Designers, artists, rappers, models and stylists galore traipsed in and out of Colette, the legendary Parisian concept store founded by Sarah Andelman. Whether to see the latest exhibit at the gallery or explore the boutique café, Water Bar, or just people watch and make the scene, there was something for you, from watches and phones to sneakers and couture fashion. We talk about Paris then and now, Karl Lagerfeld’s shopping habits, a recent Kenyan safari, why she closed Colette and her new consultancy, Just An Idea.Read Transcript
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Sarah and her mom named Colette. Together, they opened a shop in the chic Paris neighborhood of Rue Saint-Honoré that they called Colette. We’re going to find out what brought her, in 1997, to the decisive moment of opening a store that would go on to be a must-see destination for every fashionista, hipster, and cool kid with any pretension to be where it’s at. Designers, artists, rappers, models, and stylists galore traipsed in and out, whether to see the latest exhibit at the gallery or explore the boutique café, Water Bar, or just hang out, people watch, and make the scene. Colette sold everything from watches and phones to sneakers and couture fashion. Somehow, in one place at one time, it all fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle that reflected the multi-verse of interests that made up the creative persona of our guest today, Sarah Andelman. We haven’t spoken since she abruptly closed Colette in 2017, had a baby, moved to a cabin in Woodstock, and opened her agency, called Just An Idea. Today, she joins us from Paris. Welcome, Sarah.
Thank you, David.
So you had, what people call, the coolest store in the world, and you decided to close it. Seems prophetic, given the state of the retail market in the Corona world of today.
Absolutely. We had no idea how the world will, change. That’s how it goes. But that was definitely the right moment. After twenty years we felt it was a wonderful adventure. We wanted to stop before it was too late. That’s true. That sense, it was just, nightmare after nightmare for the retail industry.
You had gone through several of those prior to that. When you opened, there was that whole collapse of the financial banking system, right? In 1998. Right after you opened. Did that affect you at all in the beginning?
Nothing was easy. The opening, for sure Paris was really not the most exciting city when we opened. And of course that was too crazy, but nothing compared when there was the Yellow Jackets in Paris in 2019, I think. And all the shops on Faubourg Rue St. Honore had to protect themselves with wood against riots. And this vision, I didn’t expect to see that one day.Tto be closed of the Covid situation.
You closed Colette, which could be another question we can discuss, is why you didn’t sell it. But, at the same time Paper was acquired also in 2017, and Colette stopped also in 2017. Must have been difficult to stop. Because, for me, at least, it was you’re so busy, you’re working around the clock, you’re constantly involved in what you’re doing, in your creation. And then suddenly, it’s over. How did you feel at first when you wound up closing it?
Well we decided a few months before. We announced in July 2017. We really felt it was the cycle, you know? It was the end of something and it’s my mom’s decision, first, because of her age. Me, I wouldn’t imagine continuing without her. It was working, we still had so many designers who wanted to present, artists we wanted to show. But it was also, we didn’t want to be in a routine, a repetition. We have been so clear to experiment all the time, to reinvent ourselves, to surprise within the windows and events. We really don’t want to let it become too repetitive, I would say. So it was the fact that all the team from Colette, in the shop, the office, the staff, we had this deal with Saint Laurent, and they would all be transferred to Saint Laurent and keep the same, salary. Do you say that in English?
It made it much easier for us to decide to close, because we knew they would have security. And I imagine it wouldn’t happen the same if we had to deal with, having a team of 100 people we love without this support. So I think it gave us more of a life vest there and to feel it was really, for us, the right thing to do.
It’s funny that it was Saint Laurent that you wound up working with. Because before that, there had been a big incident, right, with them, refusing to sell you their clothes because you had put out a t-shirt saying, “Ain’t Laurent without Yves.” Parody t-shirts which were pretty common. It was one of the things people were doing. But Hedi Slimane, I guess, and the team there thought that was too offensive for them to handle. Yet you wound up working with them at- at the end.
Before that, when I was, um- I don’t know the year by- anymore. But, when I discovered La Vilaine Lulu, it’s by monsieur Yves Saint Laurent himself. And I saw in New York this exhibition, Forty Years of Yves Saint Laurent, with amazing photographers from Jean Loup Sieff and- Do you remember this Saint Laurent exhibition in New York?
