Even after 20 Years, Sarah Andelman denies Colette is a brand

It never really stops for Sarah Andelman. Her famed store Colette – which she opened with her mother Colette Roussaux – celebrated its 20th anniversary last month with a Beach Party inside Paris’s most famous fashion museum. But the following Sunday morning saw the emporium staff do what they do every Sunday morning – rip apart its front window installation and build an eye-catching successor. In this case, that meant exiting a series of custom-made furniture from Ikea with Colette’s signature logo – a blue double dot.


Colette founder Sarah Andelman swims among 300 recycable balls in The Beach

France is dotted with must-see institutions – from the Louvre to Versailles – that attract millions of visitors. But the most popular 700 square-meters in the most visited country on the planet is almost certainly Colette.  It’s a legendary destination, whose shopping bags and multiple co-branding partnerships all feature its famed logo. Yet, very bizarrely, according to Sarah, Colette has never been, and never will be a brand.
 
“I know we have a logo, but we are not really a brand and we don’t want to be one,” insists Sarah, in a free-wheeling conversation about her store, e-tailing, the almost immediate collapse of Style.com and being a cultural curator.
 
Sarah from Colette, as everyone calls her, is as much an icon as her own emporium. This week, for instance, artist Christoph Niemann emblazoned the double dot up the central metal staircase, showing the dots as wild flowers that he and a lean young woman in flats and knee-length skirt – obviously Sarah – plant as wild flowers.
 
“We are not a brand – we are space, a meeting point – I don’t want to be a brand. I try to disappear below the other brands. We don’t have the legitimacy to be a brand,” she insists.
 
For the 20th anniversary, Colette has linked up with Repetto ballerina shoes; Jean Jullien Bic lighters; Nike Air Woven sneakers; Ahlem sunglasses; Joshua Sanders X Smiley beach slides and Peanuts Snoopy and Woodstock dolls, among many others. All of them bear Colette’s signature cobalt blue.
 
“We don’t do them for the sake of collaborations. But because it makes sense. We receive a lot of proposals. At one stage we decided to do one T-shirt a month because people kept asking us, ‘Can we please make a Colette T-shirt?’ So, we started with Jeremy Scott and then people kept asking us for a T-Shirt with a Colette logo, and I did not want to do that. We have our signature – the blue spot – but I am not pro-logo. I don’t mind if our spot is lost in the confetti,” says Sarah Andelman, to give her her married name.
 
Last year, some 25 % of sales was via Colette.fr. “We did a temporary experience with Style.com. But it was not very satisfying.  We did a test and we stopped. There were no sales! I thought Style.com was such a magic name it would do very well. But it did not. It’s a mystery all this Net-a-Porter and Farfetch to be honest. They all spend so much money on communications – all of them, so they have to sell really a lot!” she shrugs.


Shot by Sarah Andelman with her phone - a look from Fenty x Puma by Rihanna in Paris this March

 
Ever since it opened in 1997 the very name Colette has been a byword for sophisticated shopping. No one is anything but flattered to receive a package bearing the name Colette. When first launched its blend of avant-garde high fashion, hipster sneakers, playful T-shirts, tony beauty products, high-tech gadgets, edgy jewelry, photo books and indie magazines seemed an unlikely assemblage. Like one grape variety too many in a boutique wine. But the cash registers have been ringing since day one. After what must be over 100 visits to Colette in two decades, this author has never not seen a queue downstairs to pay.
 
In a sense, history has always been made around here. Barely 80 yards away, back in 1795, a young colonel Napoleon first gained famed by firing his cannon on royalist insurgents outside the nearby Eglise Saint-Roch. Like Bonaparte, mother and daughter are wilfully independent – refusing multiple offers to open Colette franchises or license their name. Rejecting the business model of French luxury brands for the past century. And in the land with the world’s greatest choice of fine wines, what do they open in the middle of Paris? A water bar – and, once again, it is always full.
 
“We moved into an apartment upstairs in this very building in 1997. And we walked by each day and it was always, empty, empty. So, one day we thought let’s put together things we like – products we could not find in Paris; stuff we saw in Joseph in London; sneakers or watches from Tokyo; products like Kiehl’s we loved in New York. When we first opened the department stores in Paris were old machines,” says Sarah, dressed in a top by Written Afterwards, skirt by Erdem and the shoes from Simone Rocha.
 
The brand – for that's what Colette is – celebrated the 20th birthday with typical eccentricity with The Beach; a giant installation inside the Louvre featuring 300,000 recyclable balls as a mock childish sea all designed by Snarkitecture. Queues of kids and parents wound around the museum all week of the event.
 
In a sense, Sarah is a great contemporary fashion editor, who never actually edited a proper magazine. “Yes! I chose the windows and they are like the cover of the magazine. And we have fashion pages, beauty pages and design pages. And restaurant recipes. It’s like a weekly magazine; and we even have a newsletter!” she smiles.
 
“The big difference is that here I am totally free. Each season when I make my selection I start from scratch. There are some brands that we carry from Day One, but then I start a new brand or drop one that got repetitive. Whereas, I have the feeling that editors have to see evvveeeeerrryyy single brand. And that must be exhausting. But I believe that people will always want magazines. We need magazines and we sell a lot of them. And if they are dying out, why does new one come out every month?” says Andelman, who built a mum-and-daughter team into more than 100 people.
 
Pretty much every luxe brand has made it into Colette, though at one stage Balenciaga under Nicolas Ghesquière declined to. “With Nicolas, it was a political reason. But with Demna Gvasalia we had Vetements and now it’s great to mix that with Balenciaga,” opines this mother of four-year-old son Woody with Phillip Andelman, a film director.
 
Last month, he just opened Stoney Clove Bakery, offering American cookies and pies at 71 rue Greneta, off food market street rue Montorgueil. Though she is based in Paris, she says their weekend house is “upstate near Woodstock,” where Philippe has a house in the Catskills.
 
“Now that I am a mum I actually take breaks.” Though she rarely seems to leave Colette except on buying trips or to attend shows. On evenings, one finds her in her favorite restaurants around Palais Royal: like Verjus, or Japanese classic eatery Kunitoraya or Clover Grill, the new Jean François Piège space.
 
“I am a good eater; my husband is the cook,” she smiles.
 
 

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