Henri Willis Bendel
Henri Willis Bendel
Memorial to Henri Bendel in Kensico Cemetery
|Born||January 22, 1868|
|Died||March 22, 1936 (aged 68)|
|Resting place||Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York|
|Residence||399 Park Avenue, Manhattan, Kings Point, Long Island, New York, Stamford, Connecticut|
|Known for||Henri Bendel, Inc.|
|Parent(s)||William Louis Bendel & Mary Plonsky Bendel|
|Awards||Bendel Road, Lafayette, Louisiana|
Henri Willis Bendel (January 22, 1868 – March 22, 1936) was an American businessman, fashion designer, and philanthropist who founded an upscale women's fashion company bearing his name in New York City, which more than 100 years later remains in business on Fifth Avenue, one of the premier shopping streets in the world.
Born on January 22, 1868 to a Jewish family in Vermillionville, Louisiana, the son of Mary (née Plonsky) and William Louis Bendel. Both his parents were immigrants: his father from Austria and his mother from Prussia. His father died when he was six years old. His mother was an astute businesswoman who owned and operated a retail furniture outlet, a drug store, a dry goods store, and an undertaking parlor. She remarried in 1878 to Benjamin Falk, who would become one of the most successful Lafayette businessmen of his time. They operated a dry goods store above which was Falk's Opera House that provided vaudevillian and opera entertainment. Henri graduated from the Jesuit-run St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, Louisiana and converted to Christianity either as a student or shortly after completing his studies.
After a fire burned down a millinery shop which Bendel had established in Morgan City, Louisiana, he and his wife Blanche moved to New York City. However, Blanche Bendel soon died childless, and Henri never remarried.
Remaining in New York, Henri Bendel was able to use his fashion designing skills to develop a very successful millinery shop on Ninth Street in Greenwich Village, that catered to the city's wealthy. The business expanded into custom-made dresses, and the French-speaking Bendel enhanced his store's reputation for exclusivity by importing fashions from Paris, France. In 1913, he built an eight-story women's store at number 10 West 57th Street, designed by architect Henry Otis Chapman. Other fashion houses soon opened nearby, and West 57th Street became known as "La Rue de la Paix of New York".
In 1916, Henri Bendel built a 12-acre (4.9 ha) waterfront mansion at Kings Point, Long Island, New York, which was also designed by Henry Otis Chapman, with its landscaping by Charles Wellford Leavitt. Bendel sold it in 1923, to automobile maker Walter Chrysler. Today the property is known as Wiley Hall and serves as an administration building at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. In 1927, Bendel acquired 213 arpents (179.9 acres) along the Vermilion River in Louisiana. Formerly the Walnut Grove Plantation, he built a house on the property he called Camellia Lodge. Sold and eventually subdivided for housing, it is known today as Bendel Gardens. In addition, in the late 1920s, Bendel built a mansion on a hill overlooking Laurel Lake in Stamford, Connecticut, designed by architect Perry Barker.
In 1894, Henri Bendel married Blanche Lehman, a daughter of Aaron Lehman and a member of the Lehman family. whom he had met while she was visiting friends in Morgan City. His wife died in childbirth in July 1895 along with the baby. Bendel never remarried. Henri Bendel died suddenly on March 22, 1936, at his home at 399 Park Avenue in Manhattan. A generous employer, in 1923 he had given his employees a forty-five percent equity in the business, a gift with a book value at the time of $1.8 million. In his will, he made Abraham Beekman Bastedo, his companion for over 30 years, one of the principal benefactors of his estate. Bastedo received $200,000 and a large shareholding in the business, plus the use of his country estate. He is buried with Bendel in Kensico Cemetery, Westchester County, New York.
- Bradshaw, Jim (March 31, 2017). "Lafayette Had Its Own Connoisseur of Fashion". Franklin Banner-Tribune.
- "Lafayette, Louisiana Jewish families", The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
- Louisiana Historical Association.
- "Once, Long, Long Ago, It Was the City's Rue de la Paix", New York Times, October 30, 2005.
- Google Earth image of the Bendel Estate.
- US Merchant Marine Academy
- Kiesel, Jean S. Lafayette, p. 70 (2007), Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7385-5261-3.
- "The Henri Bendel Mansion's Story", Stamford Museum & Nature Center.
- American National Biography Online, Oxford University Press.
- New York Times - March 23, 1936.
- New York Times - October 30, 2005.
- New York Times - April 1, 1936.
- Find A Grave - Henri Bendel
- Lafayette Public Library