“If you’re looking for something trendy and avant-garde, you can be wrong. You’re merely limiting yourself.”
Back in 1997, the idea of a concept retail store did not exist in Paris. Only in New York or Tokyo, could a customer walk into a store and glimpse at an array of products from various design arenas and international brands. Sarah Andelman, Creative Director at Colette, wanted to establish a new type of retail experience for local Parisians and international travelers. From the start, Colette was based on gut instincts. If a product showcases striking utility and encompasses an astonishing design, it will be on the display within Colette. With a simple yet organic way of thinking, Sarah gave birth to Colette in the most innate manner. To this day, every decision process still remains the same, if she and her team like the product, then they put it in the store for all to see.
Guillaume Salmon, Colette’s Director of Public Relations, explains, “there isn’t a cool factor, it’s completely based on, ‘I like it, I do it. I don’t like it, then I don’t do it.’” Products that are beautifully rested upon Colette’s counters and shelves, in one way or another, relate to: style, design, art or food. “For example, if we like a certain piece from a fashion designer in one season, then we’ll buy 20 pieces for the store. If we don’t like what we see in the next season, then we’ll simply buy three.” For more than a decade, the DNA of Colette has not drifted too far, regardless of whether the products are: sneakers, fashion accessories, designer products or music.
As one of the most successful concept retail stores in the world, some people never understood the idea of Colette when it first opened on Rue Saint-Honoré, and they may possibly still linger in perplexity. “But there are some people who immediately understood.” Guillaume explains, “As people started to travel for pleasure or for work, they began to see our vision. Some people thought we wouldn’t last for six months, but we continued with our own instinct.” Clearly, travelers from abroad comprise of an enormous percentage of Colette’s clientele. It has always been a listed cool destination in travel guidebooks, with products that have transitioned from avant-garde anonymity to prideful souvenirs from Paris.
“I think if you’re looking for something trendy and avant-garde, you can be wrong. You’re merely limiting yourself.”
Guillaume notes that Colette’s window displays are changed every week with new designs and products to showcase. Furthermore, new art is also produced on a daily basis to present the idea of an energy grounded by a constant movement. “We always have interesting products to create an idea of movement and energy. We never think about the success of the past, or of yesterday.” Thinking about tomorrow, instead, is catering to customers who are looking for the next pleasure.
From the very beginning, the space in Colette has been the same. With a restaurant and a Water Bar in the basement and designer products exhibited on the top floors, however, the utilization of the space has never been synonymous from the day before. According to the motto, “Colette is always the same but never the same,” it is perpetually splashed with: new designers, artists and products. With the access of internet and e-commerce, Colette understands that their clientele is composed of locals and internationals, thus the need to constantly revamp its image to excite customers has to be met. “We try to make people discover new things: great designers, creators, artists and amazing brands. The main objective is to show people all of this creativity and give them value.” In other words, Colette’s goal is to illuminate Paris by illustrating that Paris can possess an international light in the City of Lights.
Despite the recent financial crisis in Europe, Colette has not suffered simply because it is not a store confined merely in one area. From Skagway Hi Oka sneakers, Vogue Hommes Japan magazine, Sprout Body Scrub, Emilio Pucci pajamas to Colette’s own collection of candles; it’s a store that kids, businessmen, and grandmothers can all browse through with a particular experience and purpose.
One uniquely authentic element within Colette is its collection of 75-80 brands of water that is served in the restaurant and Water Bar. “We wanted a bar where people can come in at 4pm and have a quick drink without having to eat anything. In Paris, there are so many cafés, so we decided on having a variety of water. It’s something fun, additionally, a Water Bar doesn’t exist in Paris.” As Guillaume indicates, it may come as a surprise to most, customers do order water along with items from a menu that changes everyday.
Unlike most designer and luxury stores, Colette does not close its doors for famous personalities. “If we have well-known musicians or artists that visit the store, they come in just like everyone else.” Guillaume continues, “we don’t have VIP salons, this is a store for everybody in the same moment.” People who step foot inside Colette are open-minded souls, attracted to something they may not necessarily like if they saw it somewhere else.
“For many people, it can be intimidating to go inside a luxe store. Although we have the same products that everyone can see somewhere else, they’re not afraid to come in because these products are mixed with other universe and other price points.”
An organic foundation of the idea: a movement of energy and feeling, creates pleasure in people’s lives. The success of Colette isn’t based on the reliance of a future multi-chain brand across the globe, but it zestfully resides on the experience of an image for their eyes and ours as well.
Go behind the scenes of the interview.