Plenty has changed over the past 20 years of fashion. But at Colette, the famously outward-looking department store set on rue Saint-Honoré, the sprit of renewal has always defined its vision. Sarah Andelman opened Colette with her mother, Colette Roussaux, in March 1997, and has previously described the space as resembling computer software – constantly evolving with new updates and versions; “We are always in movement,” she says. We are sat in the now famous water bar (offering no less than 75 different types), in the basement of the three-storied shop. Andelman wears an embroidered silk bomber jacket by Thom Browne, her hair is neatly cropped and her make-up-free face is glowing – she looks every bit the quietly confident style curator. It’s this confidence in taste that has consistently defined the Colette DNA.
After having found the perfect location – the space below their family apartment – the only thing left to do was fill the store with objets. “We knew what we liked,” Andelman explains. “We couldn’t understand why we couldn’t find Kiehl’s in Paris or France. We’d ask friends, ‘If you go to New York, will you bring me some back?’ We knew we wanted the latest pair of – I don’t know – furry Reeboks. And magazines were difficult to find in Paris: Dazed, AnOther, i-D – 20 years ago you couldn’t find them. We knew we wanted to bring together the different things we liked in fashion. We wanted both big, established brands from Comme Des Garçons to Prada, and some younger designers like Jeremy Scott, who we had from day one.”
“We compare the store to a magazine because I think the windows are like a cover; inside you can find the food page, the fashion page...” – Sarah Andelman
Since wish list compiling began, the shop windows have changed every single week – a managerial task lovingly undertaken by Roussaux along with the day-to-day details that keep the shop floor shipshape. Whatever the window features, each item or brand is always communicated through the Colette filter. During Paris fashion week the windows hosted Maria Grazia Chiuri’s debut collection for Dior – the sporty fencing pieces were mixed with her dreamy tulle dresses to add a Saint-Honoré edge. “We compare the store to a magazine because I think the windows are like a cover; inside you can find the food page, the fashion page...” Andelman explains.
However this week – the week of the store’s 20th birthday – the windows will not be filled with clothes. Instead, the shop front will house screens beaming a live stream into the hallowed halls of Musée des Arts Décoratifs, for this is where Colette’s latest collaboration will reside. Having toured Washington, Florida and Sydney, The Beach – courtesy of New York-based collective, Snarkitecture – will arrive in Paris. Complete with deckchairs, swathes of mirror and a sea of 300,000 recyclable plastic balls, a surreally interactive holiday space makes for a Colette-style celebration. “I couldn’t think of one more party, one more dinner. This way it will be open to public, free entrance. It’s a bit crazy but I think it reflects what we like to do at Colette. To surprise. To bring happiness.”
“I couldn’t think of one more party, one more dinner. This way it will be open to public, free entrance. It’s a bit crazy but I think it reflects what we like to do at Colette. To surprise. To bring happiness” – Sarah Andelman
But how to keep moving forward in an industry that’s in such flux? For some time, one of the store’s key ingredients was its mix-and-match mannequin dressing. “Now, it’s an interesting time,” Andelman says. “10 years ago, 15 years ago, when I did the tour of London-New York-Milan there was really some chance that we could bring them all together on the floor. But now the collections are so strong, from Gucci to Calvin Klein and Balenciaga. It’s [more] difficult. They are all in their own direction, I think.”
While the recent industry shake-ups have had huge impact all-around, it’s Demna Gvasalia’s position at Balenciaga that has affected Colette the most since, as for many years, the brand had been a no-go for the store. “There was no discussion. It was historical and political. But since we carry Vetements – since Demna – we found a way to collaborate. We cannot not have it,” Andelman explains. Which is lucky, since the Balenciaga A/W17 collection was one of her favourites. “It’s really, really so strong! It was so powerful, I think it really managed to keep the heritage of the brand and to add all this spirit.”
“10 years ago, 15 years ago, when I did the tour of London-New York-Milan there was really some chance that we could bring them all together on the floor. But now the collections are so strong, from Gucci to Calvin Klein and Balenciaga. It’s [more] difficult. They are all in their own direction, I think” – Sarah Andelman
And though change is in the air, some things will always stay the same Andelman insists, when asked if they would ever add extra branches to their brand. “We give so much love and attention to detail; it’s like a baby. We cannot be in two places at the same time so we prefer to focus here to make sure it evolves all the time.” With 20 wonderful years behind them, there’s no doubt that it will continue to do so.