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Cory Benett Bloomingdale's shopping bag collection

 Collection
Identifier: KA-0149-01

Summary

The collection consists of over one hundred shopping bags, primarily produced by Bloomingdale's department store and acquired by Cory Benett, a Bloomingdale's employee, for his personal enjoyment. The predominantly paper bags feature art and design work by major designers, artists, photographers, and illustrators of the late 1970s through the early 1990s, including Antonio, Juan Botas, Neville Brody, Malcolm Garrett, Sigfrido Martín Begué, Mark Kostabi, Sheila Metzner, Missoni, Sonia Rykiel, Jozef Sumichrast, Julian Tomchin, and Michael Vollbracht. The collection also contains a small number of bags from other retailers.

Dates

  • 1975-1999

Creator

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment. Care must be taken when examining the bags: they may not be unfolded nor may they be pulled from their handles.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from The New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Historical Note

Bloomingdale’s is a department store chain founded in New York City. Brothers Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale opened their flagship store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1873. In 1930, the store was acquired by Federated Department Stores, Inc. and relocated to 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, where it is located as of 2020. In 2007, Federated Department Stores was renamed Macy’s, Inc.

Originally a discount bazaar, during the 1950’s the company began targeting wealthier consumers, emerging as an important tastemaker in fashion, furniture, and home goods. Marvin Traub, then manager of merchandising, is largely credited with transforming Bloomingdale’s into a “destination store” to showcase luxury products from around the world. Traub pioneered the retail-as-theater marketing strategy, staging spectacular displays of goods. This method was famously employed during the annual “international fair,” an immersive exposition of products from a foreign region.

In October of 1969, Traub was promoted to president of Bloomingdale’s after his successor Lawrence Lachman took over as chairman and chief executive officer. “Bloomie’s,” as it was popularly known, continued to expand throughout the 1970’s, serving as a social hub for elites and aspirational consumers. In 1978, Lachman retired and Traub became chairman; during their joint-tenure as president and chairman, the chain grew from five locations in New York City to fifteen branches across the Northeast United States. Bloomingdale’s is largely credited with popularizing the decorated shopping bag. In 1961, the company produced their first limited-edition bag as a new advertising initiative. By the early 1970’s, their iconic shopping bags featured prints by prominent artists and graphic designers, spurring other chains to follow suit. The bags were so acclaimed that Andy Warhol once described the department chain as “a new kind of museum for the ‘80s.”

By the late 1980’s, loosened federal restrictions on buyouts and mergers combined with new consumer shopping habits led to a sharp cultural and economic decline in the department store industry. In 1990, Bloomingdale’s filed for bankruptcy. Michael Gould became chairman and chief executive officer in 1991, ending Traub’s presidential tenure. Under Gould, the chain once known as a symbol of glamour and culture-making developed into a tasteful yet sensible brand. Throughout the 1990s, Bloomingdale’s scaled back on international merchandising, instead establishing a Bloomingdale’s exclusive clothing line and reducing the home goods sector. The company remains a high-end national retailer as of 2020.

References:

Murray Schumach, “Bloomingdale's is 100 and Is Still Looking Up,” The New York Times, September 7 1972, https://www.nytimes.com/1972/09/07/archives/bloomingdales-is-100-and-is-still-looking-up.html.

Sharon Zukin, Point of Purchase: How Shopping Changed American Culture (New York: Routledge, 2004).

“Spirit of the World’s Fair Permeates Store’s Exhibition,” The New York Times, September 23 1964, https://www.nytimes.com/1964/09/23/archives/spirit-of-the-worlds-pair-permeates-stores- exposition.html?searchResultPosition=8

Isadore Barmash, “Lachman Is Named Chairman, Traub No. 2 at Bloomingdale’s: Top Changes Set at Big Retailer,” The New York Times, October 17 1969, https://www.nytimes.com/1969/10/17/archives/ lachman-is-named-chairman-traub-no-2-at-bloomingdales-top-changes.html.

Marylin Bender, “Bloomingdale’s and Its Customers— Dancing Chic to, Chic,” The New York Times, 5 September 8 1974, https://www.nytimes.com/1974/09/08/archives/bloomingdales-and-its- customersdancing-chic-to-chic-can-the-stores.html.

Isadore Barmash, “Lachman to Leave Bloomingdale’s,” The New York Times, February 10 1978, 6https://www.nytimes.com/1978/02/10/archives/lachman-to-leave-bloomingdales-traub-is-new-chief- looking-ahead-70.html

Mary Helen Gillespie, “Shopping Bags? Try Thinking of Them as ‘Posters with Handles’", AP News, December 24 1987, https://apnews.com/fb887592e40d5d8e32a14c4dec103dc9.

Pamela Klaffke, Spree: A Cultural History of Shopping (Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2003).

