The Henri Bendel brand is still vibrant more than a century after its genesis and continues to advocate the spirit of the stores visionary founder. It strives to constantly delight and serve the most fashionable women, to seek out the best of the best, and to always experiment and innovate. Say hello to the person who brought you fashion shows, in-store makeovers, and semi-annual sales; wondering how it all began with the famous brown and white striped bags and hatboxes? Read on!
Henri Bendel was a fearless innovator, a leading authority, and passionate explorer of what’s “The New and the Next”. Born in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1868, Bendel grew up with a mother who was also a profound businesswoman. After a fire burned down a millinery shop which Bendel had established in his home town, he and his wife at the time moved to New York City in 1895. He was able to use his fashion designing skills to develop an incredibly successful millinery shop on Ninth Street in Greenwich Village, that catered to the wealthy people of the city.
The business expanded into custom-made dresses, and the French-speaking Bendel enhanced his store’s reputation by importing fashions from Paris! He quickly became a leading tastemaker and couturier to the city’s elite and his boutique became a beacon of utmost luxury. In 1913, Bendel built an eight-story women’s store; and soon after, other fashion houses opened nearby – West 57th Street became known as “La Rue de le Paix of New York.”
Bendel made his mark both literally and figuratively by becoming the first retailer to brand himself. Having registered his own trademark 1895, he created the now legendary brown and white striped shopping bag and hatbox in 1907. A true pioneer he was, Bendel was the first luxury retailer with an Upper Fifth Avenue address, the first to hold a semi-annual sale (thank you!), the first to offer in-store makeovers (thank you, again!), and the first to stage a fashion show (oh my gosh, you rule). It doesn’t stop there… he was also responsible for bringing Coco Chanel to the United States!
Bendel thrived not only as a retailer but also as a designer. His store carried the latest in Paris couture along with his own original apparel designs, fragrances, custom furs, hats, and bridal – plus, an assortment of other goods including cosmetics, skincare, handbags, and lingerie.
The 1960s marked a transition for the brand led by Geraldine Stutz, a former fashion magazine editor who joined the brand as President. One of her most notable accomplishments was the creation of the famed street of shops. It was a first in retail and a concept definitely still used today. Bendel is also credited with the discovery of the artist Andy Warhol who was brought on as an in-house illustrator. It’s amazing how these legendary icons were discovered by one incredible man!
In 1985, Les Wexner, retail legend and chairman of Limited Brands, acquired Henri Bendel and in 1991 he opened their incredible flagship store. During the renovation of the shop, the beautiful and one of a kind lalique windows that graced the side of the store were unveiled. Because of this unique discovery and with the help of First Lady and fashion icon Jackie O, Henri Bendel received landmark status from the Landmark Preservation Commission.
The collaboration with Andy Warhol was grand with the fashion-centric illustrations that stood alongside his designs. Today, his partnership with illustrator Izak Zenou is ongoing since he joined the team in 1994. Izak’s Bendel Girl illustrations have graced Henri Bendel advertising and promotional materials for the past 18 years and have become synonymous for the brand. These drawings are even used as inspiration for many fashion designers and enthusiasts.
The brown and white stripe celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2007, which coincided with the launch of the Henri Bendel accessory collection. In 2008, Henri Bendel began to open new stores outside of New York City. The expansion continues today, with the brand having more than 20 stores in premier shopping destinations around the country.
Henri Bendel is truly a girl’s playground, consistently interpreting and reinventing itself as a destination rooted in the never-ending energy and creativity that is abundant in New York City. To put it even simpler, you would not have had the fashion shows you obsess over, the semi-annual sales you look forward to, and the in-store makeovers you love having if it wasn’t for Bendel himself.