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Colette: The Original Concept Store, now a Fashion Institution

  • BoF Team

PARIS, France — Founded in 1997 by Colette Rousseau and her daughter Sarah Andelman, Parisian store Colette has quickly become part of Paris Fashion Week lore and is now an institution in the city's fashion retail landscape.  Many have tried to replicate Colette's original take on fashion and culture in cities around the world ('The Colette' of this city or that one), but there is only one original.

In menswear, Colette has made a name for itself through its engaging edit: a mixture of high fashion, of-the-moment streetwear and kitsch lifestyle paraphernalia. One of the few stores capable of breaking an emerging menswear designer on the global scene, Colette has built a reputation for getting behind emerging menswear designers early on, and has acted as a key supporter of Raf Simons, Umit Benan and Sacai.

BoF spoke to creative director Sarah Andelman to learn more.

BoF: How do you approach the Colette buy each season?

SA: Every season we try to bring some new stories. This season we have a lot, with Massimo Piombo, Umit Benan coming back, lots of things, but I think it can touch young 20-year-old guys, or 50-year-old guys. Each item will never be a simple blue pump or simple black jacket; there is always a detail in the pocket, in the lining – voilà.

BoF: Who is the target consumer?

SA: From the beginning I try to think of all type of men, not just a fashion victim, not just a young hipster; I want to touch a dentist, a lawyer, a dad. I think it is important that if you come to Colette just to check out the exhibition in the gallery or have a coffee in the restaurant, and you go to the men's section, I hope that any kind of man could find something suitable. Of course it is impossible, that is why we reduce by only buying what we really like. Of course it is very important to carry some brands in exclusivity, or in avant premiere, but we don't refuse a simple Moncler jacket with an interesting detail, when we will also go to the very strong Raf Simons look of the season. Thom Browne is a perfect example. His collections and shows are always very strong but his shirts, all men I know will agree that his shirts are perfectly cut, simple with great detail – a perfect product for us.

BoF: Colette has always had a sense of humour and been able to engage with younger menswear consumers, especially through brand parodies on t-shirts. How important is it to tap the social media generation?

SA: Before the explosion of social media we always had streetwear at the front of the store and the t-shirts were always part of our identity, first with real streetwear brands, and with time passing more and more young designers start to create fun T-shirts, playing with fashion. We have said very openly that we keep a sense of humour. It is true that we are not limited to only fashion; we take it with a lot of distance compared to many shops, which are only fashion.

Instagram is marvelous for us because we literally receive new products everyday. It is the only way people can follow it and understand it. Of course on our website, everyday we put new products, but nobody will go on our website everyday. So Instagram is so important to reflect our non-stop activity, which can be in beauty, the restaurant, in everything. We take the risk to do the store spontaneously, the way we feel it. Of course our selection is the ‘must-have’ of the season, but if we are wrong, we are wrong. We are so lucky to be free in my buying. I don’t have budgets, I don’t have any reports to make to anybody, compared to somebody at a department store where there is a team of 20, it is never easy to explain why you picked this colour instead of this colour!

BoF: Colette has established many new designers in the Parisian and French scene, as well as globally. Which are you most proud of?

SA: Oh we did a lot. We worked with Raf Simons from the beginning, and we worked with Thom Browne from the beginning. Right now the young designer we will push during men’s shows is OAMC, who comes from streetwear with Supreme but now designs a very mature collection with great fabrics and great cut.

BoF: How do you know when you have come across a designer that you really want to get behind?

SA: It is new, it’s fresh – it is something that we don’t have yet. We see so many collections so similar to what we have already, and for me, I always compare it to a puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle should be different and then all together it creates a story. I see so many brands where I don’t see anything new or special in their collection. I am super excited that we worked with Julien David from his first collection. First it was scarves, then it was women, then he started men’s, and it is very successful. Each collection he creates a new print, a new shape. It is something I didn’t see yet, something I don’t have already with other brands.

BoF: What kind of atmosphere do you hope to create in the menswear department?

SA: For me it should not be something forced, all the choices we make have a legitimacy and it is certainly about the new ones and young ones, but sometimes it is the best cashmere quality, sometimes it is the bowties that are made with lots of fun. It is trying to get something naturally interesting I would say, organically fresh. Something new that you would feel comfortable to try and that is why we go from Valentino to Givenchy, kind of extremes. From the perfection of Valentino to the sometimes craziness of Givenchy, but it is an expression of what we are trying to do. For us it makes sense. For us it all naturally goes together — voilà.

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