Biographical Note

Cory Benett was born on May 2, 1960 in Queens, a borough of New York City, and grew up near the south shore of Long Island. He attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he earned an associate's degree in Advertising and Communication in 1983. Benett worked in the marketing department of Bloomingdale’s department store in the early 1980s. From 1989 to 2000, he was employed as an office manager and bookkeeper at Madison Avenue marketing company Gauthier & Gilden, Inc. Benett worked as an independent contractor from 2000 to 2008. In 2008, he retired and relocated to Wilton Manors, Florida. He died on November 2, 2019.

Benett’s interests included art (favorite artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec), architecture, culture, design, fashion (favorite designer: Yves Saint Laurent; favorite illustrator: Antonio Lopez), film (favorite movie: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; favorite actress: Audrey Hepburn), history, music, photography (favorite photographer: Robert Mapplethorpe; favorite model: Ken Moody), and writing. A self-professed Francophile, his personal style was at once elegant and simple. Benett especially enjoyed spending time visiting Paris, France! He also loved two-stepping to country and western hits and avidly supported the development of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (or LGBT Community Center), a hub for the LGBT communities in New York City to connect, find social services and enjoy cultural programming.

Benett lived on Horatio Street across from Jackson Square Park, the border between Greenwich Village and the Chelsea neighborhood, for most of his time in New York. There he was immersed in downtown culture and a burgeoning gay scene. He consciously placed himself in the epicenter of gay life and culture! Eighth Avenue, Horatio Street, and Greenwich Avenue form the triangular shaped Jackson Square Park. West Thirteenth Street crosses through the park and leads to the LGBT Community Center.

Adapted from profile supplied by donor.

Extent

109 Items (1 large box)

Language of Materials

English

Scope and Content of Collection

The collection consists of 109 shopping bags acquired by Cory Benett. While approximately half of the bags are undated, the other half predominantly date from the 1980s. Bloomingdale's department store, Benett's employer, commissioned the majority of the bags in the collection, with outlying bags commissioned by Bergdorf Goodman, YSL Paris, Jean Laporte Parfumeur Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Madelios Paris, representing the only all-plastic bags in the collection.

Leading artists, designers, illustrators and photographers of the mid-1970s and the 1980s created artwork featured on the bags. These include Antonio, Juan Botas, Neville Brody, Malcolm Garrett, Sigfrido Martín Begué, Mark Kostabi, Sheila Metzner, Missoni, Sonia Rykiel, Jozef Sumichrast, Julian Tomchin, and Michael Vollbracht. While Benett's selection criteria and curatorial decisions concerning his collection are unknown, it is possible that, like Andy Warhol and other arbiters of taste, he viewed the bags as a collectible artform. Indeed, a 1986 book by Stephen C. Wagner and Michael L. Closen about shopping bags was titled, The Shopping Bag: Portable Art(Crown Publishers). Cory Benett's friend and the donor of the collection, Andrew Diamond observes, "I think he [Cory] was fascinated by the changes and developments in the retail industry. One of the things that was happening during the 70s and 80s, (when he was coming into adulthood) was the transformation of the retail environment. The department stores in New York City, with Bloomingdale's leading the way, expanded access to designer brand name apparel."

Most of the Bloomingdale's commissioned bags were manufactured by the Equitable Bag Co., Inc. of Long Island City, although some of the bags were manufactured by Duro and, to a lesser extent, Champion. All of the bags, except for the Madelios bags, are paper. Of the bags, 62 feature plant-fiber (raffia) handles, 37 feature plastic handles, five feature cord handles, and one handle is paper.

The collection contains multiples of some of the bag designs.

Organization and Arrangement

Arranged in 2 series: I. Bloomingdale's bags; II. Non-Bloomingdale's bags

Descriptive Status

No publicly accessible container list or inventory is available at this time. Please contact The New School Archives if you are interested in consulting this collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to The New School Archives by Andrew Diamond, Cory Benett's friend, 2020.

Related Materials

Cory Benett's personal papers are held by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Archives in New York City. Other nationally significant collections of shopping bags are held by the Newark Public Library, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and the Cary Graphic Arts Library of Rochester Institute of Technology.

Processing Information

The New School Archives staff acknowledges the technical assistance of the Newark Public Library, the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, the Center for Jewish History, and the Cary Graphic Arts Library of Rochester Institute of Technology for their assistance in determining the best ways to preserve, store, and describe shopping bag collections.

Processed by Agnes Szanyi and Jack Wells.

Processing Information

Titles provided in this finding aid are derived directly from text found on the bags themselves. In the absence of text, The New School Archives has provided descriptive titles based upon images on the bag. In certain cases, where noted, titles have been derived from those provided in the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum's collections database.
Title
Guide to the Cory Benett Bloomingdale's shopping bag collection
Status
In Process
Author
Ray Self and Jenny Swadosh
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
English