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Limited Brands To Drain Every Last
Bit Of Prestige From Henri Bendel

It's true that it has been only about 20 years since Henri Bendel was a fabulous little department store at 10 West 57th Street that was pretty much the epicenter of exclusive New York chic. We'll admit that it's hard to bitch too much about something that has essentially been dead for 20 years or so, but it's still sad to see the name become ever more banal. Limited Brands, which bought the store from legendary retailer Geraldine Stutz in the late 1980s, has announced that they are turning it back into a chain (again) after a successful test of it as a beauty and accessory store in four mall locations. WWD tells us that the new chain will add six more units by the end of the year emphasizing private label goods -with more details to follow tomorrow.
Anyone who remembers the Stutz era on West 57th Street will be cringing at the use of "Bendel" and "Mall" in the same phrase right about now.
To emphasize the new reanimated zombie form of Henri Bendel, the Fifth Avenue flagship will be downsized to to two floors, and all apparel will be dropped from the store's merchandise mix.
We could go on and on detailing the store's sporadic decline under Limited's ownership, but that just just kind of makes us sound old and crotchety. Let's just say that Bendel's-in-the-mall just doesn't sound right to us.
Henri Bendel to Expand (WWD)

According to today's WWD, all the new Henri Bendel branch stores will carry only private label merchandise designed by a new in-house team, and Bendel's president Ed Bucciarelli hopes to collaborate with designers for exclusive lines. Only the Fifth Avenue store will continue to carry third-party labels. Frédérick Fekkai will remain on the fourth floor, but the fate of Chocolate Bar on the third is up in the air, as is the status of the store's Vice-President and Fashion Director Ann Watson (who is probably polishing up her resume as you read this).
Bendel's Focuses on New Strategy (WWD)

Pop-Up Report:

Ryantown At Earnest Sewn

British artist Rob Ryan has taken over the back room pop-up space at Earnest Sewn with a vast array of his signature stenciled artworks and textiles. Ryantown will be up through the end of May. Venture towards the far side of the rustic denim dealer, and you'll find a profusion of items ranging from the inevitable printed t-shirts to greeting cards, tote bags, painted tiles, pillows dishes and all sorts of other baubles and novelties. All are touched with what looks like vintage folk art patterns which, upon closer inspection, reveal poetic musings and inventive designs. It's one of the more charming pop-ups that Earnest Sewn has hosted, and definitely worth a visit for anyone in search of Mother's Day gifts.
Ryantown at Earnest Sewn through May 31st, 821 Washington Street between Gansevoort & Little West 12th Streets, Meatpacking District
Rob Ryan (Official Blog)

Summer's Comin':

GAP x Havaianas Hits Fifth Avenue

It's always the things you didn't know you wanted that'll get you.
HavaianasGAP1 Like, for example, we didn't know we wanted a pair of customized Havaianas flip-flops, and yet we couldn't have been more tickled to leave last night's preview of the Gap's latest Fifth Avenue Concept Store pop-up carrying a pair.
Starting today, the Concept Store becomes the Urban Beach Flip-Flop Shop, presenting those ever more popular rubber sandals in a range of styles as well as embellishments like pins and crystals to be added for a small fee, of course. The event marks the beginning of a new partnership between Gap and Havaianas that will put the sandals in stores throughout the chain all Summer and in select locations all year round. The little shop's latest incarnation features bright Brazilian graphics and a selection of beachy looks and bikinis from Patrick Robinson's Summer collections for the chain, which, we have to say, keep getting better and better under his direction. Weekends will offer the "Make Your Own Havaianas” customization bar where customers will be able to mix and match colors to make the rubber shower shoes of their dreams to be assembled by the HavaianasCUSTOMcharming Gap-clad flip-flop technicians The Shophound has come to know and love at the Fashion Week tents.
Now all we need is a beach house.
The Havaianas Urban Beach Flip-Flop Shop at the Gap Concept Store through June 13th, 680 Fifth Avenue between 53rd & 54th Streets, Midtown

Mike Albo Goes Shopping:

Weathering The Storm Edition

30critic.600 In tomorrow's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper Mike Albo gives us less of a review and more of a profile of UNIS, the popular NoLita sportswear boutique and its founder, designer Eunice Lee.
It turns out that like most of Lee's customers, Mike is waiting for the markdowns too, but that would put him in perfectly good company these days.

Aspirations for a better life welled up in me again. I could wear these clothes on dates or meetings or weekend getaways when I fall in love, have money and become best friends with Brad, Angelina, Ang LeeAung San Suu Kyi. I can’t afford this stuff, but at least this visit to Unis helped coax my spooked confidence from under the couch and had me dreaming of a better future.

