Famed Brand Henri Bendel Is Shutting Down

Henri Bendel, a once-trendsetting Manhattan retailer known for its handbags, jewelry, and iconic brown-and-white shopping bags, is shutting down after 123 years, according to owner L Brands.

The move affects 23 stores, including its famed Fifth Avenue flagship, and its website. The stores and site will keep operating through the holiday season and then finally close in January.

The statement announcing the closure reported that Bendel saw $85 million in revenues during fiscal 2018, but incurred $45 million in losses.

Associates staying with the store through 2019 will be given retention bonuses and the opportunity to apply for slots at other L Brands banners. L Brands also owns Victoria’s Secret, PINK, and Bath & Body Works.

Since 2016, Paul Blum, formerly of Fred Segal and David Yurman, has served as Bendel’s CEO.

Henri Bendel window
A 2014 Henri Bendel holiday window (photo by Jennifer Heebner)

The brand was founded in 1895 by its French namesake as a hat shop in Greenwich Village. According to a store history, Andy Warhol served for a time as an in-house illustrator, and Bendel was the first to bring designer Coco Chanel to the United States.

He eventually passed the baton to former Glamour editor Geraldine Stutz, who served as president for 29 years, and became a legend in her own right. Stutz is credited with one of Bendel’s most famous innovations: the ground-floor street of shops.

“In those days, there was nothing else like Henri Bendel,” former Tiffany exec Robert Rufino told The New York Times in 2005 after Stutz died. “It was like working for the best house in the world. To take this little town house and make it look like someone lived there, as you were going from room to room—it was just one woman’s vision on the world of fashion, and yet it did incredibly well.”

A group of investors purchased the brand in 1980, and L Brands scooped it up five years later. L Brands is crediting with establishing Bendel’s Fifth Avenue flagship, opposite Trump Tower, which mounted elaborate window designs for the holidays.

In 2008, L Brands decided Bendel was ripe for national expansion, and it opened 28 stores in the United States and overseas. The new Bendel de-emphasized apparel in favor of accessories, and some complained it became just another mall brand.

Younger consumers “want to feel like they’re buying something carefully designed by another human being,” said Amanda Mull of PurseBlog.com in a 2016 story on TheStreet.com. “Seeing racks upon racks of everything from home goods to handbags…feels like an environment and product assortment created by a marketing firm instead of one dreamed up by a couple of creative people with good taste.”

Bendel was considered welcoming to emerging designers, and held annual casting calls for young talent.

L Brands says it’s still calculating the costs associated with closing the business.

(Top image via: Facebook)

JCK News Director