I saw this show in New York, and I asked to have it in Paris at the gallery. And, for this, I met missus Dominique Deroche, who was a historic PR of Saint Laurent under Mr. Pierre Berge. So very early in Colette’s history, I went to Saint Laurent when it still belonged to Saint Laurent. The Heidi Slimane story is very strange because we worked with him from his very first collection at Saint Laurent.
The fashion world has changed so much since you started. Was that also part of your decision to stop? That so much of what you had started and created was now being replicated by other people, other stores? Everyone wanted to be like Colette.
Yes and no. But it’s true, what changed is the brands and their own distribution. And it was nonstop. A fight to get early delivery, because all these big brands were very happy to be at Colette, to be part of the selection, with a different eye to touch different customers. But they also realized, you know, meanwhile that they brought their own, stronger ecommerce on their own shops. It was a constant fight for me to say, “Look, we want it sent the same – if not before, at least at the same time as your own shop. Not later.” And it became more and more difficult over the years. And also, it’s a very positive thing, that brands – even young designers, who would easily develop their own, e-commerce and sell directly to their clients. Which is great. I remember the first time I contacted a beauty brand, like Glossier, and they told me, “Oh, but our business is based on our own, direct distribution. We cannot sell to a multi-brand brand retailer.” I was not ready for this. Because we were used to brands very excited to work with us. And so when they had this new business model to be stronger alone in that distribution. Which was great.
And now also Instagram, of course. People buying directly there. That’s- that’s the sort of distribution outlet for a lot of brands.
Yes, but Instagram has been a very, very, very positive thing for Colette. It’s changed a lot on the perception of Colette. People realized it was always something happening. That every day we receive new products. Every week there will be something. A book signing, a show opening, a live concert, or a cooking class, you know? And even if we would communicate this through our newsletters, through our website, with Instagram there was this instant which would show the life of Colette. And that was fantastic for us. Even from the commercial-side, we could sell some products with a picture on our Instagram before we had time to even display it on the shelves. So that was very, very positive for us.
Today, it’s called a concept store. But before you opened, people didn’t even know what a concept store was, cause it didn’t really exist in the same way. So what was your idea at the time? Did you already have a vision to have all of these events that you described as part of the store, or did that come about over time?
Well the first concept was we wanted to bring together everything we liked and to imagine it would work naturally to bring together a gallery, a restaurant open all day long, and a selection of products from beauty, design, fashion, and couture. And that was, for me, didn’t change from there from the first to the last day to bring a cool selection of products, not necessarily new work, not necessarily trendy, but just our own mix of products. From the beginning, we had a gallery opening and we, you know, we were very, very free to- . But from the beginning, we had events and parties. I think that question, concept store, was very West from the beginning. People from the beginning would say this is a concept store but I was against this formula because it didn’t mean anything for me. But yes, it was a place where we would come just for a glass of water, or to discover a new artist, or to discover a new designer. We liked to be a whole platform with connection and interaction with all these different media.
I know you had worked at Purple Magazine as an intern. And it seems Colette was kind of a magazine come to life, cause, in a magazine you could have all these various elements together in one place and you have fashion, you have pop art, politics even. Was that an influence at all in your thinking? That you wanted to sort of bring to life the idea of something like a magazine?
As a company, I used a lot and I loved the comparison with a magazine, I don’t think, really, in our minds from the beginning. But it’s true. The fact it was a weekly transformation with the windows and the way we displayed the products in the shop. It was exactly like the chief editor who worked with a magazine. I would say that in France, from Purple Magazine and me, was more to meet very early some talents like Hussein Chalayan, Victor & Rolf, Mark Bothwick meet All these different, uh, creators in France. This definitely had a stronger impression for me and I wanted to invite them at Colette and from the beginning.
Because you also went to art school. So you have a background in art
History of arts. Sorry.
History of art?
But you wanted also to include art in your store as part of the experience?
Absolutely. I always loved to visit galleries and museums. But again, I was not even twenty-years-old when we opened Colette. And I already took care of the gallery space. So Colette was my school. It was really the fact that. every month we would, uh, do a new installation, work with a new artist, which is how I- I got my, uh, experience.
