Colette is never open on Sundays, but that doesn't mean it's a day of rest at Paris's long-time nexus of cool: Sundays are when it undergoes its weekly reinvention.
If you're interested (and patient) enough, you can peer through the windows as the grand-mère of idiosyncratically curated, globally minded lifestyle shops gets turned upside down and then insouciantly reassembled by Monday morning, when it shifts into overdrive once again. Like a chameleon, the store on tony rue Saint-Honoré sheds its skin as a matter of course, but with greater frequency.
Last month, however, March 11 was an atypical Sunday for Colette. While the store remained closed, the brand – Colette has long since transcended the traditional notion of retailer – was midway through its extravagant 15th-anniversary celebration weekend. A block away, it had mounted, under an enormous tent on the north side of the Tuileries gardens, a two-day public carnival that resembled a chaotic hybrid of enclosed fairground, posh trade show and grown-up fantasyland.
Scores of brands – including Carven, Hudson jeans, Lacoste, Fred Perry and Comme des Garçons – had set up booths featuring carnival games alongside merchandise for sale. Some of the best food purveyors in Paris got into the spirit by selling haute fair snacks (picture marshmallow macarons from Ladurée and smoked-salmon-topped waffles from Thoumieux).
Several of the store's staffers could be found manning a central table bearing commemorative Colette souvenirs – tins of breath mints, T-shirts and iPhone cases all sporting a jaunty egg-shaped illustration designed by Craig Redman, who goes by the name Darcel. One of them was Colette co-founder Colette Rousseaux.
Rousseaux and her daughter, Sarah Andelman, launched the boutique in 1997 in an abandoned 8,000-square-foot space they liked for its beautiful light and then-quirky location between the extravagant Place Vendôme and grittier Les Halles.
Right from the beginning, their vision was non-conformist. First, they did not want to limit themselves to fashion; design objects, art and a café space all factored into the store's grand scheme. Second, they intended to create an environment where brands mingled with each other instead of each being allocated their own corners – the traditional department-store template.
In the process, they created an innovative retail concept called, appropriately enough, the concept store; the only similar antecedent was 10 Corso Como in Milan. Many concept stores have come along since then (see below), although few – even 10 Corso Como – convey such exacting yet offbeat taste and unwavering commitment to keeping store displays and inventory fresh (these days, says Andelman, who once shared duties with her mother, she does most of the fashion and accessories buying on her own).
Despite its novelty, the premise behind Colette caught on fairly quickly, attracting big brands such as Prada and Lanvin from the outset. "The fact that we would show them in a different way than in their own shops" was attractive to such heavyweights, Andelman says in the store's subterranean café before one of its recent Music Box social evenings, held every month. "I think it was a way to rediscover what the brands could be. With us, they could see their clothes look different."
And "different," in part, meant seeing them showcased alongside lesser-established, often avant-garde brands – young designers, from Jeremy Scott to Mary Katrantzou, will be as prominently displayed if Andelman deems them worthy.
Laura Minquini, a Canadian expat who is the brand director for Case Scenario, which produces specialty iPhone shells including the limited-edition 15th-anniversary Colette design as well as one in Pantone-approved Colette Blue, says the store lends an imprimatur that resonates across the style industry. "To be carried at Colette is [to be]part of a very special, trend-forward selection of products," she notes. "[Andelman's]name carries a lot of power."
Of course, power often invites criticism: The two most common complaints about Colette are that it's snobby and expensive, both of which are true to varying degrees. Cost-wise, a single item from Azzedine Alaia, Marc Jacobs or Givenchy could cover the monthly rent on a well-appointed apartment down the street. But the commitment to variety that forms the store's raison d'être also ensures an abundance of more affordable offerings, from CD compilations, small-press monographs and provocative fashion magazines to beauty miscellany and impulse-purchase gewgaws such as notepads and plush toys.
The snobbiness, meanwhile, is dissipating, Andelman vows: Originally, the store showcased expensive design objects, such as pricey Vitra chairs, on the main level but has since replaced them with "culture category" wares – books and music, mainly – that are less costly, easier to restock and more of a draw for casual buyers. "We had this mix at the beginning, but maybe now we've changed [people's]perceptions. I think it's time for more people to come and realize it's not so snob," she says, letting out a highpitched laugh.
As for the next 15 years, Andelman insists that Colette won't open another store in France or abroad (although it has, in the past, staged pop-ups in New York and Tokyo). "It's so much work. We transform the shop every week. Every week we change the windows. How could we manage to do this in other places around the world?
"I see so many places around me," she continues. "They open everywhere and sometimes I think, why not? But it loses a little something, a little soul. That is not for us."
THE DAUGHTERS OF COLETTE
Neither a department store nor a traditional boutique, Colette was among the first retailers to offer a judiciously selected mix of fashion brands, beauty products, design objects, books and magazines and other style miscellany in a single, achingly hip setting. Since it opened, numerous other concept stores have followed in its wake. Among the best are:
Short for Late Night Chameleon Café, this "evolving platform of curated ideas" offers quirky unisex fashion brands, offbeat music (including vinyl) and coffee-table as well as counterculture books in a byappointment- only space in North London. Many of its wares are available through its website, www.ln-cc.com.
The Webster, Miami
Where can you buy Givenchy glitter sandals, checkered Lanvin boxer shorts, a hand-woven Tunisian throw and a scented Ted Shred's coconut-wax candle under the same roof? At The Webster, the threelevel, 20,000-square-foot multibrand boutique overseen by former Balenciaga merchandiser Laure Heriard Dubreuil in Miami Beach. Not heading to Florida? Visit www.thewebstermiami.com to peruse or purchase said items and more.
Hunting and Collecting, Brussels
Each season, the fertile minds behind this ever-changing lifestyle emporium in Belgium choose a theme around which to focus their kaleidoscope of clothing brands, footwear, objets d'art and books. Past themes have included Winter Garden and The South American Desert. Go to www.huntingandcollecting.com to check out store displays and to shop by brand or designer. – Danny Sinopoli