With the recent news that colette will shut its doors in December, we decided to revisit one of the cover stories from our last magazine issue, HS14. In this in-depth interview with colette co-founder Sarah Andelman – one half of arguably the most influential fashion retail project in recent years – you'll find out how colette, and the vision behind it, has evolved since 1997.
One dog named Oscar (RIP), five pairs of Instapump Furys (sold on March 20, 1997), 37 compilation CDs, 92 Podcasts, approximately 300 art exhibitions, 750 employees, 2,080 window displays, around 3,000 events, 5,000 emails received for for a single YEEZY raffle, 8,600 different brands, 42,438 bottles of room spray, 100,990 newsletter subscribers, 140,000 bottles of Coca-Cola, 300,000 balls (for THE BEACH at Musée des Arts Décoratifs), 400,000 different items sold, 897,000 Instagram followers, 1,342,000 loaves of Poujauran bread, 2,460,000 receipts, and 700,000,000 website views. What do all these figures have in common? Well to start, two more numbers: 213 rue Saint-Honoré and Pantone 293c.
Historic rue St. Honoré in Paris, France, has been regarded as one of “the most expensive streets in the world” for the better part of a century. In 1997, it also cemented itself as the arguable birthplace of the modern day high-low concept shop that combines fashion with sneakers, art, music and gadgets — a sort of early, physical version of Highsnobiety itself — with the opening of colette. Located at 213 rue St. Honoré the shop demarcates itself with Pantone 293c, or “colette blue,”, a color that has been used across countless products and is instantly recognizable by anyone in the know.
By any account, Parisian retailer colette is a global fashion destination and a force that has played a consistent and powerful role in the genesis and growth of the creative consumer culture we find ourselves immersed in today. With hundreds if not thousands of limited-edition collaborations to colette’s name (nearly all bearing the shade of blue mentioned above) as well as countless art shows, events and installations — including a bar dedicated exclusively to water — they are the prototypical torch-bearer for the genre-blending sort of coolness that exists today and continues to grow. In 2017, the influential store turns 20 years old.
To celebrate the milestone, colette did what they're best at: putting together a line of 20 limited-edition products with 20 different 20 brands (including Nike, Medicom Toy, Converse and others) available exclusively at the 213 Rue Saint-Honoré store and, of course, mostly in Pantone 293c. They also partnered with Snarkitecture and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to bring an interactive installation called The Beach to Paris.
To have continuously stayed on top of the scene for the past two decades is quite an achievement — one that takes vision, dedication, and an openness to constant change. To learn more, we caught up with Sarah Andelman, colette co-founder (the other founder is her mother and the shop’s namesake, Colette Roussaux) who discussed the origins of the shop, her hometown of Paris, and her take on the global culture at large.
In 1997, a highly curated, multifaceted shop like colette was a very fresh concept — who or what were your early inspirations in opening the store?
We didn’t have any inspirations. We knew that when we travelled to New York, London or Japan, that there were lots of products we couldn’t find anywhere in Paris. From beauty brands like Kiehl’s or a sneaker in Japan. It was really after we visited the space itself (we lived above it) that we had the idea that we could have everything we liked — fashion, food, design, art — and mix them together. But we didn’t have a model. We knew some shops like Moss in New York and, for example, for the restaurant there was Joseph’s in London a long time ago. We liked some places like these, but they were not an inspiration for the store. We really started from scratch.
What was your original concept for colette and how has this a vision changed over the years?
We had a little tagline saying “style, design, art, food.” And it was the fact that you would come to colette and find a pair of sneakers, a T-shirt with a cool design, you could have lunch all day long, you could buy music, you could buy a dress or a jacket from a fashion designer. You could see an exhibition, buy a lipstick. You could come to colette and find all categories of products. It was a personal selection of what we thought was most interesting at the moment. The concept was also to change all the time. From the beginning we had new windows every week, new displays, so that was part of the concept from the beginning; to be different each time you come. We always renew ourselves.
What were some of the first products colette carried? Are any of these pieces or brands still there today?
