As it goes, there are few stores or store concepts that are new to me, especially ones entering the Tampa market. H&M just entered our market…10 years after it debuted in New York. It’s fast-fashion model means the products are cheap and unapologetically low-quality.
Zara has been here for a year and change. Recently-opened Henri Bendel, however, is an anomaly. Established in 1895 as a high-end department store and later specializing in mid-range ready-to-wear, accessories, shoes, and cosmetics (less exclusive than Saks, more than Macy’s), the name has been long-associated with the single city girl with disposable income.
According to Wikipedia, the store was the first to bring the designs of Coco Chanel to the U.S. from France, and has carried influential brands like Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Sui, and Rick Owens in its Manhattan flagship location. After being purchased by Limited Brands, the store dropped ready-to-wear and now focuses on accessories, shoes, cosmetics, and gifts. Currently, the New York flagship carries a range of brands (Kooba, Botkier), as well as the eponymous line.
In Tampa, the freshly minted glossy-black store carries only the house line, which is made up of high-quality leather, canvas, and nylon accessories in a range of colors and textures, as well as gifts and other accessories. The Henri model is akin to Saks Fifth Avenue opening smaller-sized boutique stores and selling only its house line of clothing and accessories. Now and into the future, it seems many clothing brands are blending their role as the producer and the provider. J.Crew sells Ray-Ban sunglasses. MR PORTER sells J.Crew clothing and accessories. Barney’s sells a house line, as does Saks Fifth Avenue. What’s to stop either store from opening up small-scale stores and selling only their house line? A compelling concept for emerging markets where any stigma attached to a house line vs. a designer brand may not exist.
In any case, I went and poked around Henri Bendel last weekend and really liked it. Although they have nothing for men, their offerings are on about the same price level as Coach and Kate Spade, but the designs are less reliant on logos or bright colors…and more on shining, glittering, glossy touches that GLINT in the evening light. They feel big city…they feel like New York.
I hope the store stays, and I hope it works.
*In an interesting twist, each non-New York store location comes with a City Guide…found here for Tampa. Their choices are not what a native would have chosen, so I wonder where they sought advice on what is good. Cool idea, though…personalizing their Tampa existence.