The Very Open Hidden History of Henri Bendel

The Very Open Hidden History of Henri Bendel

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L Brands, an American fashion retailer that own Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, announced today that it was closing all 23 Henri Bendel stores, including the Fifth Avenue Manhattan flagship, and the Bendels website to boot, to “focus on increasing shareholder value.”

The store 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.

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.

Mr. Bendel died in 1936 at the age of 69, two decades before Ms. Stutz’s career at the store began. He was buried in Valhalla, N.Y. (“A Negro quartet” performed at his funeral, The Times noted.) The store’s vice president, Abraham Beekman Bastedo, succeeded Mr. Bendel as steward of the institution for almost 20 years after his death.

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