Colette

PARIS  Karl Lagerfeld, Colette’s best customer, was beside himself on Wednesday after the landmark Paris boutique said it would close its doors for good on Dec. 20.

“That’s the bad news of the morning. Even if I knew about it, in a way I’m devastated. I loved Madame Colette and her daughter and all the people who worked for her for years. It is really, really sad. This part of the Rue Saint-Honoré will become a banal shopping street,” he said. “It will be terribly missed. There was an ambience like nowhere else in the world.”

A cutting-edge incubator of street, fashion and lifestyle trends — and a template for a multitude of so-called “concept stores” — the retailer celebrated its 20th anniversary in March with an event at Les Arts Décoratifs featuring a characteristically fun set — a giant play park dubbed “The Beach,” designed by Brooklyn-based design firm Snarkitecture.

“All good things must come to an end,” it said in a statement, explaining that founder Colette Roussaux was ready to retire. “Colette cannot exist without Colette.” It added that talks were under way with French fashion house Saint Laurent to take over the space at 213 Rue Saint-Honoré.

“For the last 20 years, Colette has been such an iconic and prestigious project and destination in Paris. It feels natural to us to discuss the opportunity to take those amazing premises over in order to give them a second life,” said Francesca Bellettini, chief executive officer of Yves Saint Laurent.

Famed for its blue dot logo, rotating window displays and frequent store events, not forgetting its Water Bar basement restaurant, Colette is both a popular meeting place for fashion locals and a hip tourist destination.

Its main floor — stocked with books, gadgets, beauty products, sneakers, T-shirts, magazines and CDs — teems with shoppers, while the upper floor unfurled with an eclectic array of designer clothes and accessories for men and women, culminating with art displays.

With Roussaux operating behind the scenes, ensuring the store was always meticulously groomed and beautifully merchandised, her daughter Sarah Andelman, creative director and purchasing manager of the store, has been its charming, soft-spoken public face.

Andelman said she was extremely moved by “all of the messages flooding in” and had no other projects for the time being.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but it was inevitable seeing as it’s a family business. My mother says herself that she’s not getting any younger and we prefer to end things on a high note, with the store exactly as we always wanted it to be,” she said. “On my side, I will certainly continue to do what I was doing for Colette with different brands, but more in a consulting role.”

Andelman said it was impossible to pick a favorite memory from the past two decades. “There have been so many incredible moments. Just three days ago we launched the event with Esteban Cortázar themed around Colombia, and it was so much fun to have all of Paris’ Latin community here,” she said.
She also reflected on the changes in the retail landscape since Colette began as a pioneer selling food, music, lifestyle and home objects alongside fashions.

“For sure, retail has evolved, from what’s happening online to the way brands communicate. Should we have wanted to continue, we would have had to evolve, too, even if we change things every week, but we’ve never thought like that,” she said. “There are still so many things to do, with different ways of looking at fashion, and I hope to get to continue to work with all the people that I love in fashion and design, and keep evolving. It’s time for us to take a break, to turn the page.”

“Colette closing is undoubtedly a very personal decision of Colette and Sarah. So while I’m sad for Paris. I’m happy for them,” said Adrian Joffe, ceo of Comme des Garçons International and Dover Street Market. “They’ve transformed the retail scene of Paris and the world. Their closing has absolutely nothing to do with the vulnerability of specialty stores. On the contrary, their success proves their durability and necessity.”

Virgil Abloh, creative director of Off-White, called Colette “completely modern and the prototype for the most interesting stores around the world. My partnership with Colette defined my career. Off-White could not exist if Colette didn’t exist. [Sarah Andelman] was the first buyer to place an order for my brand. The first to also do an event, Sarah and Colette championed my brand and me as a designer over 10 years ago.”

Friends of the store including Gaia Repossi and Aurélie Bidermann posted messages on Twitter and Instagram, often accompanied by love hearts — both broken and complete — and tear-streamed emojis.

“I can’t imagine the Rue Saint-Honoré without Colette! Truly feels like the end of an era,” lamented Olympia Le-Tan, who posted a picture of a one-of-a-kind book-shaped clutch she made for Andelman, the first buyer she ever sat down with.

“I was walking around @colette, as one frequently does, carrying a tote I had embroidered with little beaded dolls. Sarah walked up to me and asked where it was from, then asked if I could make some for the shop. That’s how it all started,” Le-Tan wrote.

Yoon Ahn, creative director of the Tokyo-based jewelry and clothing label Ambush, thanked the store for putting them “on the international map.”

Lucien Pagès, founder of the eponymous Paris p.r. firm, described Andelman as a “major artistic director, generator of ideas and catalyzer of Paris talents” — from music, working with figures like Pedro Winter, to street culture.

“Sarah has a superfresh, avant-garde eye on fashion and luxury. She was the first to bring Supreme in, for instance, when nobody else was speaking about them,” said Pagès, who will stage a monthlong takeover of the store’s first floor starting on Aug. 7, featuring designs by the brands he represents.

“I see her as an ally for defending young designers and creativity. She conceived the store like a magazine. People come to Colette to see what they’re doing and get inspiration. And in 20 years of existence, it has never had a single down moment, which is extraordinary,” he added.

Though saddened by the news, Pagès said it was a personal decision he respected. “They have given a lot, and we only have one life to live,” he noted.

