Research Papers

Fashioning Camelot: Geraldine Stutz's Henri Bendel

“There was a time in New York City, in the 1960s and 1970s, when the name Henri Bendel immediately evoked an image of intimate glamour. It was the place where women bought clothes from the latest European designers in an atmosphere of coddled elegance. The store at 10 West 57th Street was the manifestation of the impeccable taste and business instincts of one woman, Geraldine Stutz…Bendel’s was arguably the greatest store in the world.”

                                                                          – New York Observer, 04/08/05

This New York Observer quote, written following the death of Geraldine Stutz in 2005, perfectly captures the sentiments of many New Yorkers about the specialty store and its president. Though Henri Bendel remains in operation today with a flagship store on 5th Avenue, it shares little resemblance with Bendel’s when it was under the direction of Stutz and considered a premier shopping destination in New York City. During her 29-year tenure as president, from 1957 to 1986, Stutz propelled Bendel’s from a dwindling carriage trade store to a chic emporium patronized by New York’s wealthy and elite. Stutz’s success was predicated on her exceptional ability to merchandise the store, in terms of both the physical environment and the designers they promoted. Perhaps most remarkably, her presidency came at a time when women were notably absent from nearly all senior levels of executive in fashion retailing, and she holds the distinction of becoming the first woman to own a major New York fashion retail store when she purchased Bendel’s in 1980.[1] However, despite being widely acknowledged by her contemporaries as one of the city’s most important tastemakers, there has been little scholarship accounting for her leadership in New York fashion and retailing. This paper examines the factors that led to Bendel’s and Stutz’s success, and ultimately what led to the store’s decline.

[1] Enid Nemy. “The Woman Who Bought the Store”, New York Times (New York, NY), 1980/07/21.