Commentary

L Brands Shuttering Henri Bendel After Holiday Shopping Season

Henri Bendel is closing all 23 of its stores this January after a 123-year run in three tony locations in Manhattan and -- after L Brands acquired the high-end retailer in 1985 -- elsewhere around the world.

Columbus, Ohio-based L Brands “said in a statement that it’s closing Bendel ‘to improve company profitability and focus on our larger brands that have greater growth potential,’ which includes Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works,” writes Jordan Valinsky for CNN Money

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“Bendel makes up a small portion of L Brands’ sales. Last year, the company reported revenue of $12.6 billion. The company said Bendel’s 2018 sales were approximately $85 million, adding that it’s in the process of estimating closing costs,” Valinsky adds.

L Brands chairman and CEO Leslie Wexner “has a history of shedding businesses to focus on segments that he believes are more lucrative. Over the decades, he has added and sold off several brands, including apparel chains like Abercrombie, Lane Bryant and Express to focus on beauty and lingerie. In 2016, he eliminated swimwear at Victoria’s Secret to focus on sportswear,” Khadeeja Safdar writes for the Wall Street Journal.

“Henri Bendel was the first retailer to brand himself; the first luxury retailer with an upper Fifth Avenue address; and the first brand to hold a semi-annual sale, offer in-store makeovers and hold a fashion show. That's a whole lot of firsts for a brand slowly drifting into irrelevance, only buoyed by the ghost of its storied past,” The Street’s Sarah Solomon pointed out in a prescient piece about its decline in 2016. 

Also, Alexandra Whittaker reminds us for InStyle, “Bendel has left an notable mark on the fashion world. As a designer, he was the one to introduce Coco Chanel’s designs to the United States (in 1913) after becoming the ‘first to stage a fashion show,’ according to the Bendel website. Henri Bendel also famously employed a young Andy Warhol as an in-house illustrator” in the ’60s.

“So what the hell happened to this once proud luxury retailer? Amanda Mull, managing editor of PurseBlog.com, hits the nail right on the head,” Solomon continues.

“Bendel's ‘uptown’ branding is a tougher sell for young women than it might have been in the early 2000s,” Mull wrote. “Most bag designers that have major success with affluent young women under 35 have embraced a more alternative sense of luxury -- the look is more discreet and minimalist.”

Business Insider’s Jessica Tyler dropped by the New York City flagship the day after the closings were announced late last week and “found it was a vestige from a more glamorous era of retail.” A series of photos support that assessment. “The store felt very high-end -- much more so than most department stores today,” she concludes.

Bendel’s “was essentially founded in 1895, when Henri Bendel moved to New York City from Lafayette, La., and began making hats for the city’s elite, but it wasn’t transformed into the high-end emporium for designer clothes it became until Geraldine Stutz was made president in 1957,” which was 21 years after Bendel’s death, the New York Times’ Choire Sicha writes in a fascinating history of the man and his brand.

“During her 29-year career there, Ms. Stutz made Henri Bendel a place where new designers (including Ralph Lauren, Stephen Burrows, Perry Ellis and, briefly, Monica Lewinsky) could get tremendous opportunity and exposure. And where shoppers could walk out with brown-and-white striped bags full of stylish wares,” Sicha continues.

Fifth Ave. will not be the same without them. 

Indeed, Forbes’ Andria Cheng reports the closing “will once again rewrite the retail map on New York’s glitzy Fifth Avenue. About 20 blocks down from Henri Bendel, the Lord & Taylor flagship also will close after the holiday season to make way for co-working space WeWork. The famous shopping stretch now counts such tenants as Apple, Microsoft and Dyson alongside traditional luxury fashion emporiums including Neiman Marcus' Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany & Co.”

Amazon, for the record, is a bit west, in Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle.

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