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Without Bendel's, Where Will Beauty Brands Get Their Start?

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Photo by Brian Harkin
Photo by Brian Harkin

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Last month, the parent company behind Henri Bendel broke the news that, beginning this fall, the Fifth Avenue department store would no longer sell third-party merchandise in an effort to promote its own line of products. And today, WWD took an in-depth look on how that will affect beauty brands looking for their big break.

"We introduced M.A.C in 1989," recalled Ed Burstell, who started at Bendel's that year and left as vice president and general manager in 2009. "And through the Nineties we brought in brands including Benefit, Aesop, Trish McEvoy, Laura Mercier, Kevyn Aucoin, Smashbox, Tarte, Lorac, Awake, Giella Custom Blend Cosmetics, Awake, Paula Dorf, Ole Henriksen, Deborah Lippmann, Kai, Mario Badescu and Make Up For Ever."

"There isn't that incubator of brands anymore," said Jerrod Blandino of Too Faced, which came to Bendel's in 1998. "I don't think the world is open to taking risks."

Without a smaller platform like Bendel's to nurture a brand, some are looking towards online platforms like Birchbox and Beautylish for an introduction to customers, or a boutique like C.O Bigelow.

But C.O. Bigelow's president acknowledged that their strategy is not about introducing the latest brands. "The store is a collection of favorite things. We have an eye for what's new, but are consistent in our approach," he told the paper.

And though a strong social media approach can work well in other industries, it has yet to catch fire with beauty. "As much as the online shopping experience has grown and improved, people still want to touch [beauty products] and feel them," said Too Faced's Blandino.

Some beauty brands are lucky enough to work their way onto bigger platforms from the start, namely at Sephora and Barneys New York. One such success story is Ciaté, which was also recently on the shelves at Henri Bendel.

"Sephora is so amazing to work with for a niche brand because it isn't afraid to blue-sky products. Sephora likes to be first to market, and that creates an amazing platform," Charlotte Knight, founder of Ciaté, told the paper.

Kevyn Aucoin had similar success with Barneys when it was revamping under a new parent company. "We had the brand recognition, but we looked at [Barneys] as a start-up," said Desiree Tordecilla, executive vice president of the brand's beauty division. Distribution at Nordstrom and Space NK came next—as did an exit from Bendel's.

It seems that with fierce competition to break into the market combined with the loss of smaller start-up platforms—WWD points to the recent loss of Woodley & Bunny as part of a trend—beauty brands will have to have their finger on the pulse of the consumer "Now is the most opportunity for a niche brand. Retailers want a point of difference," said Ciaté's Knight. "Retailers know they need to react to trends quickly. It's all about filling those white spaces."
· Niche Beauty Brands on Search for New Home [WWD]
· Henri Bendel, Focusing on its Brand, Ceases Third-Party Sales [Racked NY]

Barneys New York, Madison

660 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10065 (212) 826-8900 Visit Website

Birchbox Soho

433 W Broadway, New York, NY 10012 646-589-8500 Visit Website

Henri Bendel

712 5th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10019 (212) 247-1100 Visit Website