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Henri Bendel is a hit at Walt Whitman
“Bendels!,” shouted pretty Laura Vogelsberg of Smithtown pumping her fists in the air with joy upon arriving at the new Henri Bendel 2,200 square foot shop that opened on Thursday at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station. Her sentiment was echoed again and again by shoppers who turned out en masse for the debut of the legendary store.
When Henri Bendel, a milliner who went high fashion, and is credited with introducing Coco Chanel and Lanvin to the U.S., opened the doors to his fabled emporium on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1895, he probably couldn’t have imagined that an annex of the store, would have taken up residence a mere 35-miles from the original. In fact, the new store is the 22nd in a nationwide rollout landing the brand and the iconic brown and white striped logo at malls across the country.
Virtually everybody had a memory of Bendels. Vogelsberg makes yearly pilgrimages to the Fifth Avenue store with girlfriends. On this night she bought brown and white striped flip flops. Jewelry designer Joan Kelly, 51, of Dix Hills, shopped for her wedding gown there back in the day. “It’s posh,” she said. “You know you’re going to get something chic, classy and up-to-the-minute.” Muriel Gruff, 75, of Huntington Station, pointed out some crystal and gold necklaces. “I still have ones like this that I bought a long time ago at the Fifth Avenue store. I never threw them out.”
Inventory at the new Bendel mimics that of the original store which stopped selling clothing in 2009, and has been own by Limited Brands since 1985. The exception is that all the products are private label. Here find a nail polish trio for $14 and a swanky quilted purse in leather and animal print with chain straps for $550. There are striped makeup cases and travel accessories galore, and some fun beachy products that include chill packs for makeup and eye masks, and a terry cloth striped bag that converts to a beach towel with a storage pocket.
The jewelry is just plain fabulous – tortoise resin cuffs are amped up with metallic clasps, ropes of crystals glitter, high style dangling earrings and rings that feature earthy stones. Then there’s the piece de resistance, for the girl who has everything: a huge, structured, striped jewelry trunk with enough storage for even the most bedazzled among us. It sells for $7,500 and is handmade in Morocco. “We can only get 10 at a time,” said store president Chris Fiore. “It’s a real wow-piece and we’ve sold a lot of them.”
Fiore is betting that the historical cache and iconic brown and white stripes will be a hit with shoppers here. ““I think one of the reasons Long Island is attractive to Bendel’s is that the brand resonates so strongly with Long Island customers,” he said. “They know Henri Bendel as a fashion icon, and some of them were taken to the New York store by their mothers and grandmothers.” He says that the decision to come to Walt Whitman was based on the center’s estimated $40 million renovation and efforts to upgrade the stores and the shopping experience.
The crowds seemed to appreciate the vibe. The scene pulled in Loretta Amedeo of Merrick and she debated a new scent carrying two cards sprayed with Bendel’s musky signature fragrances. And 22-year-old Lyndsey Marshall, who wasn’t sure if she heard of the store before, purchased a smart, black pocketbook to take to graduate school. She summed it all up by saying, “It’s beautiful here.”
Below: Guests goof around at the store's grand opening celebration. Video by Matt Leighton, co-founder of A Little Scene Flip Books.