So you were just twenty. When you started and you got involved with your mother, working together, Was it your idea? And you convinced her to work with you? Did she immediately think, “Wow. This is great.”
I think my mom wanted to work with me and she could figure out, before myself, that I have this interest for art, beauty, fashion, this curiosity for everything. And she often said she opened it so we could work together. Again, I was very young. [laughs] I realized after how it was a fantastic experience and opportunity. We visited the space because we moved in this building. We lived in the same building. And I think my mom wanted to do it. So Marc, who took care of the restaurant, uh, Milan, who was part of the story at the beginning. And, for myself.
Cause one of the things you did also, which was not very Parisian in the way I think of it, is have a very international perspective. That you brought in, a lot of American art. But not only was it American art, it was not art that was in most of the galleries. It was a new American pop art that connected more to street art and graffiti. And then also in your other sourcing, for example, a lot of Japanese products. And, you would spend a lot of time, finding these unique and interesting products. Was that something that made the store stand out? Because you had this perspective that wasn’t just Parisian. People would go to Paris, usually to shop in the Parisian stores that had amazing negligees or beautiful Parisian-made fabrics and clothing. But not necessarily for all this other kind of stuff.
Absolutely. For us it was very important to bring to Paris what we couldn’t find. That’s why when we were lucky to travel to Tokyo just before we opened, or Hong Kong, to New York, obviously, and to do some- [sighs] not even research because it happened very fast. But we wanted to open a shop, because we realized when some friend, if someone goes to New York, bring me back Kiehl’s shampoo because we could not find Kiehls at all. If you think about it now, it’s funny, because there is, uh, lots of Kiehl’s shops around the world. And it was just things like this. If you go to London, bring me back this. And of course. From Tokyo we were amazed by the sneaker industry, by the watches, by so many things. Even when we opened, for example, in magazines like Paper, like Purple like Self Service , Like Dazed. ID The Face. It was not easy to find in Paris kiosks. We wanted to have everything we loved, which we found inspiring. We wanted to bring them together. And it was also an old brand, like Emilio Pucci, it was not a part of LVMH, but still a family business. It was things we love with no morsel, you know, just from our instinct and, uh, yes, it was important for a very international mix from the beginning.
And also you proved that you had a great eye, because – well not only did the products sell, but even, you know, even let’s say in the artists that you chose to work with, who today are very well-known. Uh. For example, like Kaws is somebody that you worked with very early on.
Absolutely. No, that was a- a great show, I think in ’98 or ’99, I think it’s- I don’t even remember how we met. I was so lucky to be about to go to visit an artist studio. I said, “Let’s do a show in our gallery in two or three months together.” To be able to organize, it was all very spontaneous. And I really tried for the gallery space to promote, like you said, with important artists. It could be photographic, it could be graphic design, to have lots of different styles of artist. But sometimes it was also established artists. I like the fact it was never what you expected to see.
And Colette also became more than just a store. It was a scene where many people would come in and hang out. You’d have regulars there, Karl Lagerfeld was- one of your fans. He said, “It’s the only shop where I go because they have things no one else has. There’s only one Colette, and her and Sarah are two hundred percent involved.” I know you were very busy and you’re working. Somebody was telling me how they were setting up a show at the gallery space. And it was late at night and they were leaving, and they heard some noise, and it turned out that you were still there. And you hadn’t even finished, and it was well-past midnight at that time. What was your schedule like in those days?
It was really nonstop working and, uh, we were very honored Monsieur Lagerfeld would come regularly on Saturday to do his shopping. And it’s true, it was nonstop around the clock when we opened. So weekly, we would change all the shop. And when we opened – It was by night. So we would try to do it, from seven PM when we close until eleven AM when we reopened. But after a few years, we did it on a Sunday. So it was really seven days a week, nonstop working. And we loved it. It was our life, our passion, I don’t know if you had the chance to watch the documentary, Colette Mon Amour?
Yes. I watched it.
It’s on, uh, you can see it on your, uh, webpage or- Right?
It’s on Colette Mon Amour-
It was this documentary produced by, uh, Highsnobiety and la pac, which we didn’t commission. Hugues, as the director, asked if he could come shoot the end of the Colette, the last six months.
One question I want to ask also, is why didn’t you sell? I’m sure you had offers. And, you know, in the world today, that’s the next step. You just sell it to someone and let them continue the story.
