For more than 20 years, culturally curious visitors to Paris made the multi-storey concept store Colette, on Rue Saint-Honoré, a mandatory part of their trip. The brainchild of Colette Rousseaux and her daughter Sarah Andelman, who was the face of – and force behind – the project, Colette was known around the world as a paragon of cool. Its unexpected mix of high fashion and cultish streetwear, coffee-table books, design-driven tech, boutique beauty brands, knick-knacks and other collectables was in constant flux. At any one time, there were up to 20,000 different products on the shop floor and events were a weekly happening. This made it near impossible to emulate: who would dare to keep up? In the age of monobrand dominated bricks-and-mortar and faceless e-commerce, Colette will seem like a fable.
Colette was a luxury shop, no doubt, but not in the traditional Parisian sense: its aspirational appeal was not about polish or price point. Andelman opened the shop with Comme des Garçons sitting on the shelves next to Reebok and Kiehl’s – before the latter was the beauty giant it is today. So while you could find a dress for thousands of euros you could also pick up a keyring. There was something for everyone and every budget. Whether you went to shop or to browse, you rarely left empty-handed.
“Whenever I went to Paris, I went to Colette,” says Sacai designer Chitose Abe, whose debut collection was bought by Andelman in 1999. “I looked forward to it every time as Sarah’s expression was something you could not find anywhere else.” Ben Gorman, of Byredo, agrees: “That level of curation didn’t exist before. It was pure inspiration.”
Andelman’s ability to distil and set the retail trends of the day was indeed renowned and she made Colette the go-to shop for limited-edition collaborations — the kind that had people queuing around the block. For every Kaws or Nike partnership, there was a madcap concept with the likes of French patisserie Ladurée (and Pharrell, of all people) or Vespa scooters. The only unifying leitmotif was the use of the Colette hallmark blue, Pantone 293c.
“After a while, you expected Colette to stock a certain pair of fashion trainers,” says David Fischer, the founder of lifestyle publication Highsnobiety. “What got me most excited were the unexpected things: the occasions when you could feel how far Colette extended beyond fashion, art and technology, such as when Coca-Cola took over the entire shop. It was all about those curveballs.”
It’s true that Colette had cool factor but there was also a riotous element of fun in its approach and that enthusiasm was infectious. The shop was brightly lit and primed with colour. The ground floor, in particular, looked like a bazaar with its mix of books, magazines, records and tech gadgets. Like a quirky but high-end souvenir shop, there were items you could find nowhere else. Upstairs, on the other hand, felt more like an art gallery. Eschewing the copy-and-paste layout of linear racks, there was just a scattering of mannequins wearing complete outfits that mixed bold styles from the likes of Simone Rocha, Thom Browne and Alaïa. It could be a little intimidating, in the most luxurious sense, as the space had an almost monastic sense of calm. The Water Bar downstairs, on the other hand, was a lively café, its USP being that the drinks list boasted nearly 100 different types of water. People mostly came for the salad plates – one of the few vegetarian offers in the vicinity – and the chance to people-watch.
When Andelman announced in 2017 that Colette would close, the shock was palpable. The reports said business was doing better than ever but Rousseaux, who still worked the shop floor every Sunday, was ready to retire. When the doors shuttered later that year, it felt as though the retail landscape in Paris let out a shuddering sigh of defeat. Andelman, for her part, was quoted as simply saying, “All good things must come to an end.”