After a series of global premieres in Paris, New York, London, and Tokyo, our documentary COLETTE MON AMOUR will now be available to watch at home on-demand from December 20.
Ahead of the release, Highsnobiety founder David Fischer spoke to colette co-founder Sarah Andelman, discussing their experiences with the institution and what's potentially next for retail.
David Fischer: My first visit to colette was in 2005, three months after I started Highsnobiety. The main thing I was really interested in doing was finally seeing this really cool store that I had heard so much about.
I was always going on the website. There were no real pictures of the shop on the Internet back then; I think my main ambition was, "I have to go, and I would love to write a story about colette and actually show the world how cool it looks." I remember interviewing Guillaume [Salmon] at the Water Bar, and asking him if colette would ever open a shop in any other city — he said, "Never." It was really interesting how clear that was, that colette could only ever exist in Paris. I really loved how there was no question.
The week I was there — it was shortly after or before the Tour de France — colette had this Futura Nike shoe. It was really amazing, especially from a European point of view, to see Supreme, A Bathing Ape... these brands that you could only read about on the Internet because they were from Japan or the US. You just had it all there.
Sarah Andelman: We had streetwear from day one at the ground floor, even before it was below the gallery. It was in the smaller space, on a table at the end of the ground floor; we had brands like Stüssy on the T-shirt racks.
You created Highsnobiety in 2005, what was the motivation?
David: I was always interested in fashion and lifestyle, but I was studying business at the time. Highsnobiety allowed me to talk about my passion. The site was not about sneakers, and it was not [only] about fashion — it was about everything I was into. It was fashion, furniture, design, hotels... all of it. Then, in the first six months or so, I got so much overwhelming feedback on streetwear and sneakers that the site went down that route.
Actually, the colette piece was the first Highsnobiety story with original pictures.
Sarah: Do you still have these images somewhere?
David: I don't think so! But it was a really big deal for me back then. There were almost no other pictures of the shop; maybe one picture here, one there, but a thorough inside look didn't really exist. I think that also, in many ways, put us on the map.
The same week, I visited Maison Kitsune. They had this shop not so far away from you guys, just with one rack.
Sarah: Maybe that was the one on rue de Richelieu near Palais Royal.
David: It was in the back street, and they just had one rack of cashmere sweaters. That's it. There was nothing else, which was quite amazing.
I still love when you discover something in a shop and you can only get it in the shop. It feels so different from, I don't know, a raffle, or anything that is happening digitally. I'm really trying to not be that guy, like, "everything used to be better before." But there's a special feeling, entering a physical space, and something only being available there. It makes you so happy when you find something like that. I'm wondering how we can maybe still have that feeling in the future.
Sarah: It’s difficult because every brand wants to have this visibility online, with stuff to sell online. There are only a few shops you can go to where you know you will see things you don't know yet, that you haven't seen anywhere. But now, brands don't want to produce super small quantities just for one place.
David: Yeah, it's tough. But I think this local effect will come back. I'm not sure if it will be in person or digital, but I think we will return to that aspect, in some way.
Sarah: I totally agree.
Graeme Campbell: Was it during that visit in 2005 when you guys first met?
David: No. We ran into each other quite a bit then, at fashion weeks and this and that. Speaking of which, I think it was during fashion week in 2017 when the news came out that you guys were closing?
Sarah: We announced on July 20th, 2017. .
David: I think rumors were already in the air; I even asked Guillaume, "Listen, are you guys closing?" He had nothing to say. Then, a couple of days later...
Sarah: He didn't know. Nobody really knew!
Graeme: These days, I can walk into Dover Street Market and find a skate brand next to Bottega Veneta or Gucci. I'm guessing that high-low thing wasn't really happening in 2005?
David: It was only happening at colette. In Japan, a little bit, but in the Western world... If you think of New York City at the time, it was quite exciting, too, but for different reasons. In New York, you had Supreme. You had a bunch of cool neighborhood sneaker shops. Aaron Bondaroff opened A New York Thing on the Lower East Side. You had Alife®. There was good energy in the Lower East Side of New York, which was very street. There was no mix of luxury and streetwear.
The Lower East Side was kind of coming up. Unfortunately, they didn't make it. It's still kind of grimy, which I think is actually cool. But at the time, it seemed like it would really become the next SoHo, in a sense, which then didn't really happen. You had SSUR; Dave's Quality Meat was a super cool sneaker store. New York retail, now that I think about it, changed a lot. There was really cool retail 10, 15 years ago; it unfortunately all left.
But this idea of high and low didn't really exist. colette had so many things that were unique to it — even Chrome Hearts Jewelry. I also always loved the technology at the shop. It would be the first to have the iPod; the first to have some obscure, high-end headphones. You could go from looking at tech stuff to custom watches. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was the Internet before the internet.
Graeme: Which year would you say the high-low really take off?
David: It took at least until 2012, 2013. Before you had Givenchy with Riccardo Tisci and all these streetwear-inspired things, there was Takashi Murakami x Louis Vuitton, Mark Jacobs x Stephen Sprouse, but that was still not a true mix. I mean, it was the art of luxury objects, but the real mix, where it suddenly became okay, was around 2012/2013.
Graeme: Would you say that's when the mainstream fashion media began latching on as well?
