Jean Rosenberg, whose eagle-eyed merchandising and designer discoveries helped define Fifth Avenue specialty store Henri Bendel, died June 15 at the age of 97.
A memorial service is not planned.
She died, just two weeks before her 98th birthday, in the Central Park South apartment in Manhattan where she had lived for more than 50 years, according to her nephew Robert Kravitz. “She basically wanted to live there because Bendel’s was on 57th Street. It was literally right outside his back door,” he said.
During her lifetime, Rosenberg practically completed a professional residency with Henri Bendel, where she worked for more than 30 years, all under the tutelage of former president Géraldine Stutz. Stutz was known to call her second-in-command “fashion-conscious Henri Bendel” and together they were troubadours in bringing professional women into retail leadership roles. Most of Rosenberg’s tenure involved serving as vice president and director of merchandising for a store’s jewelry box.
Located in a 10-story townhouse at 10 West 57th Street, it was within walking distance of Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman, and other popular Midtown specialty stores. Known simply as “Bendel’s”, the store became a staple for many well-heeled women and stylish young city dwellers who were drawn to its delightful decor, finely edited mix, and Fifth Avenue storefronts.
Led by Stutz, Rosenberg was instrumental in creating “Shopping Street” in 1959. Architect H. McKim Glazebrook created 12 small shops with a main street running through and connecting lanes through the stores. Designer concept stores were added in 1965. Their efforts were essentially the precursor to the designer and big-name concept stores that dominate the retail scene today. The layout was such that shoppers had to wrap around a path that led them through various designer store concepts. Without a direct route from point A to point B, they were exposed to far more cargo.
Rosenberg told The New York Times in 2006 that Henri Bendel “was intended for a particular type of New York woman, where she could find a uniformity of taste and a certain comfort in a rather small environment, where everything in a store was at his taste .”
As the retailer’s lead buyer, she was integral to the store’s fashion leadership position at this time. Along the way, Rosenberg has spotlighted designers such as Krizia, Sonia Rykiel, Jean Muir, Chloe, and Emmanuelle Khanh. Henri Bendel was also the launching pad for Stephen Burrows, who designed Bendel’s Studio line, an in-house brand, from 1971 to 1973, and again in 1977. After being discovered by Stutz, the late designer Carlos Falchi moved on. is focused on leather handbags. . With the support of Henri Bendel, Falchi developed a multi-million dollar brand. Another designer, Bruce Oldfield, got his start at Henri Bendel, designing for his own label for a year or two in the early 1970s. Oldfield returned to the UK to set up his own label, which is still in operation.
Other fashion talents passed through Henri Bendel early in their careers during the Stutz-Rosenberg years, including Joan Kaner, who joined the buying office in 1967; a teenager Robert Rufino in 1971, who spent 11 years in visual merchandising, and Marion Greenberg, who began a nine-year position in the store’s buying office in 1971.
Rufino said of Rosenberg: “She brought and discovered so many brilliant designers to this country, from Jean Charles de Castelbajac to Stephen Sprouse – again and again. She was so on the spot…Bendel’s was the leader. Of course, we We were just a small store at the time.When Saks or Bergdorf Goodman gave designers a double order, we lost great designers.
Bendel’s was “such a wonderful mix of treasures that women often shopped there three or four times a week,” Rufino said. “There was no other store like Bendel’s. People used to flock to Bendel. It was the place to be. You entered the first floor and heard beautiful music. The setting was like being in someone’s house. There was shop after shop on each floor. Your salesperson helped you. People cared about you. It was the golden age of retail. I don’t think there will ever be a store like this again. Jeannie was involved in merchandising, building stores, what was the right mix.
Kaner recalled on Saturday how Rosenberg made a habit of “trying on every piece of merchandise we received to make sure the fit was right and the proportions were right. She just had an eye [for fashion]. But she also made sure that the product meant to the company what she thought. He was an incredible person. »
Kaner, whose career peaked as senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said of Rosenberg, “She was my first boss in the retail industry. I really learned a lot from her.
By the 1970s, change was underway in fashion, with trousers gaining popularity and eclipsing skirts. “You had to have an open mind about fashion and what it should or shouldn’t be. Jean and I were in sync about what it should be and you should try all of these things,” Kaner said.
During the 1970s, the flagship store was “the“The shopping venue and ‘customers’ included style referees Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Babe Paley, as well as Cher on occasion,” Greenberg said. Everyone always wanted to do what was best for the store. They really loved the store. Their interests weren’t in themselves or their careers. It was really for the good of the store. We loved Jean and Geraldine and we wanted to do our best for our customers.”
In the 1950s and 60s, designer sportswear was a new concept, and Rosenberg frequently embarked on buying trips to Europe. American buyers traveled with their own measuring tapes to ensure the European size was correct. Before Henri Bendel, she began her career in fashion at Gunther Jaeckal and then moved to Bonwit Teller, another prestigious specialty store.
Along with Stutz, Rosenberg developed the European ready-to-wear business for the store and defined the Bendel look. Several of his finds were exhibited in the “Cachet” department on the third floor. They’ve also laid the welcome mat for unproven designers, holding weekly Friday get-togethers to give budding talent the chance to show off their collections. Hundreds of people lined up regularly every week, unfazed by the long hours of waiting on the sidewalk.
With its assortment, the retailer was aimed at sophisticated upholsterers, who were looking for a certain exclusivity. As discriminatory as it may seem by today’s standards, Stutz would rarely have ordered clothes above a size 10. Jacqui Wenzel, Rosenberg’s longtime assistant, recalled how Rosenberg told her a day that Yves Saint Laurent had used his measurements to create size six for his American ready-to-wear. -collection to wear. “A size six, at the time, was the smallest,” Wenzel said Saturday.
Despite a 35-year friendship, Wenzel said his former boss remains “Ms. Rosenberg.” While going through some of Rosenberg’s stuff recently, Wenzel read a speech Rosenberg gave to LIM students in the late ’60s. , predicting that the couture market was changing and that ready-to-wear would be the choice of the modern woman.”It looked like she was already ahead of the high-end market,” Wenzel said. “Jean considered herself a modern woman of the time. She never married, by choice.
In an obituary for Stutz, who died in 2006, Rosenberg explained that she had a vision for the kind of store she wanted to create. Rosenberg had joined Henri Bendel six months before Stutz joined in 1957 and the pair left together in 1986, after the store was sold to The Limited, the retail conglomerate founded by Leslie Wexner.
Six years prior, Stutz had assembled a group of investors and spearheaded the acquisition of the store from Genesco, which had purchased the store in 1957. Genesco president Maxey Jarman made the bold move to install Stutz as president at a time when leadership at the executive level was rare. Her lead role in the 1980 acquisition made Stutz the first American woman to own a department store in New York City. The Stutz-Rosenberg exit marked the end of one of America’s longest retail energy partnerships.
After her retirement, Rosenberg enjoyed speaking about fashion merchandising at events for industry professionals and fashion and design undergraduate students, her nephew said. As for interests outside of work, Kravitz said, “The work was his interest. She was proud to have started and made a career in fashion. In her day, I don’t think many women graduated from college. She wanted a career in the fashion industry and she went to school to get a degree to make sure it wouldn’t hold her back.
His hometown of Cambridge, Ohio — 74 miles southeast of Columbus — might not have screamed fashionable. But her father owned a shop there called the Style Center and her mother also had a hands-on approach to the business. As a girl, she followed her shopping trips to Manhattan and abroad. After graduating from Ohio State University, Rosenberg began his career working for his father.
Predeceased by her sister Nancy, Rosenberg is survived by her nephew and niece Nancy Kravitz.