Demise Comes As The End

Ominous as that sounds, come December, what is often considered the coolest store in Paris will come to the regrettable fate called closure

ColetteColette at 213 rue Saint-Honoré in 2011. Photo: Jim Sim

By Raiment Young

To be honest, I am not terribly saddened by the recent news that Colette (Paris, not Orchard Road!) will close. A sense of regret, perhaps, but I am not about to create a Kickstarter account to save Colette from Yves Saint Laurent wanting its prime space. I am, however, dispirited by the reality of yet another retail casualty. In the present retail climate, and not just on our island, the closure of an “iconic” store (Forbes called it “the trendiest store in the world”) is heart-breaking. It is especially so if the store has made an impact on a “glocal” level.

Colette, opened in 1997, is first of its kind not just in Paris, but much of Europe. But for many of us in Asia, a multi-label store such as Colette is not really a big deal when our very own Club 21 and Hong Kong’s Joyce, and later, I.T (at first known as Greenpeace) have been at the game much longer. What made Colette stand out? A merchandising approach that is synonymous with museums: curation.

At Colette, the curationship fell under its founders Colette Roussaux and her daughter Sarah Andelman (who eventually became the store’s sole buyer). They conceived the three-story boutique very much in their own taste, selecting—or curating, as it were—merchandise to reflect their lifestyle or, perhaps, life in Paris. In fact, they were not the first retailer to put together a space that reflects the proprietor’s quirk and keen eye for the au courant. In neighbouring Italy in 1990, former Vogue Italia editor Carla Sozzani started a little art gallery in Milan that, a year later, would become 10 Corso Como, the hipster haven, arguably the precursor of Colette.

Balenciaga in ColetteSpace currently dedicated to a specially commissioned Balenciaga collection. Photo: Colette

While 10 Corso Como was, in its early years, a fashion insider’s address (since it’s located in what could be considered a “hidden” place and not on the city’s main shopping drag of the time), Colette enjoyed mainstream exposure as it is prominently situated: on rue Saint-Honoré, not, however, near the temples of style such as Hermès, about 800 metres down the street, into the faubourg. Favoured by editors who descend on the City of Lights during fashion weeks and buyers who hit the store for ideas, Colette very rapidly turned ultra-hot.

While Colette may be trendy, it is not off-puttingly high-brow. In fact, fans laud its high-low mix. How high? How about Chanel? How low? How about Uniqlo?! In fact, the store is known for collaborating with designers and brands to launch exclusive merchandise or to bring in the first, such as the Apple Watch, which to me is how it ameliorates itself to a wider audience. Indeed, I feel it is better with merchandise that has mass appeal than those that do not. The Rihanan pop-up in there last year spoke volumes.

Why am I then not moved by Colette’s impending closure, despite its standing among the fashion elite (apparently it is the only store that Karl Lagerfeld visits with some regularity)? The thing is, Colette does not feel new to me the way Dover Street Market, conceived much later in 2004 by another woman with very exact tastes, feels novel, even now. Sure, the merchandising is an intriguing mix, but it is mostly the books, and sometimes, the gadgets and digital peripherals that I find have more pull.

Colette colonThe announcement of their coming closure via Colette’s logo. now, unsurprisingly, trending. Image: Colette

In one of my visits, a substantial corner of the second floor was converted into an all-white Maison Martin Margiela space: why would I want to explore this when the main MMM store is not far away? Colette is an ardent supporter of Japanese labels, and they stock, for example, Comme des Garçons, but why would I be enticed by the relatively small collection when CDG—itself a multi-label emporium, even if it stocks mainly kindred brands under the group—is a stone’s throw from the said Hermès store?

If you ask me, I find L’Eclaireur far more interesting (for some reason, it reminds me of Tokyo’s Loveless, or is it the other way round?) and it’s been peddling its avant-garde merchandise since 1980. Sure, L’Eclaireur is a lot less friendly in terms of merchandise and it’s interior design than Colette, but if you want to see and experience fashion, not necessarily something you’d buy for a date that very day or a flight the next morning, this store has more to engage passion and desire.

My first time in Colette was in the early Noughties. It was, by then, such a visible blip on the fashion radar of Paris that it was inevitable that I would end up there. I remember how surprised I was when I stepped past the entrance. Right before me was a glass ‘room’ lined on both sides with a rack of T-shirts (once, next to this was dedicated to Billionaire’s Boys Club!). It seemed like I had stepped into a gift shop of some design museum. Behind that felt like I had stumbled into Tokyo’s Bic Camera meets Rome’s Bookabar.

But what surprised me even more were the shoppers. These were not fashion folks; these were the future voters of Donald Trump! They came by the busload, just as they did at the nearby Louvre. In France’s most famous museum, you go to view antiquities. Here, you go to see cool. Colette, especially in its latter years, has become a tourist attraction—a must-stop, much like Paris Disneryland, only here, it’s a fashion Disneyland.

On 20th December, Colette will open its doors for the last time. This, however, may not be the end of Colette. As we know, the dead do come back.