I know we had the Insta Pump Fury from Reebok because I have receipts for what we sold on the first day we opened, March 20, 1997. We also had brands like Kiehl’s and we had Comme des Garçons. The biggest difference compared to today is design. We had much more furniture and design pieces like shelves, lights, plates and some vases, which we don’t carry anymore. When we opened, the culture and books were below the garage on the first floor where we now have beauty, so on the ground floor when you came in it was beauty on the right and design in the center…and where streetwear is now was light/tech. For many years I’d hear people were afraid to come in, saying things like, “Everything is expensive,” but it was the same product as today. Because everything was very clean and everything was well presented, people thought it was more like a museum. But it was the same experience we have now.
What factors do you feel have contributed most to the longevity of colette?
The fact that we always change everything. The fact that we don’t assume that because a brand works well or if it sells well that we’ll continue it forever. We like to not rest or sleep on success. We always challenge ourselves to surprise the clients. We always try to know in advance what’s coming next, we always try to have products you cannot find anywhere else.
One could argue that colette paved the way for a new breed of retail overall: the high-low mix, the fashion-meets-street and the collaborative culture that’s so huge today. How do you view the evolutions that have taken place in over the last two decades around the world?
That’s true I think, because we always had fashion, we always mixed the brands — established big brands with young designers. We never had corners with just Gucci or Bless. All the mannequins back in the day mixed everything together, like you do in a fashion story in a magazine. And at the ground floor we always had the streetwear which became bigger and bigger and bigger. Back in the day when we went to see New Balance, they were surprised because we wanted to carry their sneakers — the only shops to carry New Balance were sports shops. Same with many other brands. You can tell the way I dress myself… I always wear sneakers with designer.
I think it was a natural evolution because the web brought brands like Nike and adidas who were working on sneakers with the same sophistication as the fashion world. It’s very close [to fashion] with all these collections and all these collaborations. So at one point it was inevitable that the two worlds would mix or touch, and today it overlaps completely.
There’s a lot of talk these days about all the trends of the ’90s being recycled, what are your thoughts on the fashion trends of 1997 vs. 2017?
I have to tell you I don’t remember the trends from the end of ’90s! They’re recycled for sure. It’s fashion. It’s like this. I think at one point in our buying for fashion there was a real trend for each season, a real feeling that every designer would do something, say ’70s, or with a certain pattern or fabric. Now I don’t see trends like this anymore. For example, yes, there is a bomber flight jacket in many collections, but I don’t think that’s a trend anymore. I think it’s part of the vocabulary of fashion. And now there are so many extremes. When you look, we went from the minimalism of Céline to now the baroque of Gucci. But, besides this, you have space for lots of different direction now. You used to go outside of the fashion shows and lots of people would wear exactly the same thing. And I think nowadays it’s not like that anymore. There is more space for personal expression, in my opinion. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t really concern myself with trends. We never did our selection thinking, “We want to be on-trend.” We always buy our selection thinking, “Ah, that’s an interesting story.”
I read you’ve been carrying Raf Simons since his first season — how do you view the changes that have taken place over his career and his impact in the present day?
It’s fascinating. We always carried his own personal line, which in a way has always been very directional, with certain kinds of shirts and tops. He really had a strong identity. We had his line with Fred Perry and all the sneakers with adidas and we followed all his collections for Jil Sander, for Dior and now for Calvin Klein. I think it’s great because we can recognize his own touch and the brand history. He really integrates the brand history with his own code. I love that he has Peter De Potter and Willy Vanderperre — the same team — around him for all these brands. From Dior to Calvin Klein, he had the same team. And what he’s doing for Calvin Klein I think is fantastic: this evolution of an American brand from outside, for me it’s the best. To be able to refresh their classic jeans or underwear is fantastic. I think he’s extremely talented and it’s great to be able to carry him and follow the evolution over the years.
Have you ever had a "one that got away" moment, a brand or opportunity you feel you missed?
I think, for example, Vetements: I totally missed their emails for the product in the first season (laughs). I regret that we didn’t have Vetements from the very first season, but otherwise I’m quite proud. We had brands like Sacai, Thom Browne, Olympia Le Tan or Julien David from day one. Or even Jeremy Scott, even if we don’t carry him anymore. I always go out and see what’s happening but I don’t want to be the first just to be the first, because sometimes it doesn’t mean anything. If we stock the first season, but then stop the following season, it’s not very interesting, but most of the time I think we have caught good designers from the beginning. I see when they bring something new to what we have. With someone like Simone Rocha, I immediately knew she was bringing something special that we needed to complete what we have.
colette has remained 100 percent Paris-based; how important is your city for you?
