Sarah Lerfel is the mastermind behind the COLETTE concept store. The temple of cool around the world.
We select only things we love
COLETTE, Paris' famed fashion emporium, has serious pulling power. Run since its opening by Sarah Lerfel and her mother Colette Rousseau, the 8,000-square-foot store even stocks Chanel, which is usually only sold in its own shops and departments stores with shop-in-shops.
"When we opened Colette, we couldn't find the things we wanted to buy in Paris," says Lerfel. "You couldn't buy Kiehl's, for example. And Pucci was all but forgotten about. We decided that the store would only carry the things that we love."
With an international reputation for selling the best of the best - and sales of £10 million in a month - Colette is in a position to demand exclusive products from key designers. Rick Owens and Marni have both produced T-shirts and Burberry is making a jersey version of the mini cape that was modelled by Kate Moss on the catwalk.
Lerfel puts Colette's success down to the mix-and-match attitude to buying. "Our method is to mix things together," she says. "We are like stylists, taking a little bit from this collection and a little bit from that. That's what makes us different. Prada, for instance, will look very different at Colette than at Prada. That's because we give it our own personality."
1997 / 100 people / A. Wang + K.L. Every day is different. We follow our heart + trying to surprise every day!
Founders: Colette and Sarah
Location and date opened: Paris, 1997
Staff: About 100
Which brands or designers have you discovered and/or nurtured? Thom Browne, Raf Simons, Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, so many!
Which new designers or emerging brands are you excited about watching grow in the future? Ashley Williams, Christopher Raeburn, Piece d’Anarchive, Vika Gazinskaya
Who are some of your most noteworthy repeat customers? Mr. Karl Lagerfeld
What makes you different from every other store? Always the same, never the same. Every day is different at Colette.
What have been some of your favorite collaborations? It’s always the next one, even if we have done some great ones in the past (Chanel, Hermès, Lauderée, etc.)
What is the most extraordinary project or feat you’ve attempted since launching? A train party in Belgium, our Carnival in the Tuileries, a Daft Punk dance class in Tokyo on a futuristic boat, the Visionaire party at Opéra
How do you stay ahead of the competition? We never look behind or think about the success of the past. We always look forward, trying to surprise you day after day. We follow our heart...really!
SARAH on the hunt for the NEXT
COLETTE / LOSING
PARISIAN BOUTIQUE COLETTE IS THE LATEST VICTIM OF HEDI SLIMANE'S WRATH
Saint Laurent's Hedi Slimane isn't the kind of designer you'd want to mess with--he takes his designs and the control of the fashion house he helms very seriously. Who could forget that infamous open letter to Cathy Horyn? But Slimane's ire doesn't stop at fashion critics--and now, Parisian boutique Colette is learning the hard way.
Saint Laurent's Hedi Slimane isn't the kind of designer you'd want to mess with--he takes his designs and the control of the fashion house he helms very seriously. Who could forget that infamous open letter to Cathy Horyn?
But Slimane's ire doesn't stop at fashion critics--and now, Parisian boutique Colette is learning the hard way. For fall, Colette carried about 300 "Ain't Laurent Without Yves" parody t-shirts. Slimane, unsurprisingly, wasn't amused--and Colette creative director Sarah Andelman has reached out to WWD to go public with her side of the feud.
It turns out Slimane and YSL hit back at Colette--hard. "We have been excommunicated," Andelman told the trade. Saint Laurent's commercial director first contacted her requesting the removal of the shirts from the online shop. Andelmen complied, selling the remainder in the boutique. Then, on September 25, CEO Francesca Bellettini sent Andelmen a letter "accusing her of selling counterfeit products that 'seriously damaged' the YSL brand and confirming the end of their business relationship."
So here's how YSL has iced out the French boutique: First, it canceled Colette's entire spring 2014 order totaling over $285,738 at wholesale. Andelman was also uninvited from the Saint Laurent spring fashion show on Monday. And, in a move that has us wondering, "Can they even do that?," it's banned Colette from selling a recent issue of indie mag Document covered by artist Joe Goode and photographed by Slimane. (Seriously, can they do that?)
The trade points out that Colette has previously sold other parody tees, like "Céline Dion" and "Homiés," as well as those "Karl Who?" tees, without retribution from designers of those houses. And it's not like Colette is the only boutique to stock the popular tees alongside Saint Laurent--WWD specifically names Browns, Selfridges, and Luisa Via Roma--which, so far, haven't come forward with similar stories of being punished.
Andelman added, without naming names, that Saint Laurent isn't the only major label that's become more controlling--some have reportedly asked her to remove Instagram photos of their product. It seems like it's starting to threaten the independence of boutiques to carry the product they wish to provide to their customers. And, unlike banning a critic like Horyn, cutting off relationships with valuable buyers--in 15 years Colette has bought over $3.9 million worth of YSL at wholesale--could seriously affect business.
She's 10 years old, addicted to MySpace, where she posts pictures of her fat pink birthday cakes and creates tongue-in-cheek competitors for "Miss MySpace." There are Kate Moss and "Cake Moss." And a four-legged friend called Oscar, who listens to Snoop Dogg and can't decide whether today's canine collar should be by Chanel, Chrome Hearts, Goyard or Hermès.
