As the beloved Parisian store turns 20, we recall just what makes it so great
Anyone with an interest in fashion will remember their first pilgrimage to the Parisian powerhouse we call Colette. Located on Rue Saint-Honoré, Colette is the brainchild of Sarah Andelman (more commonly known as Sarah Colette) and her mother, the original Colette Roussaux. After opening up shop in 1997, they have created a veritable empire – and pretty much claimed ownership of that particular shade of blue.
A breeding ground for the newest, most forward-thinking creative innovations in the fields of music, art and fashion, Colette is essentially an adult playground for the style-inclined. From the wide-eyed teenagers picking up a copy of their favourite mag to the die-hards in the corner eyeing up a pair of snakeskin platform Balenciaga boots, the store draws in an eclectic and dedicated crowd. When it comes to the product stocked, if it’s rare, desirable and desperately cool, chances are you can find it at Colette.
What initially started as a passion project, occupying an empty space at the bottom of the building that Andelman lived in, is now arguably one of the world’s most iconic concept stores. Here’s why.
When it comes to Colette’s philosophy, the store does things a little differently. Having opened its doors in March 1997, Colette began to challenge the concept of luxury retail as we once knew it. While a distaste for rules, coupled with a love of streetwear and Japanese designers – Comme des Garçons being one of the first brands to get on board – has influenced the store from the beginning, these days you’re just as likely to find pieces of Undercover and Sacai in store as you are Alexander Wang and Christopher Kane. Aside from the cleverly curated brand offering, what’s unique about the products stocked at Colette is that they are entirely sourced and selected by Andelman herself. As the sole buyer for the store, not only has Andelman made it her mission to scour the globe for the most eclectic edit, she’s also created a space that’s simultaneously occupied by both the high and the low. While many a Colette purchase could warrant a serious credit card extension, the store sees fun souvenirs sit alongside super luxurious fashion pieces, interspersed with technical goods, books and magazines aplenty.
If it’s exclusive, got an 800-person deep pre-release wait list, or on the barely available side of “limited edition”, it’s probably from Colette. Whether the store is working with an established designer or a new talent, it’s in Colette’s nature to bring people together. We’ve seen the big: 2013’s Art Basel “Art Drive through” pop-up shop with Miami’s Alchemist boutique and 2011’s Chanel x Colette pop-up. Taking place in a derelict gas station (now occupied by Balenciaga) down the street from the store, the collaborative space housed a mix of fashion, visual arts and musical performances, along with a Chanel nail bar and a range of Colette blue Mademoiselle bags, customised live in store by the likes of Kevin Lyons and SO-ME. We’ve seen the unexpected: Colette x McDonald’s, Colette x DC Comics, and a Colette x Smart car for the store’s 18th coming-of-age celebration. And, we’ve seen the rest: Colette blue adidas Originals Stan Smiths, Colette x Eastpak and a Mad Paris x Colette Rolex Milgauss. The list goes on. For our 20th, we teamed up on an exhibition and a series of limited edition tees – when it comes to theirs, Colette is going all out with an extensive series of blue products designed in collaboration with the likes of Nike, Snoopy, Komono watches and Coast cycles.
There aren’t many people who can say that they hosted Barbie’s 50th birthday bash, have thrown a Playboy x Hello Kitty party at Paris’ Crazy Horse, put on a real life fun fair coined Carnival Colette in Paris’s Jardin des Tuileries as a 15th birthday celebration and held a supersized “Sweet Sixteen”. From in-store book signings, product launches and panel discussions on sneaker culture, to live music concerts and after parties, the Colette name is more than just a brand and the store is not just a venue, it’s a hub for fashion and cultural exchange. When it comes to the big 20, Andelman and the Colette crew are taking us to the beach for an immersive installation, created by New York art and architecture collaborators Snarkitecture. The interactive piece of contemporary art (that includes a 300,000 recyclable ball-filled pit) will take over the Parisian museum Les Arts Decoratifs for five days starting today.
Aside from the signature aroma of fig, cassis, jasmine and musk that hits you upon entering the store, something else that can be noticed are the changing artworks that hang from the white walls. With the store also incorporating a gallery space – and a basement water bar, should you be feeling faint post-purchase – Colette has hosted exhibitions ranging from Californian artist Steve Harrington’s psychedelic “Wavy Days” showcase, to Supreme’s Terry Richardson x Kermit the frog exhibition in 2008. Meanwhile, in 2015 the work of New York-based artist Kalen Hollomon caught Andelman’s eye, prompting her to showcase an edit of his subversive mixed media collages, in which he transformed a series of his 35mm photographs into “advertising campaigns” by simply adding luxury fashion logos.
Whether it’s enlisting renowned street artist Kenny Scharf to be the ringleader of a “car-tagging” party called “Karbomz!” that quite literally saw him graffiti his signature cartoons on cars outside the Colette store, or giving Japanese flower artist Azuma Makoto free rein over the store window – which resulted in a kaleidoscopic display of 10,000 petal-filled jars titled Petal Box – creativity comes first at Colette. It’s the store’s unrivalled approach to originality that has kept people returning time after time over the last 20 years. Of course, with its walls rumoured to hold over 20,000 different products at any one time and a constantly evolving cultural calendar of events on offer, no two visits are the same. One day, a YSL video display, another a Balenciaga sculpture by Mark Jenkins, and the next a visit from Champagne Papi himself. Who knows what’s next? HBD, Colette.