I mean, we give too much of ourselves in this space and it was like our baby. We thought about it for one minute and just- Not even one minute. Because we realized, I think we would suffer to… All the work we gave to this shop, to be what it is. If suddenly you would have the name of Colette with something not of the same, I don’t know how to say it. But…
Not as authentic. Carried on by a corporate brand that’s just doing it but not, living it in the same way you did.
Exactly. It’s much better like this. Maybe there is a regret. Maybe someone would have taken very well of Colette, and it would have been a fantastic new, uh, adventure. We’ll never know. But at least we- we don’t want to take the risk.
Yeah. Well, I doubt it. I doubt that someone could actually make it better. Because it was so much an expression of who you are. Just in the same way that Paper Magazine, especially in the early days, before the Internet, or at least Instagram took over and became the source for people to find out what was going on and who’s interesting. Magazine’s lost a lot of their power in that way. And, you know, I can no longer write about the people that we loved necessarily because the world had changed so much, in my opinion, during that period. So today, Paper is a very different product but, I think it reflects the times that we’re in. We were lucky enough to have somebody to take it over in that way. But it’s not- certainly not the same.
No. I was going to say, it’s already, for Colette and for Paper, I think it’s quite brave that we managed to do it for as long as we did, what we loved, what we wanted. t’s better to be able to adapt ourselves to- to our time, to reflect our times, and we have to evolve with it. And it’s not always easy, I suppose.
Well also you had some personal, other things going on in your life, right, besides the store? You met someone, you fell in love, you got married, you had a child. Do you think that would have been possible if you were still doing, uh, the store and- and being so busy all the time?
Yes, it would have been possible, but not the same. When I worked, my mom was working nonstop already, and Woody was already five or six when we decided to close. So I managed to have been married, to meet someone. It’s true, I’ve been single for so long. [laughter] But I tried to be able to work out stuff. You realize many women manage to combine the work and the family life, but it’s true, it wouldn’t have been the same. I’m so, so happy and lucky to be able to spend weekends with my son, with my family, without worrying that I have to run to install a new exhibition or a new window, so… It would have been different.
You didn’t really move to the U.S., your husband is American filmmaker, video director, Philip Andelman. And you moved to New York to be with him? What was the attraction of being, in New York? And you have a cabin in Woodstock now?
Uh. It’s not- Philip moved to Paris to be with me.
Our son is going to school in Paris, and I like to stay close to my mom. But, Philip introduced me to upstate, and we have this lovely house near Phoenicia and it’s a perfect balance to be able to go there during Summer and during holidays and we love it.
Oh, okay. So your residence is still in Paris. Your main residence.
Okay. So then you started a new company, right? So you didn’t really- couldn’t really just relax? [laughter] Become a full-time wife, mother. You have a new business now. It’s called Just An Idea. Tell me a little bit about that.
It was a kind of continuity of Colette, to connect people to develop collaboration with artists, with other brands. I intend to curate for special projects for public space, or just for collections and I will also start to publish books this year, two artist’s books. And, it’s, still projects with fashion, with beauty, with ability, with design, with high-techs, the same as Colette, to touch all these different worlds.
Yeah. So what is it about books that made you want to do that instead of, movies or other projects?
Of course I’ve always loved books, but it’s also artists where I saw that, right now, what they bring is mostly only visible in Instagram. As much as I love Instagram, which can be very inspiring, I think they started to- to do their own work, shooting with their iPhone for Instagram. But I think their talent should be beyond. So I still believe in paper, I still believe in a nice publication. For me, it’s something we need otherwise for inspiration, for reference. So that’s why I contacted them to do it.
And you- So you work with brands, cause you have been doing that before, right? Even while you still had Colette.
Yeah. During the Colette age, I had to develop lots of collaborations for Colette. We were always looking for something a little special to exhibit. And it’s true, it was the same energy. When brands contact me to have someone else’s eyes on it a different approach. And I don’t really communicate on it myself, because I think there is too many activities, but still I do it a little in the shadow, but it’s great to be able to connect people where it makes sense. I really try to keep it meaningful for everybody.
When you look back at, you know, your Colette experience, and even now, what are the most products or shows that you’re most proud of today?
