paris on the hudson-------
Colette requires no introduction. The Rue Saint-Honoré boutique founded in 1997 by Colette Roussaux and her daughter Sarah Lerfel has revolutionized retailing in countless ways, perhaps most notably by challenging the notion that a store devoted to the sale of top-of-the-line designer clothes should only sell top-of-the-line designer clothes. By intermingling high and low; interspersing books and beauty products among the clothes; hosting art exhibitions; commissioning limited-edition, store-exclusive product; and cherry-picking the best stuff from both established luxury houses and emerging brands, Colette has all but stamped the last decade of style in its own image: Colette, in essence, invented “mix.” All this is Lerfel’s brainchild, and even as her ideas have been snatched up by stores the world over, she’s stayed a step ahead by conjuring up the next new thing. Recently, for example, Lerfel has done luxury e-tailing one better by introducing Colette Shopping TV, an online video series that take shoppers on virtual tours of the boutique; one recent episode featured an Elvis impersonator singing the praises of Corto Moltedo’s poptastic purses. That’s the kind of inspired idiosyncrasy non-virtual shoppers will get a taste of at Colette x Gap, a Gap-sponsored pop-up shop in midtown Manhattan that brings the Colette experience stateside for the very first time. “The way Sarah and her team create theater in the retail environment is very inspiring,” says Gary Muto, president of Gap. “We’re thrilled to offer our customers a new, unexpected experience, and to welcome the spirit of the Paris store into our newly reinvented Fifth Avenue space.” Colette x Gap opens on September 6; in the meantime, Lerfel has had her hands full renovating the original Colette boutique (which reopens today). Here, she talks to Style.com about crossing the Atlantic, the fading allure of masstige, and why New York City will always be cooler than Paris—and vice versa.
What inspired you to do a mini Colette in New York?
First of all, I love New York, and so the idea of doing something special in the city was exciting. We’ve had a relationship with Gap—for example, we’ve launched a few of their special collections, such as the T-shirts they made for the Whitney Biennial. We thought it would be a fun project to work on with them, and anyway, we’d had a great experience doing something similar in Tokyo with Comme des Garçons.
The Colette experience is so specific and immersive—how do you encapsulate that in a smaller shop?
The idea isn’t to replace the Paris store or summarize it, but to create something unique. We are bringing along some of the mix of items that we carry in Paris, at a range of price points, because that kind of variety is essential to Colette’s identity. But we’re also launching several products inspired by the pop-up. We took some iconic pieces from Gap, such as their trench coat, their denim jacket, their classic gray jersey tee—and asked different designers to do limited editions based on these. Like, the T-shirt we gave to Repetto, we gave to Longchamp…we wanted to embrace the heritage of Gap, but also reinterpret that heritage in the Colette way.
Colette has really pioneered the idea of design collaboration, and, more broadly, pioneered the idea that high and low can not only co-exist in the same wardrobe, but speak to each other creatively. With that in mind, I wonder how you feel about the recent craze for “fast fashion,” i.e., Richard Chai doing a collection for Target?
It depends on how good the collaboration is—like, Viktor & Rolf’s collection for H&M, or Proenza’s for Target, I thought they were brilliant, and obviously did so much to expose these designers. But at this point, there are so many of these collaborations, all the novelty’s gone out of it. I’m not sure people even feel curious or excited about such things anymore. Though Rei Kawakubo for H&M, that one interests me, for sure. It’s like a cocktail; you can mix well or you can mix poorly. What feels relevant to me, now, are collaborations like the one between Gap and CFDA/Vogue—the designers are forced to engage with the product of the mass-market brand, instead of just trying to translate a designer aesthetic into something cheap. Those Gap blouses really influenced us in how we thought about our own collaborations for the pop-up.
Do you think the fast-fashion trend is about to peter out?
I’m interested more in artists right now, what an artist can say to an established fashion or lifestyle brand. We’re about to launch the Damien Hirst collection for Levi’s, for example, and we’ve got Sylvie Fleury doing a special bottle of Dom Pérignon, exclusively for Colette, and at the pop-up, a special-edition T-shirt, one side done by a Paris artist, and the graphic on the other side by an artist from New York…it’s all about art for me at the moment.
Speaking of art: Do you have any particularly exciting shows planned for the revamped Colette space in Paris?
I’m really looking forward to our show of New York artists—it’s a timeline of art in the city, from 1997 to the present day. Aaron Bondaroff curated the exhibition, and this will be the first time some of the downtown New York artists like Dan Colen and Dash Snow will be showing in Paris. Unbelievable, no? Everyone is so obsessed with the New York scene, I kept thinking that some gallery would do a show of their work. But no one has, so we get to make the introduction.
Everyone in Paris is obsessed with New York? I find that odd, because it seems like everyone in New York is totally obsessed with Paris.
Really? I suppose that’s always how it is, you want what you don’t have. Lucky us, we get to be in both places at once. At least for a little while.