It’s super important. We really opened for Paris. Like I said, in ’97 there were lots of things missing in Paris. Lots of department stores were really old and over the years they changed and refreshed. Our neighborhood changed a lot. Even if the selection is international — and I will never buy a brand because of where it comes from — it’s true we are here for Paris and for what’s missing in Paris. Also because we are a small team with a big operation — with so much love and attention to detail — we could not do the same thing for other addresses all over the world. That’s the main reason why we don’t open other shops anywhere else.
Would you say regional style is still important today? Is there a local Paris style that still exists?
It’s global. Of course there is a certain Parisian allure or chic or attitude, but I think nowadays it’s… it’s difficult to answer this question. There is a Parisian style inspired from the style of the world. It depends which culture you look at. If it’s the young kids in the more hip-hop or more fashion [scenes], I don’t know… I think it’s very global now.
Subculture in the present day overall feels very blended together.
Yes, yes. I agree.
colette also remains a top destination in Paris. What impact has social media had on the way you approach the colette experience? Is it difficult to keep that “destination” feel alive when everyone has already seen so much online?
Actually social media has been fantastic for us and for the shop itself. There was really a “before” and “after” Instagram. I don’t think people realized before Instagram that we receive new products every, every, every day. Sometimes someone will see something on Instagram and will come to the shop to buy it, so it didn’t affect our sales in-store; it’s the opposite. It’s helped us to communicate the activity in the store, the events and all the different things we do. It’s much more visible than on a website or any other way. So for us, social media has been fantastic to share what’s happening at colette.
You’ve collaborated with everyone from Chanel and Hermès to adidas and Timberland, and on and on. What have been some of your most memorable moments in the colette history?
For sure Chanel was really a dream. For Chanel and Hermès, when we opened the store we had no idea we’d be able to collaborate with them because they are at the top, and the pop-up we did was really fun. When I think about it now I wonder, “How did we do this? How did Chanel allow us to do all we did?” But after, I’m happy we worked with Ladurée. We did some special macarons. We worked with Louis Vuitton, too, and it was a great experience. We worked with Cartier too…we are lucky now. For many years we never worked with Balenciaga and now we are able to do great projects with them. We did a nice tour of all the cool brands to work with.
Is there anyone you haven’t worked with that you would like to?
No. Apple was a really important brand we wanted to work with and we did. I think now maybe the new brand for tomorrow…will it be Google? Will it be more brands from Silicon Valley or high tech? Maybe this will be the next stage, but for fashion I cannot think of any brands we would desperately like to work with that we didn’t yet. I touch wood; we have been lucky to show how we can receive a brand in a nice way. For them it’s a good experience to go out from their own stores to touch different customers.
We even did cars. It’s weird to think we did a smart car — we did an Aston Martin car. We did special Coca- Cola bottles. Tomorrow it’s not only big brands; I’m happy when we do smaller things, too.
For our 20th anniversary we’re doing 20 collaborations, from a Nike Woven, which I'm very happy with, to a clock with Solari, the old Italian company who did the black flip clocks in all the train stations. It’s not only about the famous brands, it’s more about those who have the authenticity, who have a history. That’s more important for me than the whole “famous” thing.
If you could have one artist, dead or alive, create an original work for colette, who would it be?
Wow. As you said dead, it would be between Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp.
What do you think the future holds for colette and the community around it?
It’s difficult for me to think really far into the future. I’m always in the moment, always late for what’s happening… thinking about what do we do next week. I can’t really project myself because we keep a certain flexibility and reactivity to be able to do something tomorrow, if we want. Even our 20th anniversary event with The Beach by Snarkitecture, we really started to work on it in December, three months ahead. I think the internet is part of the future and the new generation will make us look differently at lots of things we thought were clear. I think lots of things will change in the future, but we will try to follow.
If you could give one piece of advice to the youth, or someone starting out in their career, what would you say?
To stay yourself. To just listen your heart. To be spontaneous, to not try to follow anything else. To just follow what your heart says.