NEW YORK TIMES | ELIZABETH PATON AND VANESSA FRIEDMAN
Colette, the fashion and lifestyle emporium in the First Arrondissement of Paris that proved to be a launchpad for young designers and a shopping destination for industry insiders and tourists alike, will close its doors on the Rue St.-Honoré in December after 20 years.
A statement confirming the decision was posted on the boutique’s website on Wednesday.
“As all good things must come to an end,” the statement said, “after 20 wonderful years, Colette should be closing its doors on December 20th.” The company cited retirement plans for the founder, Colette Roussaux, who ran the store with her daughter, Sarah Andelman, and made it one of fashion’s favorite new-style family businesses.
“Colette Roussaux has reached the time when she would like to take her time; and Colette cannot exist without Colette,” the statement read, referring to the store requiring its founder.
The closing of the store, long considered an apex of Parisian fashion trends and a vital champion of emerging labels, comes amid rising rents for retailers in Paris and increasingly unpredictable consumer habits, including a move toward more fashion-spending online. The city of Paris has also been hit by volatility in the tourism sector in the last two years, after a series of terrorist attacks.
Colette had sales of 28 million euros ($32 million) in 2016, with e-commerce accounting for 25 percent of that and the rest coming from its single store.
An eclectic three-story trove of elaborate cocktail gowns, tuxedos, sneakers, postcards, pens and gadgets, all across 8,000 square feet, Colette was founded by Ms. Roussaux in 1997. It was one of the first stores to cater to an aesthetic lifestyle, as opposed to a specific product category, becoming a model for a new kind of retail. Ms. Andelman functioned as the store’s buyer and public persona.
“The first stop the fashion crowd would make was to Colette,” Robert Burke, founder of the luxury consultancy that bears his name, said in an email. “The selection of brands, the way the forms displayed, the cloths and the mix designers was inspiring. If you were carried at Colette, you were cool. If you had a launch of product or a book signing at Colette you were recognized by not only the fashion world but the international fashion consumer.”
The end of the Colette era is bound to raise question about the continued viability of such “concept stores,” which place an emphasis on attitude and discovery over the bottom line. (Colette famously never had a marketing plan.)
However, other concept stores, such as 10 Corso Como in Milan, which was founded in 1990 and has been on an expansion spree with stores in Seoul, South Korea; Shanghai and Beijing, and one to open in South Street Seaport in New York next year, have successfully navigated the new retail environment. The British store matchesfashion.com has transformed itself by focusing its business online.
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It is possible that the decision to close Colette is that rare thing in fashion, which is notoriously bad at succession planning and finds it almost impossible to let sleeping brands lie: an active attempt on the part of a globally recognized name to determine the end of its life span. If that is true, instead of being a cautionary tale for the industry, it may be yet another example of the store’s pioneering nature.
The industry accolades for Colette began almost immediately.
Bryanboy, the fashion influencer, wrote on Instagram, “Colette to me is the ultimate shopping (and research) destination in Paris, with their well-edited buys and support for many people whether it’s a big brand or a small entrepreneur or artist. When I didn’t have a lot of money to buy designer clothes, I used to buy my music compilation CDs from you! For a generation, Colette was the gold standard of cool.”
According to the company statement, also posted on Instagram, negotiations are in progress with Saint Laurent, the French luxury house owned by Kering, to take over the store location.
“We would be proud to have a brand with such a history, with whom we have frequently collaborated, taking over our address,” the statement said, adding that such a move could “also represent a very good opportunity for our employees.”
Francesca Bellettini, chief executive of Saint Laurent, acknowledged the history of the space, saying, “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.”
For the time being, however, the Colette team are taking pains to emphasize that until December, it will be business as usual. “Until our last day, nothing will change. Colette will continue to renew itself each week with exclusive collaborations and offerings, also available on our website, colette.fr.”