Henri Bendel’s Life Explored in New Book to Be Published in September

Henri Bendel, the man behind the legendary 57th Street retail emporium, is getting the full book treatment in the fall.

In a new book, “Henri Bendel and the Worlds He Fashioned,” writer and longtime magazine editor Tim Allis traces Bendel’s life from his Louisiana upbringing in a large, tight-knit Jewish family headed by his immigrant mother and stepfather to his early dry goods business to the romance that led him to New York, where he opened a small hat shop in Greenwich Village in 1896, to his eventual ascension in the world of high fashion.

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At his 57th Street Henri Bendel boutique, he introduced clients to such influential designers as Schiaparelli, Molyneaux and Chanel. Bendel died in 1936 at the age of 68.

The 264-page hardcover book, which will be published in September by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press (with 324 color and black-and-white images) recounts Bendel’s from the bustles and corset years to the days of furs and flappers, to the tailored chic of the 1930s and 1940s to modern times, when Geraldine Stutz made Bendel’s a hotbed for cutting-edge designers and innovative merchandise. The store became known for its “street of shops,” which turned the ground floor into individual boutiques. Stutz and a group of investors purchased the store for a reported $8 million from Genesco Inc., a Nashville-based retail and apparel company. In its final era, Leslie Wexner of The Limited expanded the brand’s reach and went after younger clients, emphasizing jewelry and accessories. In 2019, all Henri Bendel stores were closed and its website was shuttered.

Asked why he decided to write a book about Bendel, Allis told WWD, “I have a fairly organic connection to the project. I grew up in Henri’s hometown of Lafayette, La. – we lived in a subdivision called Bendel Gardens that had been his property and I used to admire the Spanish-style house, surrounded by old magnolia trees, that he had built. But it wasn’t until I was an adult and working in New York that I connected the name to his fabled store. Not only did few people back home know much about him, it turns out most New Yorkers and even people connected to Bendel’s had no idea who he was — many assume he was French.

“As I dug in, I realized his is a fascinating story about a complex and somewhat contradictory man — an artist and business genius, for one thing — who was quite famous in his lifetime but nearly forgotten today. And no one had published a book about him. Bendel’s the store is the co-protagonist — a pioneering lodestar for the most fashionable women in America that went through so many eras and challenges and somehow managed to carry on for nearly 125 years. I felt Mr. Bendel and Bendel’s deserved their spotlight,” said Allis.

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