David: Yeah, maybe even later. The funny thing is, it's still special to them today, in a sense, which is kind of ridiculous. We've been repeating the message now for 15 years, and it still feels like something new to some people. In 2007/2008, from a mainstream media perspective, they were totally focused on heritage; it was a recession in the US, for the most part. You had this huge wave of Red Wing boots and boat shoes. Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments was designing for Woolrich at the time. You had Mark McNairy doing interesting things.
That was kind of the vibe in 2008, '09, '10. Then, suddenly, sneakers came back like crazy. There was this two year period where sneakers were not that hot; sneakers became a little distasteful, in a sense, if I look back. They were really not that nice. Then, you had the whole heritage thing, and sneakers just came back so strong. The only place where you could see it all was colette.
Sarah: All this talk makes us feel so old! It's really nostalgic. I wonder if young kids will watch the documentary, like, “We have Dover Street Market, what's so special about this place?" I never really look in the past. You seem to have a good chronology of everything, but I forget everything!
David: I mean, it happens to us as well, because we need to be so in the moment. Last week, I saw a picture of Travis Scott walking the Mark McNairy Show in New York City.
Sarah: How is Mark McNairy? Do you know what he's doing?
David: I don’t, but thinking of Travis then and now is just crazy. In 2013, I got a call, like, "David, Let's do a SUPRA cover shoot with this upcoming rapper." So we did the cover for our magazine and a launch event in Berlin, where Travis performed.
Sarah: It's funny you mention him, because he was the last big performance at colette. It really came from Saint Laurent; we were trying to come up with something special. I was surprised, and remember asking if they were sure it was a good idea. It’s funny to think we brought together the likes of Catherine Deneuve and Travis Scott.
David: I think the last time I was at colette was the Chanel party.
Sarah: With Pharrell, Justin Timberlake, Futura…
David: That was a good night as well. It’s so crazy to attract these people to one place. Karl Lagerfeld was there, too.
After that, we went on the long journey of the documentary. I think, especially if you've been inside colette, the documentary is extremely cool. If you haven't, then I think it still shows you the kind of special energy that retailers could have. It was a long process, but in the end, we achieved the goal of translating some of that energy. It shows how the shop was a reflection of you and your mother.
colette existed at the perfect time too, right?
Sarah: Yeah. Oh my god. Between the yellow jackets, the strikes, and now the pandemic, it would have been difficult in recent times.
David: Really good timing! When did the conversation about closing between you and your mom happen? Who put it on the table?
Sarah: I don’t think I’ve said, but a long time before that. Let’s say, five years before. We were not sleeping anymore, and working non-stop. I remember already approaching someone close to a big group, and this person came back to me and said, "No. You cannot close."
David: So, four years after the initial thoughts, your mom said, “Listen...”?
Sarah: We had done it all. We met some different people and considered giving them the keys to run the shop without us, but that was impossible for us. We were too attached. I know many brands continue with someone advising, but if we took this choice, maybe today there would be colette everywhere. We had a meeting with Mr. Pinault from Kering, where I'm pretty sure I suggested Saint Laurent.
David: It's complicated to close a shop like that, right?
Sarah: The deal we did with Saint Laurent was easier, where they take the space and the staff. I don't think we would have slept well if our staff couldn’t remain in place with the same salary. That was a condition we were looking for before closing.
David: When did you tell the brands?
Sarah: We couldn't say anything to anybody. Not even the night before. I think it was July 20 that I contacted everybody.
Graeme: Sarah, you're not one to dwell on the past, so let's end by looking to the future. Can you expand on the point you made earlier about how you think retail will become more localized again?
Sarah: At some point, each sneaker store had their own identities, and own selections, and own curation, to "speak" sneakers. But now it’s the same for a department store, or multibrand store. At some point, the brands proposed the same thing to everybody.
I realized this when we closed. When I looked for something new, all the big online shops had exactly the same thing.
There is one shop in Los Angeles that I love, with Japanese stuff. I know I will always find something there that I've never seen anywhere before, because they work hard on their selection of products.
David: I remember in 2005 you had a special Nike shoe. A shop would get 12 pairs. Maybe 24. That's it. Now, they get 500. Obviously it's now a much bigger business for these shops. From a consumer perspective, it also becomes a whole lot less interesting.
I think there's just nothing that beats the sense of discovery. Going through a store, seeing things that you haven't seen before, or seeing things live that you've never seen live before. I think it's still very special.
Sarah: Do you think you can ever replicate that experience through a screen, rather than going in?
David: Online discovery can also be fun. But I love this idea of, if you know, you know. It's just in me, like, in every part of my body. I really don't care if everybody knows. As long as I know and a few people know, that matters much more.
That still very much drives me today. I always find myself going down these rabbit holes. It can be on Instagram, or it can be online, where I'm going from account, to account, to account to find things. For example, I just found this Australian brand which I didn't know, called MAN-TLE. It's this husband/wife couple; they both used to work for Comme des Garçons. Their philosophy of fashion is for it to be very robust, very hard, very dry. I always love these stories.
But still, I have to say it's only half the discovery until I've seen it live. It's almost like, "Okay, now I'm intrigued, but where can I see this? Where can I feel it?" I think that part is still missing, but I think the discovery journey online is still valuable, and it's still fun. I still find it weird how you can know something online without actually knowing it.