All of them. [laughs]
Ooh-la-la. Too many, right? You don’t want to say.
[laughs] You don’t want to offend anyone. But just like pick a few anyway.
Um… I don’t know from where to start. [laughs]
Alright. Well let’s ask a different way. How about what was the biggest disasters [laughter] that happened, that we never- behind the scenes?
I don’t think of any, uh, especially now.
Is there anything still left that you want to do? If Colette was around today, that you think would be a great- And I’m sure you still have those ideas constantly coming up. “Oh, if we had the store, we could really do this or that.” Anything of that nature?
This happens a lot. That’s why I think I wanted to start, publishing books, because I see this art If I had Colette, I would, order all those beauty brands – Oh, I would order some young designer. I would definitely support them. And I try to do it in my new life, my new work activities in my new life. I think it’s different-
I am just still always open and curious to what’s happening. In Japan, in New York, in Europe, Italy, everywhere, and I’m still very excited when I discover, find something new, something I haven’t seen before. It’s so difficult for artists, for designers to manage, to be relevant, I think. Even in Covid confinement, I noticed the people who managed to express themselves, find new ways- They are no disturbed by the limits. I have lots of admiration for all this stuff from different artists and those who can always rethink, reinvent, Stay flexible.
In this Covid time, and also in our Trump, fake news and the big lie era that we’re in, I think, artists have even more responsibility than ever because they can- say things and express how we feel in a way that is not fake news, you know what I mean? It has to be true. And- and it’s a way to connect. You know, arts, to me, seems more important now than it ever was.
Yeah. For sure.
Just talk about Paris for a few minutes. How are things over there now?
It’s not too bad because we have, uh, some life. The shops are open, schools are open, and, um-
What’s closed are restaurants, they are all organized to do take-away. Paris is not too bad. But, you know, you never know what’s going to be announced the following week. Because there’s all sorts of countries around us with strong evidence from Germany to UK or Italy.
Yes. And are you able to travel? Have you been able to go to Tokyo or any of your-?
No. I miss Japan so, so, so much. I can’t wait to go. I was supposed to go last April and I was hoping to go this April, but I’m not sure it’s- it’s going to be possible. I’ve been lucky to go upstate this Summer. With my husband also. And we just went to Kenya for the Christmas holidays. It was like-
Yes. I saw that. That was amazing. Tell me about it.
It was a safari, That’s something we wanted to do for so long, but we always go too late. We have lots of cancellations. So we managed to visit three different areas of Kenya, and that was really fantastic. We went to Italy, also, in October, to Rome and Florence And it was incredible, because there was nobody. Nobody there- [laughter] And we felt very lucky, very grateful. But it was sad also to see this, uh, empty restaurant, people selling selfie sticks for tourists, and waiting for transit to not come back for a while. So that’s a very strange time for sure.
Did you get any inspiration from Kenya that would be a part of you in the future?
We were quite insulated. We went to two, uh, safari. The animals, you can really be close to elephant, giraffe, lions. They don’t move. So it was very strong- strong impressions. And we went to this, uh, Kiwayu island, to a place called Mike’s Camp, which is very, very roots because it’s just a bucket shower. There is no, uh, there is nothing. Nothing. It’s very special. And it’s funny because everybody think I am snob, but it was more my husband, Philip, who wanted to leave there. [laughter] And- and it was, you know, there was no windows in the- the little house made of…
Exactly. Exactly. And I loved it. It was a great experience, it was like floating, completely disconnected, and it was a great way to- to end 2020. Yeah.
Yeah, well we’re all looking forward to 2021. Tomorrow is our inauguration of our new President and, you know, usually those events aren’t so- such a big deal for people. But this time, I think, it is.
I was really… not very optimist of that. And it’s such a relief for the U.S.
Yeah. So hopefully it’ll be the beginning of the end.
And the beginning of something new. And we’ll all be able to visit each other.
And, drink some of that great water. [laughs] Thank you very much, Sarah, for being with me today as my guest. It’s so nice to catch up with you this way. And I look forward to seeing you in person with your family.
Thank you so much. And congratulations for your podcast. I can’t believe you’ve done so many already.
And counting. It’s like seventy-two or seventy-three or something. So-
Yeah. It’s pretty cool.
All right. Take care. Bye bye.