The unexpected nature of the announcement raises red flags for specialty retailers, whose model is increasingly under pressure. The retailer said it posted revenues of 28 million euros in 2016, with online accounting for roughly 20 percent, but did not disclose its profitability.

In an interview with WWD in March, Andelman described Rue Saint-Honoré when the store first opened as “a bit of a no man’s land.” Partly as a result of Colette’s strong pulling power, it has become one of the most sought-after areas in Paris for fashion brands — forcing rents sky-high.

“It’s the same on Bond Street [in London], most of the smaller retailers have closed down and all there is now is megastores, because they’re the only ones that can afford the rent. All the retailers are being pushed further and further out,” said Fflur Roberts, head of global luxury goods research at Euromonitor.

She said e-commerce has become a vital lifeline for specialty retailers. “Obviously we are at a time when the online experience is becoming so much better that more and more consumers are shopping online, but that doesn’t mean these specialty stores are going to suffer,” she noted.

“If you look at Matchesfashion.com [in London], it’s a classic example of a retailer that had one tiny specialty store and now is one of the leading online retailers in Europe,” Roberts said.

Among recently departed specialty retailers, Louis Boston, one of the most highly regarded and directional specialty stores in the U.S., shuttered in 2015 after 90 years in business.

In Milan, the building housing 10 Corso Como has been sold to former Twin Set owners and founders Simona Barbieri and Tiziano Sgarbi. Founded by Carla Sozzani, the store is located in and identified with the street of the same name and has contributed to the development of its neighborhood for more than 25 years.

“Conversations regarding the rental contract are taking place as part of a normal real estate transaction,” Donato Maino, chief executive officer of Dieci Srl, told WWD, responding to media speculation that 10 Corso Como would be transformed by the new owners. “Nothing will change now nor in the future for all that concerns the integrity in Milan of the 10 Corso Como concept.”

Farfetch is also proving a lifeline for a lot of these edgy, family-run multibrand businesses in an ever-competitive market.

Andelman — who has spent her entire career at Colette — had addressed speculation about the future of the boutique in a recent interview with WWD.

“Every year, people ask us how long we plan to go on. We are always searching for newness, discovering new designers and launching new talents, so there is no reason to give up. If suddenly there were nothing interesting left anywhere, we would reconsider, but fortunately something cool comes along every day,” she said.

She said Roussaux, who still lives above the store, was the majority owner of the business and had never considered bringing in an outside investor. Andelman also said she did not know the revenues of the store.

“Our accountant does, but luckily, I function more by instinct. I never have a budget when I’m ordering. That doesn’t mean I spend money as if it didn’t belong to me. I’m careful. My orders are reasonable,” she said. “I know I own a percentage, but likewise, I don’t know what my percentage is.”

She said the store’s revenues were hit by the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, which sharply impacted tourism, but added the retailer was better equipped than some luxury brands to deal with the drop-off.

“We work at it, but we’re lucky in the sense that we get a steady amount of foot traffic, unlike some luxury stores on streets like Avenue Montaigne. So even if there is a drop in the number of foreign visitors, or people cut back their spending, the store keeps going at times like these,” she said. “We really felt the impact last summer. Fortunately, we also sell online and our e-commerce site is growing.”

Antoine Vandamme, senior adviser, national high streets retail at Cushman & Wakefield in Paris, was surprised by the news that Colette is to close.

“Nothing could have predicted this announcement as the business model seemed really successful, with an increasing number of collaborations, besides recurring rumors that they were to open new stores outside of France, in the same way that Merci is about to open in London, and 10 Corso Como has several international addresses,” he said.

Vandamme said the latest transactions on the Rue Saint-Honoré, such as with Christian Dior Parfums, represented values of more than 10,000 euros per square meter, “which makes the Rue Saint-Honoré one of the most expensive streets in Paris after the Champs-Elysées.”

And the trend will certainly continue, he added, with several big projects due to open on the street in 2017 and 2018. LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has started work on buildings located at numbers 386 to 392 of the street, as well as on the Hôtel Heuzé de Vologer giving onto Place Vendôme, which will house the Louis Vuitton flagship. Chanel is also expanding its flagship on the corner of Rue Saint-Honoré and Rue Cambon, he said.

“At Cushman & Wakefield, we have demand from several luxury brands who want to come on to Rue Saint-Honoré, in the same way that Brioni, Alexander McQueen, Kate Spade and Fendi did, or who want to leave the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré where the traffic is lower and relocate on the Rue Saint-Honoré. Yves Saint Laurent taking over Colette’s building confirms this trend,” he said.

Today, the roughly 7,500 square feet occupied by Colette could be worth around 2.5 million euros to 3 million euros in terms of annual rent, according to Vandamme.

“[That is] most likely more than what they are currently paying,” he added, suggesting they possibly received an extra payout from the building’s landlord, Saint Laurent or the brand’s parent company, Kering, to vacate the property.

“Nevertheless, Colette was really a precursor, in terms of location, in an environment that was not commercial as it is now and also in terms of concept. Colette made Rue Saint-Honoré,” added Vandamme.

“Another way to see the decision is to imagine that, now surrounded by luxury brands and becoming a luxury brand itself, Colette has moved away from the initial idea that Colette and Sarah had of the concept they created. And as they have always refused to sell the company, they wanted to be the ones to decide how the story was to end — and possibly to start again.”

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