Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — Henri Bendel is aiming to be a bastion of eclecticism.
The Fifth Avenue retailer, drawing on its heritage as an emporium of the unusual, has installed five new areas in its four-story landmark building, in an aim to make wandering through Bendel’s as interesting, and far less dusty, than a walk through Paris’s famous Porte de Clignancourt flea market.
Overlooking the atrium at the store’s center is a new gallery space where various artists will hang work during the year. Tonight, Bendel’s is hosting the “London Art and Fashion” party, featuring the work of young British artists Helen Brough, Steve Joy and Betsan Rees, as well as a special installation from designer Hamish Morrow’s spring 2002 collection. The event is in conjunction with the “UK in NY” promotion that will be going on citywide this month (see related story, page 10), said Teril Turner, director of marketing. Bendel’s first tested the area as an exhibition space a year ago during the holidays, when it hung black-and-white photographs from the Barr MacGill gallery here; about 700 were sold.
“We’ll do maybe three a season,” said Turner. “We’re giving 100 percent of the selling price to CRIA [Community Research Initiative on AIDS].”
During the holiday, the space will have works by Izak, the watercolor artist who does Bendel’s promotional materials.
Cheek by jowl with the gallery space is Tiffany’s Lair, an in-store boutique being run by Tiffany Dubin, the vintage aficionado and former director of Sotheby’s fashion department. The Lair is stocked with flea market finds that are dusted off, refurbished and priced for resale in the shop. There are some new items as well — for example, flower-shaped trays with coordinating coasters handmade by Emma Rivers, daughter of artist Larry Rivers.
Bendel’s also has carved out a narrow niche, literally, to reintroduce footwear into the store. The sliver of space, tucked behind one of the curving staircases, is devoted this fall to boots. There are only about 20 styles, from vendors such as Tony Valentine, Bottega Veneta, Loewe, Olivia Morris and Rodolphe Menudier.
“We were slowly bringing footwear back in over the past two seasons,” said Bendel’s vice president and general manager, Ed Burstell, choosing a few numbers each season depending on what struck the store’s fancy. Based on the success of past styles, they decided to go a bit deeper.
“And we’ll analyze this going forward, to see where we want to go,” Burstell said.
“This nook will always be shoes,” added Turner. “It lends itself to the look of the season, or we could use it to focus on an item. But you won’t see the famous designers that you see in every store, which is very important to us.”
Bendel’s also has installed a 400-square-foot boutique for Nuala, Puma’s yogawear line designed by Christy Turlington. “Nuala is the anchor for what we are going to grow into for spring,” in terms of athletic apparel, said Burstell.
Last week, Turlington hosted a yoga-themed event as part of Bendel’s annual “Girls’ Night Out” series.
Finally, Bendel’s has brought back its baby boutique. Called Baby Baby, the shop stocks infant and toddler clothing and accessories from about 30 vendors. Nearby is the store’s pet accessories area, which grows and shrinks depending on the season. Obviously, said Turner, pets tend to need cold-weather wardrobes, but don’t really require a lot of warm-weather accessories.
Those are all the new areas in the store for the moment, said Burstell and Turner, although they’re not discounting the notion that, given a good idea, Bendel’s could add another one here or there. It’s all part of retuning the store so that its eclectic spirit is evident again.
“All of these play off that sense of discovery that was our legacy, and is becoming our legacy again,” said Burstell. Making the Bendel’s shopping experience distinctively eclectic “is part of the refining of our mission statement, that we started when we began reassorting the store.”