Henri Bendel is closing after 123 years in business. L Brands is shuttering all 23 locations, online operations, and the Fifth Avenue flagship, to improve profitability for the mothership and because it stood in the way of other growth opportunities.
“We have decided to stop operating Bendel to improve company profitability and focus on our larger brands that have greater growth potential,” Leslie Wexner, chairman and chief executive of L Brands, which also owns Bath & Body Works, told the WSJ.
Many are chalking this up to yet another victim of the retail apocalypse caused by online competition and shifting consumer preference. I think that’s giving the current owner a pass. This, a brand and retailer that carved out so many firsts—so how does a business like Henri Bendel end up in the retail dustbin?
I agree with Sarah Solomon of TheStreet that L Brand made the misstep of treating Henri Bendel like any other mall brand. The L Brand’s “just add water” approach to growth by adding door count, and their bastardization of the iconic branding simply didn’t result in the billion-dollar brand Les Wexner predicted he would build when he acquired the business. Heritage brands take work to ensure they evolve with the times. Sure there will be hiccups in a 123-year-old business, but brands like Henri Bendel need TLC and passionate leadership.
“A lot of these older brands have this problem,” Richie Siegel, founder and lead analyst of consumer advisory firm Loose Threads, told Digiday. “What does the modern version of them mean? Brands like Louis Vuitton are doing all kinds of cool modern stuff. It might be slow, but they are moving. But the business model has been roughly the same for Henri throughout its life. They didn’t change enough.”
In a time where consumers reward retailers that deliver on experience and curation, the original concept created by the founder 123 years ago—a curated collection of Paris’ latest and greatest along with Henri Bendel’s own designs, as well as the animation of fashion shows and makeovers—is far more relevant then the shell of a brand L Brand had created. Henri Bendel created the original concept store in 1913. I hope someone with a vision snaps up this retail jewel, takes it back to its roots, and gives it a second chance.
Have a look at Bendel’s history:
1895: Henri Bendel moved to New York from Lafayette, Louisiana, setting up a millinery shop on East Ninth Street, taking the city’s elite by storm as a leading tastemaker. He branded himself, registering a trademark and creating the iconic brown-and-white stripe identity that became the retailer’s calling card.
1913: Henri Bendel implemented a number of retail firsts: the first luxury retailer to open on upper Fifth Avenue, the first to implement a semi-annual sale, the first to offer in-store makeovers and stage fashion shows, and the first to bring Coco Chanel to America.
1960s: Geraldine Stutz, a former fashion magazine editor, joined the brand as President, and Andy Warhol was hired as an in-house illustrator.
1985: Les Wexner, chairman of L Brands, acquires Henri Bendel.
1988: The store is moved from its original 10 West 57th Street address to the current 80,000-square-foot Fifth Avenue location.
1991: A renovation was completed and one-of-a-kind Lalique windows were uncovered, and the building was given landmark status from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
1994: The partnership with illustrator Izak Zenou began. He’s responsible for creating the Bendel girl, and his work became synonymous with the brand.
2008: An expansion plan began opening new stores outside New York City with 23 operating today.
2018: It was announced Henri Bendel will close after 123 years in business.