An ode to the bou­tique that changed fash­ion re­tail for­ever.

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - ByClaraYoung

We say farewell to the Parisian con­cept store that in­flu­enced the in­flu­encers.

BY CLARA YOUNG

I’VE BEEN WRONG ABOUT

a lot of things in my life, but the wrongest I’ve ever been was about Co­lette. When it opened, in 1997, I was work­ing for an on­line fash­ion mag­a­zine. My boss handed me an in­vite and said: “There’s this new fash­ion store that opened. Could you write a story about it?” To which I replied: “What’s the point? It’s just another trendy bric-a-brac store.” Twenty years later, Co­lette is clos­ing: It’s not end­ing its run for stan­dard re­tail rea­sons like bankruptcy or over­ex­ten­sion but be­cause co-cre­ator Co­lette Rous­saux needs a break.

Rous­saux and Sarah An­del­man were the Deb­bie Reynolds and Car­rie Fisher of the re­tail world: They were in­tensely in­volved with each other and with their cause, which was, ex­clu­sively, their shop—an em­po­rium of bristlingly avant-trendy goods si­t­u­ated on Paris’ Rue Saint-Honoré. “Sarah used to live right above the store, and her mom was down the hall; I’ve never known peo­ple who worked as hard as they did,” says Ni­cholas Chaikin, cre­ative di­rec­tor at the de­sign agency Spill. Chaikin de­signed Co­lette’s web­site for much of its ex­is­tence and talked the duo into e-com­merce, now a thriv­ing

business that brought in rev­enue in the mul­ti­ple ze­ros. “They were 247,” he says. “One Sun­day, I was walk­ing by the store and Sarah was vac­u­um­ing. They ab­so­lutely could not let a de­tail go out from un­der their su­per­vi­sion.”

This Virgo-es­que at­ten­tion to de­tail is what made Co­lette a stand­alone in ev­ery sense of the word. In bor­row­ing the con­cept of cu­ra­tion from the art world and re­pur­pos­ing it to cover all man­ner of mer­chan­dise, from train­ers to sham­poos, Co­lette was un­like any other store when it opened. At the time, there were con­cep­tual cloth­ing stores that sold only deep-think­ing Bel­gian and Ja­panese de­sign­ers. And there were in­de­pen­dent mu­sic shops, of course, but there was noth­ing that sold clothes, earplugs, mu­sic, tooth­paste, watches, bot­tled wa­ter, toys, art, shav­ing cream, books, sou­venirs, base­ball caps and ball­point pens… with out­ly­ing points of view.

“I met Sarah be­fore Co­lette ex­isted,” says Chaikin. “She was an in­tern at Pur­ple [In­sti­tute, a trend agency founded by Elein Fleiss and Olivier Zahm in 1992, now a ser­ies of mag­a­zines], and I think that Co­lette was a com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the Pur­ple ap­proach to in­ter­pret­ing the world. That’s where she got her cu­ra­to­rial, editorial eye.” An­del­man honed her se­lec­tion skills even fur­ther with Mi­lan Vuk­mirovic, who was Co­lette’s buyer be­fore he went on to helm Jil San­der in 2001 and, most re­cently, Ports In­ter­na­tional menswear.

Although the dis­tance be­tween main­stream and up­stream nar­rowed as time went on, An­del­man and Rous­saux cun­ningly se­lected wares that lay just be­yond our com­fort and know­ledge zones but were not so es­o­teric as to be un­fath­omable. It helped, too, that lowly ob­jects like ci­garette lighters found them­selves dis­played in mu­seum cases as loftily as Early Bronze Age Hit­tite cups. To An­del­man and Rous­saux, ev­ery­thing was in­fin­itely fetish­iz­able.

At Co­lette par­ties, An­del­man could al­ways be spot­ted in the crowd. She was more of a wall­flower than a danc­ing-onta­bles type, but de­spite her re­serve and Rous­saux’s low-key per­sona, the two be­came the guard dogs to the king­dom of cool. Ev­ery­one jos­tled for Co­lette shelf space—as did we, at the cash reg­is­ter, for McDon­ald’s- fries T-shirts and Ap­ple watches. To Co­lette, we owe com­pi­la­tion al­bums be­fore we had Spo­tify, an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Hel­vetica type­face, a fond­ness for lit­tle Ja­panese figur­ines and a dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­gard for train­ers. Trendy bric-a-brac? Per­haps—but so much more. For two decades, An­del­man and Rous­saux made us all a lit­tle bit poorer and a lit­tle bit cooler. Now, we’ll just have to fig­ure it out on our own. n

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