Walking into the hallowed store of Bergdorf Goodman and shopping for your first purchase is something that every girl dreams of and should at least experience once in her lifetime! Indeed, it is so famous, that Barbara Streisand even sang on a CBS special in this hallowed store back in 1965.
It is the most mystical of all shopping emporiums and has enchanted countless generations of people since its first opening in 1894 as Bergdorf and Voight Ladies Tailors and Fur Shop on Union Square by Herman Bergdorf (an immigrant from Alsace Lorraine in France.) It was renamed as Bergdorf Goodman in 1901 after Edwin Goodman (an apprentice of Herman Bergdorf) bought a share in the business. The Vanderbilt mansion that was built in 1882 was used as the location for the store. In 1906, Bergdorf sold the remainder of the business to Goodman and he returned to France. Edwin Goodman kept the name for the store and moved Bergdorf Goodman to 32 West 32nd Street. In 1914, Goodman moved the business to 616 Fifth Avenue. This is where the current Rockefeller Center is today. He also introduced ready to wear, becoming the first couturirer to do so.
In the 1920’s, Edwin Goodman drew a new building plan for Bergdorf on the back of a resteraunt menu. The new building then had 5 million dollars in 1920’s money spent on marble and bronze window trim. The building was finished in 1928 and was designed in recognition of the Plaza and the Savoy. Goodman designed the new store so that it could be subdivided into sections with storefronts that could be rented out if needed. Early tenants included Van Cleef & Arpels, the Grande Maison de Blanc and Dobbs the Hatter. The Beaux-Arts style store replaced the Cornelius Vanderbilt 2 Mansion (which had 130 rooms.) Its location till this day is 754 5th Avenue.
In 1935, he purchased another building, now making the store span an entire block between 57th and 58th streets.
Berdorf Goodman always nurtured new designers careers, especially ones coming from Europe. Christian Dior came for the first time to the States in 1947 and Bergdorf set up a boutiquein their department store for him and made him a runaway success!
A more modern example is Michael Kors, who the then Creative Director Dawn Mellow saw arranging his display windows, pins in his mouth and all! She asked him who made the clothes? He said that he was the designer. She asked him then why was he arranging the windows? He replied that he did everything in the store. Dawn said that she worked at the store across the street and told him to bring his line to the store, but he did not even have a line! They were all one offs. So Kors started to buckle down and that is when his success really started. He later on came to sell 47 million shares at 20 dollars a share in 2011, which made him and his company northwards of 3 billion dollars!
Indeed, everyone wants to be in Bergdorf Goodman. It’s like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Linda Fargo (the current Women’s Fashion Director) holds the Seal.” Time Magazine.
But they can also be ruthless with exclusivity deals, like when Halston wanted to diversify his brand and he made a lower price point line for JC Penny. Before this, he used to make hats and clothes in Bergdorf Goodman and even made a hat for Jackie Kennedy, which she wore during her husband John’s death! But after this deap, Bergdorf dropped him and Halston vanished into obscurity as a brand, never to be the great designer of the jet set that he once was in the 1970’s.
Even when it comes to cosmetics lines, Bergdorf can make or break a line. Bobbi Brown for example met the Cosmetics buyer of Bergdorf’s Alison Rose at a Cocktail party. She offered to sell her cosmetics at Bergdorf and this caused Bobbi to tell the people at Saks while she was doing catalogue shoot for them to be really worried. But Alsion came back and told Bobbi that Bergdorf was full of new products and that they could not take her on. Bobbi left a message, said that that was okay and that Saks wanted it. Alison came back 15 minutes later, changed her mind and launched Bobbi Brown’s 10 lipsticks line in February 1991 at Bergdorf Goodman in the cosmetics section. Bobbi Brown and her team were planning to at least sell 100 lipsticks in a month… but sold 100 in a day! Far outstripping their hopes for the companu and line. This helped Bobbi to diversify the brand and add foundation, concealer, lip gloss, mascara and everything else in-between in cosmetics for the brand.
In 1951, Bergdorf Goodman celebrated its Golden Anniversary at the Plaza. The Goodman family was dubbed by the press and media at the time as the “Royal family of fashion!” Edwin Goodman then restired in 1953 as thr most celebrated merchant of his time and his son Andrew took over as the President of the store.
Both Andrew and Nena his wife lived in the 16 rooms apartment on the top floor of the store, which had 8 windows overlooking Fifth Avenue and 10 windows overlooking Central Park! It was an ultimate dream apartment and above the best store in the world. To live in such a large apartment above a department store, they listed thenselves as janitors to go through the loophole in the law at the time.
During Andrew’s tenure as chairman, Bergdorf opened a fur salon, developed the successful Bergdorf Goodman Number Nine perfume (“Love Potion Number Nine”) and created Miss Bergdorf, a ready-to-wear line for younger customers.