For her part, Lee is keeping her overhead low, and allowing her company to downsize as much as possible without actually disappearing altogether. You have to be impressed by her passion and tenacity, and she certainly deserves better than being clobbered by the recession. We hope she can stick it out long enough for the downturn to turn back up again. If she could just get a few of her women's pieces on Michelle Obama, then she'll be set for a while.
Critical Shopper | Unis It Doesn’t Cost to Dream by Mike Albo (NYTimes)
UNIS 226 Elizabeth Street near Prince Street, NoLita

Today In Narcissism:

Creepiest Non-Auction Ever

Jacksonauction Our friends at Racked pointed us to comedian Paul Scheer's Flickr set of photos taken at the exhibition of Michael Jackson's possessions that were planned to be auctioned off next month at Julien's in Beverly Hills.. The auction has been canceled, but the exhibit continues, and it gives us a creepy glimpse of what life was like at the Neverland Ranch.
Is there a verb form of Narcissism? If there is, then it looks like that's pretty much what MJ did all day long.
There are wax figures of the singer and also several of children, along with a disturbing number of paintings featuring the singer in various forms of regalia, even one where he's knighting himself. Then there are the ones depicting him alongside various fictional and cartoon characters, and the one pictured that puts him in the company of the Mona Lisa, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Albert Einstein and E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, all in matching aviator shades. The centerpiece is a huge painting that shows Jackson leading a throng of kids of all ages like a Pied Piper, which Scheer has documented in detail.
It is truly the heights and depths of navel-gazing, even by Hollywood standards. None of these 49 photos are to be missed.
Michael Jackson Auction: My Favorite Items (Paul Scheer/Flickr via RACKED)
Previously, Celebrity Freakshow Averted: Michael Jackson Auction Canceled

Re-Re-Location Du Jour:

Chocolate Bar Lives!

Thank Heaven for small triumphs!
Last year, Chocolate Bar was unceremoniously turned out of its West Village home by a rent hike that sent the much loved sweet shop across town to the East Village for more hospitable digs.
Unfortunately, the store's clientele never quite made the trip across town, but Providence intervened.
Thanks to the wonky economy that has sent retail rents downward again, owner Alison Nelson found an even better deal just a block or so away from the store's original home. In an ironic but fitting twist, the store's original home remains empty, and someone has pertly pinned a notice on its door pointing interested parties downtown to the new location. Technically, the shop opens on Friday, May 1, but the doors are open today, and the superb chocolate chip cookie currently sitting in The Shophound's tummy tells us that Chocolate Bar's homecoming should work out just fine.
Chocolate Bar 19 Eighth Avenue between Jane & West 12th Streets, West Village

Sale Sale:

Sale Sale Sale Sale Sale

Salenotices The city is still sale-obsessed, and nobody can seem to forget last November's 70% off frenzy. The mere inkling of price breaking for Spring seems to send those who follow such things into feverish frothing at the mouth. Add to that the torrent of sample sales that seem to be proliferating at a stunning rate, and it's a wonder that anyone buys anything at full price. Once strictly controlled, Friends & Family events have practically become public sales offering blanket discounts throughout entire department stores, and now that those are mostly over, the "Private" sales are starting, which will lead to first markdowns sometime later this month, which is a few weeks earlier than normal.
If you are waiting for the deep-discount-free-for-all that happened last fall, don't hold your breath. That affair (spurred by Saks) angered vendors and destroyed margins throughout the industry, and this season, the retailers have much less stock to mark down. The other unplanned effect was that when it came time for After-Christmas sales, there was nothing left for customers in January and February. don't expect retailers to give away the store this early in the game again. They'll some merchandise to sell through the Summer.
Here's what we know (and we have to give a great deal of credit to The Choosy Beggar and Madison Avenue Spy for tirelessly chronicling every markdown)

Barneys is planning a one-day sale on May 4th featuring 40% off selected merchandise.
Saks is reportedly running a 2-day sale for Mother's Day Weekend with pre-sale (that means reserving of sale merchandise) starting Monday May 4th as well.
Bloomingdale's Private Shoe Sale begins this Thursday, April 30th to May 4th with discounts from 30% to 40% off, and an additional 20% if you buy 2 or more pairs of shoes.

