On Dec. 20, 2017, Colette closed its doors for good. In the days leading up to and following, industry insiders across both the world and the internet have been effusively sharing their fondest memories of the Parisian concept shop and its founder, Sarah Andelman. Seen as both a cultural mecca and an educational experience, the Rue Saint Honoré staple's shuttering left the fashion industry (and beyond) disappointed, to say the least. That's because the closure certainly doesn't signify the decline of its relevance. In 2015, 18 years after it hit the retail scene, Forbes called Colette "the trendiest store in the world." Make no mistake: Colette left while it was still at the top of its game.
Founder Colette Rousseaux opened up shop in 1997; Andelman, her daughter, took on the roles of creative director and head buyer. Known for stocking anything and everything with an air of cool (clothing, telephones, jewelry, music, home decor, electronics, books...) and brands that ran the gamut from Disney to Off-White — few other retailers would ever put Puma next to Chanel in its window displays — the shop was heralded as a place for discovery. As such, Colette acted as a partner that offered many firsts to designers, artists, musicians and shoppers alike. It quickly became known for pushing the cultural needle — a distinction that so many brands desperately chase, but are rarely able to achieve. Rousseaux and Andelman were more than simply vendors: They built a brand on a foundation rooted in change, essentially accomplishing the impossible. Years before Colette blue became permanent, even the colors of the two dots on the exterior would rotate weekly; the merchandising would change weekly; the restaurant theme would change monthly, while the menu would change daily.
Colette earned a reputation as a worldwide industry tastemaker during its 20 years in business, but perhaps more than anything, it deeply influenced Parisian youth and championed homegrown, unknown talents. "I was 12 years old the first time I came to Colette ... I only looked at tees and sneakers, but then I started looking at the books and magazines like i-D which sensibilized me to more high fashion stuff," recalls Alexandre Daillance, the founder and creative director of NASASEASONS. "Then I was able to see the high-fashion stuff I read about in Colette so I was able to touch it, see the fabric and understand why this particular Raf Simons piece was interesting. To me, Colette played the role of educating me [about] fashion." NASASEASONS is the brand responsible for the Tumblr classic "I came to break hearts" cap, popularly worn by Rihanna. It was first stocked in Colette in 2015, and after winning that sales account, Daillance went on to hear from dozens of buyers from the U.S., Japan, South Korea, the UAE and Italy — something he fully credits to the exposure Colette gave him. "I know for a fact they were keen to buy my new collection because, to them, selling at Colette was a guarantee that this brand was going to sell well."
Artist and tattooer Jean Andrè has an equally charming first memory of Colette. "When I was at school, we had a collective called Neue, and we had secret plans to make a perfume that smells like Paris," he says. "We wanted the design to be a rock and with a fragrance of rainy streets. The plan was to sell it at Colette. It was the first time I heard about the shop and it sounded like the place to make things work. The perfume idea never came to life, but I fell in love with [the store]." He, too, would go on to work with Andelman years later, having his line of T-shirts sold at Colette and releasing his Stance socks collaboration there. "It's a creative pot. It is the place where boiling happens; it's the only place in the world where that kind of magic operates," he adds.
For those who grew up with Colette in their backyard, it was much more than a store. It was a fashion education, a goal and a crash course in business. "Nowadays, when you go to 90 percent of stores — even the most prestigious, like Bergdorf Goodman or Barneys — they basically only sell clothes with white walls behind them," says Daillance. "Consumers go to those stores buying Raf Simons without knowing about Raf Simons, and thus kids end up not knowing anything about the brand they are wearing. While you go to Barneys to buy, buy, buy, you go to Colette to get an 'experience' and 'educate yourself.'" Daillance also recalls the hours he spent analyzing the brands on the racks, and then browsing Colette's selection of books to learn about their origins. "[Now I] understand why this 'BAPE' tee is more than just a white shirt with a word on it."
Christophe Nguyen, the owner of Les Artists, plainly puts it: "Most of the time when you discovered a brand there, the brand was gonna be huge after." Daillance, Andre and Nguyen not only attribute some of their long-term success to their work with Colette, but also recognize the exposure and prestige that came with having Colette as a stockist. They also agree that the experience of working with Colette influenced the way they did business moving forward. "It was a big impact. We were really happy with the business we did [with the store] since the beginning," says Nguyen. "We refused all shops that contacted us in Paris. Now we are looking for a good partner in Paris where the shop can represent the brand but also make business with us." He recognizes the relationship that was lost with the closing of Colette, and acknowledges it's one that will not be easily replaced. "I learned some tricks — Colette made my work grow up," says Andre. "I'm looking for more quality when I do collabs now. I want fun and creative more than I used to. I'll keep in my head a Colette level of excellence."
In an industry frequently viewed as equal parts pretentious and hard to break into, it is quite a phenomenon that Colette was able to remain so consistent while both working with as well as carrying such a wide array of brands, large and small, from all over the world, and for 20 years. Colette likely wouldn't have seen the success or have the love of the community it did without the people behind it and their approach to collaboration. "I think all of the collabs are a reflection of Colette's spirit of: As long as it's interesting and authentic, we will take work with that brand or person," notes Daillance. Hopefully we'll see more from the team that grew, created and maintained two decades of high taste and breaking new talent — in Paris and beyond.