How the legendary Paris concept store made a business out of “cool”?
The smell hits you first. Blackcurrant berries, galbanum, fresh jasmine, lily of the valley, cedarwood, musk, and fig-tree leaves. “Air de Colette,” it’s called. A security guard in a cardigan greets you. A feeling of calm is instilled; then: chaos hits. Humans. Humans everywhere. Humans in every corner; in cliques, in couples, all alone. A mother and a daughter pet a fur coat, try it on, take photos in it, put it back on its hanger. Saint Laurent. 11,000 euros. A grey-haired woman adjusts her Bose noise-cancelling headphones, stares at a Diptyque candle, goes to light a stick of incense, is stopped by an employee. A younger woman, with Apple AirPods, rifles through a rack of 100-euro t-shirts like she’s at TJ Maxx. The organizing principle: “cool.” One of a kind in its cool—the transaction of cool for capital, capital for cool has never happened before like it happens at Colette. Candles, sneakers, ball caps, iPhone cases. Everyone, it seems, is in her own world. Few talk. Eyes on objects. Objects. Beautiful objects. Hardcover magazines. Chunky watches. Matches. Moncler parkas. “Fuck-me boots” taller than some people.
It’s the last week at Colette and humans are everywhere—more, even, than the usual overcrowding. After twenty years of being an arbiter of trends; after twenty years of being the destination for lines that stretched down the rue Saint-Honoré; after twenty years of collaborations with nearly every luxury fashion house, top shoe company, and prestige car manufacturer, Colette is closing.
Upstairs, the walls are painted black. You first think it might be a memorial to the store, the death of its signature playful blues and whites. Upon announcing its closure in July, the store posted on Instagram: “Until our last day, nothing will change. Colette will continue to renew itself each week with exclusive collaborations and offerings.” But it feels different. You walk slower, examine objects more carefully. You have always come to buy things, but, more often, you have come to look at things. Now you have come to really look. To see what the trick to coolness is. Is it about a certain arrangement? A certain throw of light? You have come to Colette in its final week as an explorer, a pre-mortem archeologist, Howard Carter sweeping at King Tut’s tomb, Kathleen Kenyon digging up Jericho; you are trying to discern how such a store lasted for so long, thrived so intensely, and will go out neither with a bang nor with a whimper—a bourgeois-bohemian bastion that will just go dark.
The black paint upstairs is not a memorial though. It is for a Saint Laurent pop-up. The final show. Morbidly beautiful; grossly expensive. This is Colette; there will be no fire sale. A motorcycle helmet with crystals—a collaboration with Ruby. 10,000 euros. Cigarette rolling papers in a Saint-Laurent branded leather case. 295 euros. Jackets, blouses, trousers, boots on rollerskates. It’s early enough in the morning that it’s not yet crowded upstairs. A bored cashier runs a lint roller over her black shirt. She turns and hands it to her colleague, who rolls it down her back. An employee walks through adjusting every hanging jacket, moving them, at most, half an inch. Downstairs, it had been the same man pushing magazines ever so slightly together, moving them sometimes not at all, blocking a group of six who were trying to pass. Beauty over experience. Always.