Is this all starting to sound more like Walmart? We are less concerned about finding things for ourself to buy than whether these stores are ever going to be able to get customers to buy full price again.
And here's just a small selection of the mountain of Sample Sale notices we get, including some we don't often see:

Nancy Gonzalez, April 29th (TODAY) - 30th
10 am-6 pm
, 575 Madison Avenue, 8th floor between 56th & 57th
Spurr menswear, April 30th - May 3rd
Thursday & Friday, 12 pm – 7 pm, Saturday & Sunday, 12 pm – 5 pm
at Starworks, 5 Crosby Street, Suite 3D between Grand and Howard Streets. Cash and major credit cards accepted.
Barry Kieselstein-Cord Jewelry, handbags & Acessories (Have we ever heard of a BK-C sample sale before), May 7th - 9th
Thursday 12 pm – 7 pm, Friday 8 am - 7 pm Saturday 9 am – 4 pm
The Warwick Hotel, 65 West 54th Street, Essex Suite on the 2nd Floor. Cash and major credit cards accepted.
Delman, May 5th - 8th
Wednesday - Thursday 10 am - 7 pm Friday 10 am - 3 pm
at Savvy, 145 West 18th Street between Sixth & Seventh Avenues
Domenico Vacca, May 6th - 8th
10 am - 6 pm
14 East 60th Street, Suite 900
Fred Perry (Incl. Raf Simons for Fred Perry) May 11th -17th
Weekdays 10 am - 7 pm, Saturday & Sunday 12 - 5 PM
547 West 27th street. 3rd floor between 10th & 11th Avenues, CASH ONLY
To Boot New York May 1st - 3rd
Friday  8:30 am - 6:30 pm, Saturday 10 am - 6 pm, Sunday 12 - 5 pm
603 Washington Street between Morton & Leroy Streets CASH ONLY

And let's not forget about GILT GROUPE, which allows us to forgo the hassle of waiting in line and squeezing into a cramped showroom. This week, the ever-growing website is featuring limited time sales from, among several others: Milly, AG Jeans for men, Jack Spade, Alexander McQueen RTW & Accessories, Alice Ritter, Alexandro Ingelmo, Vince for men, Gianfranco Ferré, Miguelina, J Brand, Bonpoint and our favorite upscale naughty store, Kiki de Montparnasse. Click HERE now for your personal invitation.
Got any money left now?

Everything Must Go!

The Final Virgin Falls

The last Virgin Megastore is getting ready to shut its doors forever. We have already written about how there will essentially be no major record stores left in the New York City when that happens, and that anyone looking for even the most marginally obscure CDs will have to resort to the internet.
What we haven't written about is how totally stupid the closing sale is.
At the moment, everything in the store is mostly around 20% off full price. That means that the CDs, which generally sold at promotional prices of around $9 to $12 the week before, are now priced higher than they were before the sale began. For example, say the new U2 CD sold for about $9.99, while the list price is $13.98, then the Closing Sale price at Virgin is now $11.14. The only real discount we found was a whopping 5% off iPods.
Great! the store's closing and now pretty much everything is more expensive.
We can't wait to get in line for that.

Broadway Addition:

Escada Sport Sets Its Sights On SoHo

It's harder to see in the photo above, but those blue windows under scaffolding tell us that Escada will be opening a new store in SoHo this Fall for its more casual Sport collection in the former Ann Taylor Loft space on Broadway between Prince and Spring Streets nestled in the space separating Dean & Deluca and H&M.
While Escada has come a long way from its luxury Garanimals roots, we still wouldn't have pegged lower Broadway for an expansion location. It is across from Prada's epicenter (also known as "The Tourist Store"), but it's also in close proximity to American Eagle, Zara and the aforementioned H&M. The sport line is now a younger sportswear collection, though still falling firmly in fancy and expensive territory.
Will the Ladies brave the throngs of fast fashion shoppers on the weekend (and, trust us, they are as impenetrable as ever on that block, recession or no), or is this a misbegotten attempt to add some heat to a brand most people still see as snooty and suburban?
The embattled German brand just announced a restructuring and refinancing strategy to the tune of around $40 million, so far be it from us to question their plans, right? With the fresh infusion of cash, however, the new store should at least be a pretty impressive showplace.
Escada Announces Restructuring Plan (WWD)
Escada Sport (Official Site)

Winding Down:

Empty Shelves As Balducci's Fades

It's a Mother Hubbard-ish scene at Balducci's as the famous food store gets ready to close its Manhattan branches.Balduccis1cases Anyone still looking for a good deal on an expensive bottle of extra virgin olive oil or some discount cheese has missed the boat, as the grocery selection, now at 60% off, has dwindled to a few shelves of random items. There are still a few wedges of Roquefort at the cheese counter which is otherwise bare. Of course, yesterday afternoon was the first time we have ever seen a long checkout line at the Chelsea location, and this was on a Thursday afternoon.
The stores are expected to close at the end of April, but we have a hard time imagining this shop lasting past the weekend if things continue at this rate. Oddly, the prepared foods and sandwich counters remain fully stocked, although not appreciably discounted.
Aside from the general grimness of a store closing, it's sad to see this one go if only because the Greek Revival bank building provides it with such a beautiful home. Hopefully, the next tenant will do it justice —if there is one anytime soon.
At this point, we sort of feel like a vulture picking over a carcass, although there is still a little meat left on the bones.
Half price pies anyone?
Previously: A Slow Retreat: Balducci's Begins The Clearance