I like my money right where I can see it: hanging in my closet. -- Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

03 May 2009

Losing their Stripes-Henri Bendel Closes their Closet Door

Of all the indicators of the economic times we are living through perhaps the most interesting to observe is what is happening in retailing. As the stock markets begins to rebound ever so slowly we all know there is a long way to go, but to think we will ever return to "normal" is foolish. The "norm" was never healthy and it is time to change how we spend and how we shop...Did the world really need a Gap on ever block? To see Mall stores fold is sad for the people who lose their jobs,but for those of us who have a romantic notion of retailing there is no loss in store after store after store of "the same".

Shopping was once a joy, a special time shared with good friends or your Mom. We all have memories of shopping for our first party dress, our first pair of heels, our grown-up occasion outfit, our first love of a handbag. Shopping is no longer a collection of special memories but a blur of shopping bags filled with things we don't remember buying.

It is sad to watch the great stores, the stores that invented American retailing and that have been a part of building special memories for generations disappear. In Boston they are all gone. This week yet another retail legend Henri Bendel added to the shift that retailing is going through by their announcement that they will no longer carry luxury clothing and instead will focus on accessories and cosmetics. Henri Bendel owned by the Limited Group is not what it once was, the store that offered hats and gowns and was the first to introduce Coco Chanel to America. The name,however, still has a place of style and to see a 114 year old retail brand dilute its history is another door shut. What would Mr. Bendel think about all of this?

With the decision to no longer sell clothes but to focus on accessories and cosmetics while opening accessory only stores, Bendel's is making a move that feels like the beginning of the end for the 114 year old department store, but is it? Certainly the change in business model is symptomatic of what every retailer is facing. The move however is an interesting one and tells us more about this economy and the dramatic change in spending ---while aisles of designer wardrobes are quiet and you can roll a bowling ball up the rows of Prada and Missoni accessory sales and cosmetic sales are up, significantly. Women may not spend thousands on Prada but they will buy barrettes and headbands and a new lipstick-easy purchases that can add up to as much as that St. John skirt but have more mileage.

Bendel's, a name as well known for its brown and white stripes has its iconic place amongst the best in retail department stores-alongside Saks,Bergdorf Goodman and Harvey Nichols. The new path for Bendel's ,however, is about trends not tradition...dressing up what you already own or what you bought for a lot less at stores like H&M and Target.

The change may shock some but Bendel's has been moving toward a young Bendel Girl focus for some time...their website is all about bangles and Bendel bags. Bendel's is branding itself as a "Girl's Playground for Trendsetting Young Women Around the World". Bendel's barrettes and bangles are featured on Gossip Girls and they have teamed with Elle to sell a line of young and trendy accessories.

It is sad to think that the name Henri Bendel will no longer mean a glamorous age and that the brand will be diluted along with its name and its history- now just a bangle and a headband. Promise me Henri Bendel that you will not lose all your stripes...the brown and white stripe travel bags that Mr. Bendel created over 100 years ago for his ocean liner traveling clients would be missed by this girl for her row boat rides!