Fans of Colette will recognize her immediately as the coolest store in town. Her home is Paris, where the hip shop opened 10 years ago on the Rue St.-Honoré and celebrated its first decade last week. Naturally, Miss Cool Colette (who holds dance classes on Mondays and creates music compilations), put on a sumptuous fête, followed by hot party at La Scala club.
Behind Colette are Sarah Lerfel and her mother, Colette Roussaux, for whom the store is named. The policy is simple: Always be new, fresh, surprising - and streets ahead of the rest.
"I never have time to think and reflect - it is always about advancing, moving ahead," says Sarah, as she is known. "Thanks to the designers and the choice we make, it has become an address to visit. But it is hard to analyze."
The two words that sum up the three-level store - and especially the main floor with its gadgets, gismos, metallic jewelry and techno accessories - are "eclectic" and "selective." The choice is precise and distinctive and you can tell that the objects have been chosen with a rush of blood to the heart.
Even if the fashion floor upstairs has famous brands, like Lanvin or Prada, rather than just edgy unknowns like Broken Label, with its disturbing childlike prints, the way that the famous collections are bought makes them seem different.
Right now, everything is more or less black, white and neutral, except for the four-leaf-clover stools on the back terrace, which are bright green and look like furniture for trolls.
It is hard to find anyone in the fashion world with a bad word to say about Colette. Editors of hip magazines, supporting Sarah at the birthday dinner, all said that she was the first to put them on the store's stand, thus giving an imprimatur to fledgling publications. The YSL designer Stefano Pilati said that she had put an entire area of Paris on the fashion map. And although no one from Eastern Europe was on hand to thank Colette for the current promotion, shoppers are smiling at punning posters that declare: "I'm your man, Azerbaijan; "What's the Plan, Uzbekistan;" and "Men are from Minsk, women are from Vilnius."
Colette thrives on the unexpected, the cute, the funky or just plain silly. Its improvisation and iconoclastic ideas are set against the modernist architecture of the metal structured staircase or the streamlined water-bar restaurant downstairs. Exhibitions of art or photography are displayed with a studied impermanence.
"Like everything we do, it is done very, very quickly," says Sarah of decisions to create a space for iPod music listening, a display of jeans and sportswear, a collaboration with Nike or the idea of importing from America the street smart Proenza Schouler range for Target.
The latest phenomenon is the environmentally friendly cotton "I'm not a plastic bag" by the British designer Anya Hindmarch that has become a hot item.
Isn't there a danger that a store that has become a byword for cool might become a pastiche in its intention to seek out the original and interesting? Anyone following Colette's windows, devoted to a movie here, a designer there, or just unexpected objects and subjects, knows that its ideas remain fresh.
Sarah says she owes it to her team and they say that her instinct is the key. She believes that the meld cannot be replicated, and there are no intentions to expand the Colette franchise by replicating the store.
So what is the future? More "Rock and Mode" music? New and unexpected collaborations? More links with the cyberworld now that Sarah, who describes herself as techno savvy but not a cyber addict, is fascinated by the pop culture growing out of MySpace?
"The future is very difficult to define - everything is possible," says Sarah. "But we don't make plans. We are living in the present, present, present!"
It's the UBER Kaufhaus
for the Brand Rebels!
Sarah Lerfel is the co-founder of the Parisian fashion and style boutique Colette, along with her mother Colette Roussaux. Her formidable vision as creative director and buyer has made this cutting-edge concept store renowned worldwide. Split over three floors there is nowhere else in Paris that you can get paté, Peter Pilotto and portraits by Rankin all under the same shop roof
Sarah Lerfel is the co-founder of the Parisian fashion and style boutiqueColette, along with her mother Colette Roussaux. Her formidable vision as creative director and buyer has made this cutting-edge concept store renowned worldwide. Split over three floors there is nowhere else in Paris that you can get paté, Peter Pilotto and portraits by Rankin all under the same shop roof. Collaborating with a host of covetable brands to form their own exclusive collectibles including Chanel and Burberry, colette have recently added the luxurious Hermès to the list. It is therefore unsurprising that Sarah Lerfel’s favourite thing at the moment is the upcoming limited edition Colette x Hermès scarf.
Why did you pick the Hermes Scarf?
This blue dots version of the classic Brides de Gala is made exclusively for the Hermès orange box at Colette, which launches at the end of September. The Brides de Gala is one of the most historic Hermès scarves. In the past. it has been made in many colour variations, but I find this special version very fresh. And it's a very limited edition.
What is your favourite way to wear it?
Simple and maybe too traditional: just around the neck.
Do you remember the first time you discovered Hermes scarves?
Oh, my mum has been taking me to Hermès shops since I was born! I used to cry because we would stay for so long. Now, I love it: there’s a special atmosphere at the 24 Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré shop. I’ve bought a lot of scarves for my mum for her birthdays, but I only just bought my first one a few years ago, in an airport. I don't wear it very often, but just to see the orange box in my closet makes me happy.
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 aWater 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. FromSkagway 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.