There were also many famous people who came to the store or wished to be dressed by them, like when Jackie Kennedy’s Inauguration dress was designed by the Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Ethel Frankau back in January 1961. Or the time when Elizabeth Taylor bought 200 pairs of mink fur earmuffs for everyone on her Christmas wishlist just a week before she went to Stade on her Christmas vacation! And who could forget when Yoko Ono bought well over 400K in fur for her and John Lennon back in the 1970’s, which would be about 2 million USD worth in today’s money?! Truly many amazing moments in this store.
Andrew always remembered his father’s motto of how things “Should look well, (be) made well and fit well to sell.” He was even kind to all sorts of people, even those who seemed not wealthy enough to buy items from this luxury department store. For example, one day a woman cane into the store who was dressed in rags. She kept on staring at this beautiful sable fur coat in the middle of the fur department. This put Andrew in a difficult situation, but he was patient with her. She asked him how much it was? He replied that it was very expensive and between 7-10K, which is about a quarter of a million US dollars to buy in today’s money. She then started pulling money out of her knapsack and bought the coat! That is why Bergdorf never judges a book by its cover.
Andrew Goodman also developed a very close relationship with the Meteopolitan Museum of art and he helped to initiate the Costume Institute in the Met. One of their (the Met’s) more recent exhibits was “Savage Beauty,” which was a 2011 exhibit that celebrated the late, great fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s obsession with creating an emotional connection between clothes and people. It brought in close to a million people to see it and was one of the top 5 most popular exhibits at the Met. This is a teue testament to just how powerful the creativity and beauty of fashion well and truly is!
Bergdorf Goodman was later bought by Broadway-Hale Stores (1972–1987.) Up until this time, Bergdorf Goodman was the nation’s only independently owned quality specialty store. The store was then later acquired by the Neiman Marcus group in 1987 and it remains the Texas based company’s crowing jewel until this very day! It is also owned by the private equity firm Ares Management.
In 1990, a separate men’s store was built across the road from the woman’s store to bring in more customers. Bruce Pask became the Men’s Fashion Director after this. The menswear part of the store was put in the location of the former FAO Schwarz and it remains there until this day. This allowed more room for women’s clothes, shoes, bags and accesories, allowing the womenswear part of the store to be expanded 3 times throughought the 1990’s! In 1997, the former Goodman family apartment on the building’s ninth floor became the John Barrett Salon and Susan Ciminelli Day Spa. In 1999, the Beauty Level opened directly below the main floor, offering a luxury spa and Goodman’s Café serving lunch and afternoon tea.
Indeed, the resteraunt at Bergdorf’s is one of the best in New York, what with its chandeliers, blue wallpaper, highback chairs, delicious food like their Lobster Napolean or flourless Hazelnut cake, the views overlooking Central Park or their fabulous cocktail menu! The shoe salon on their second floor is also amazing, with designs by Manolo Blahnik, Prada, Jimmy Choo, Chanel, Lanvin, Azzedine Alaïa, Christian Dior, Roger Vivier, Giuseppe Zanotti, Armani, Sergio Rossi, Valentino, René Caovilla and other fabulous makes displayed gloriously on their shoe displays. Carrie Bradshaw would approve!
On the 2nd of May 2005, two private equity firms (Texas Pacific Group and Warburg Pincus) acquired the Neiman Marcus Group and its Bergdorf subsidiary in a leveraged buyout (LBO.)
But after the early days of the Recession in 2007-2008, top sales people at Bergdor that were making between 400-500K per year at the top levels of the field lost a client or 2 in a day! The store was hit hard.
But the store combatted this by holding amazing fashion parties like Vogue’s Fashion Night Out, introducing a few younger, more “contemporary” labels into the mix and by continuing to do what they do best, like their amazing display windows that just get better and better every year!
Indeed, Manolo Blahnik and Narciso Rodriguez used to look at their Christmas display windows every year and admire their creativity, magic and beauty.
In 2011, the theme was “Carnival of the Animals,” which was brought into living and breathing form by David Hoey, their top window dresser and Senior Director of Visual Presentation. The Artistic studio of Johanna Burke helped put the pieces together for the display. Five windows were used, each featuring a different type of material and different scenes based on animals from the icebergs to the tropics! The “brass menagerie” was the most impressive, with hundreds of metal tropical birds made in the 1970’s by the artist Sergio Bustamante. A dress by Naeem Khan that was completely covered in rhinestones adorned a beautiful Indian songstress lieing on a bed carried by a gem encrusted elephant. The other really impressive window was the “North Pole Garden Party,” with upholstered animals, a very sweet polar bear covered in rhinestones, pearls and mother of pearl and a monkey about to pop the champagne!
Indeed, Bergdorf has not lost their charm, creativity amd special magical touch. It is a store that will continue to captivate for generations to come, whether one be a wealthy fashionista shopping for the latest new thing or a tourist admiring Bergdorf Goodman’s fabulous Christmas windows.
And as Victoria Roberts (a writer and illustratir for Condé Nast) once said “I want my ashes scattered across Bergdorf!” Indeed, I can’t think of a better place to Rest in Peace.
If you wish to watch a great movie about this amazing department store, check out this trailer: