He made his mark, literally and figuratively, by branding himself. He was the first retailer to do so, and he registered his own trademark in 1895. The brown and white striped shopping bag and hatbox from 1907 are now legendary and easily identifiable. A worthy addition to the history of Henri Bendel.
By 1913, Bendel was a true pioneer in the luxury fashion industry in the United States. Bendel was the first luxury retailer with an upper Fifth Avenue address. He pioneered the semi-annual sale that is common today. Another first was the in-store makeover, which Bendel originated. The first fashion show in New York was by Bendel, as well. His mark on luxury fashion in the United States extends far beyond his product line. He revolutionized the way fashion was seen and marketed.
Bendel was more than just a smart retailer, he was a phenomenal designer and a passionate fashion promoter. He is the one who brought Coco Chanel to the United States. His store carried the latest in Paris Couture alongside his original designs. The product line expanded to offer more than just apparel. Bendel offered luxury shoppers fragrances, custom furs, hats, skincare, cosmetics, lingerie, handbags, and even a bridal line.
The Late 1900s
Always growing and innovating, Bendels was led by former fashion magazine editor Geraldine Stutz in the 1960s. She created the famed “street of shops.” This radical idea at the time introduced separate departments for watches, handbags, etc. It was a precursor to modern in-store displays.
Of all the famous designers to have passed through Henri Bendel, possibly the most notable name affiliated with the brand has little to do with fashion. The discovery of Andy Warhol was by Bendel. The young artist was brought on as an in-house illustrator and went on to become a phenomenal artist who is still recognized worldwide. He got his start at Bendel.
In 1985, Les Wexner, chairman of L Brands, purchased Henri Bendel and opened a new flagship store in 1991. During the renovation, one of a kind Lalique windows were uncovered. With the help of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Henri Bendel’s applied for and was granted landmark status from the Landmark Preservation Commission.
Following in the trend started by Andy Warhol, Bendel continued its history of fashion-centric illustration. Izak Zenou joined the company in 1994 as an illustrator. Izak’s Bendel girl illustrations have become synonymous with the brand and the history of Henri Bendel
The turn of the century brought many changes to Henri Bendel. New management and a changing market led the new ownership to make the decision to stop selling clothing in 2009. The store shifted its focus to more lucrative accessories, gifts, and beauty products. This decision was not enough to maintain the brand, however. Henri Bendel’s management continued to face tough decisions.
Sadly, a recent announcement indicates that Henri Bendel will close in January 2019. In a statement posted on their website, the team shares that “We cannot thank you enough for the incredible outpouring of love and support you have shown for Henri Bendel in light of our recent announcement. Your loyalty to the brown and white stripes means the world, and we are committed to making the upcoming fall and holiday seasons our best ever!” It is the end of an iconic fashion store era. Thank you for the memories, Henri Bendel.
Now that you know a bit of the history of Henri Bendel, we would love to hear your stories of this fashion icon? Do you own any accessories from Bendel? You might also try our guide to pocket watches if you are in the market.