Fashion Flashback: Bonwit Teller

Downloads171As we move into the holiday season, Fashion Reverie looks back at Bonwit Teller, one of the largest department stores that specialized in high-end women’s clothing. In its heyday, Bonwit Teller had stores in Palm Beach, Miami Beach, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, White Plains, Syracuse, Buffalo, Manhasset, Kansas City, Philadelphia (three stores), Palm Desert, Beverly Hills, Short Hills, New Jersey, and Columbia, South Carolina.

Bonwit Teller exterior ca 1939 image courtesy of mcny.com

Bonwit Teller exterior ca 1939 image courtesy of mcny.com

Founded in 1895 by Paul Bonwit, Bonwit bought out his former business partner and opened up a new store in 1898 on 23rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues with Edmund D. Teller. Later the store was relocated to Fifth Avenue and 38th Street and became known for the high quality of its merchandise and the above-average salaries paid to its executives and buyers.

Throughout most of the 20th Century, Bonwit Teller was a part of a group of upscale department stores on Fifth Avenue that catered to was originally known as “the carriage trade.” Among its New York City peers were Saks Fifth Avenue, B. Altman & Company, and Peck & Peck.

Images of Bonwit window displays by Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. Images courtesy of flickr.com and tumblr.com, respectively

Images of Bonwit window displays by Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. Images courtesy of flickr.com and tumblr.com, respectively

From the 1930s onward, Bonwit Teller was acquired several times by different acquisition companies. The Hoving Corporation was the most significant acquisition company and helped establish Bonwit Teller as one of the go-to, high-end stores on Fifth Avenue. Under this acquisition, Bonwit Teller experienced its most significant growth. It’s historic location of Fifth Avenue—originally built by the Stewart Company for a high-end retail store—was bought by Donald Trump and demolished in 1980. Trump Towers now sits on the historic Bonwit Teller flagship store location.

After the demolition of its historic flagship store, Bonwit Teller relocated around the corner to Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, attached to Trump Tower’s indoor mall. The Hooker Corporation, an Australian company that purchased the stores for $101 million dollars in 1987, would place the Bonwit Teller stores in bankruptcy proceedings in 1989.

Bonwit Teller Holday ad image courtesy of vintageadbrowser.com

Bonwit Teller Holday ad image courtesy of vintageadbrowser.com

Though many corporations tried to bring Bonwit Teller back in the 90s, even as recently as 2007, the recession of 2008 prevented the projected return of Bonwit Teller from happening. Still, Bonwit Teller represents Americas’ golden age of upscale luxury stores in the 1940s and 1950s, evidenced in its place in popular culture in such films as “Rocky II” and “Oliver’s Story.”

—Staff

Comments

  1. Almost twenty p.c of the finances is for jewelery.

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