Sarah, The Woman Behind the Curtain

What is Colette? A gallery? A restaurant? A fashion temple? The question is not so much What but Who. Colette is first and foremost the venture of two amazing women: Colette and Sarah, mother and daughter. For this “Woman” issue, we met with Sarah, co-founder and creative director of the establishment and, to our eyes, one of the most fascinating people in the industry. Being the heart and soul of the trendlab, constantly brewing with creative energy, Sarah is the ultimate Parisian emblem.

Fashion Concept Store Colette Paris France

With a clever approach of keeping herself under the radar, Sarah is a natural at navigating from one world to another and making audacious partnerships. One of the first women in fashion to have brought together streetwear and luxury brands, Sarah was also one of the precursors of the collaboration craze and regularly gives her support to unknown artists and designers, taking the idea of concept stores to a whole new level.

Very private about her personal life, she reveals herself only through her eclectic and cutting edge selection of items, ingeniously displayed every week at the shop. These “crushes,” as she calls them, are her way of sharing with us her infinite knowledge and streetsmart eye on “styledesignartfood.” The fashion Mecca she built from scratch with her mother (after whom the store was named), is an extension of Sarah: cute, playful and übercool.

Mostly acting on the spur of the moment, she redefines fashion on an everyday basis, keeping it chic and witty with her visionary touch. A philosophy which has proven successful over the years as, 15 years later, Colette is still thriving on the unexpected and never fails to surprise us. Always on top of her game when it comes to organizing unique events, she made quite a feat last spring with the Colette Carnaval in the Jardin des Tuileries, a celebration for their 15th anniversary. Gathering most of Paris in a fun and cheeky atmosphere under a 4000 square feet tent, with the help of her team, friends and collaborators, the Carnaval was in total sync with the woman behind Colette.

Even if she is admittedly of a very elusive nature, we were lucky enough to have a one on one where she shared her memories of the Colette adventure, her favorite Woman of all time and some tidbits on how to always stay one step ahead.

Colette has long become a landmark in fashion territory as well as in pop culture. Did it exceed your expectations from when you first opened the store in 1997?
Oh no, we had no idea what we were doing. Still today, I think we only care to have fun, to be reactive, but we don’t expect anything except for our “clients” to enjoy.

In what sense do you think colette has changed since its beginnings?
It changes a little every day from a « design » point of view, we always try to find better solutions to showcase our selection, and we receive new products all the time. But it didn’t really change for the selection itself; we always just follow our instinct.

What made you fall in love with the space?
We lived in the building so we saw this empty space every day. It was in a good location: not the chic Faubourg, not les Halles, in the middle – and the light is quite amazing.

If you could describe Colette in 3 words?
Surprising, refreshing, inspiring.

What makes colette so quintessentially Parisian? Does your heart belong to paris or would you consider living anywhere else?
Our heart belongs to Paris, no question about that. We really conceived Colette for Paris, when we noticed there were many brands we couldn’t find in Paris back in 1997 and still today. Even if our selection is very international and even if there’s a web globalization, I think we’re very Parisian.

You said in previous interviews that you are very keen on new technologies. How did the cyberworld and its new platforms (blogs, online sales etc…) impact the retail world and your work?
Oh, the blogs are like a magic carpet, I see everything just by staying at home! I can find many fun products, designers, and artists this way, even if, of course, it will never replace real encounters. E-shop is also major, it just makes your life easier, and you can have a look at our new website by the end of the year, it will have so many great services.

Colette Sarah Lerfel Store fashion Paris

What is your view on eco-conscious brands and sustainable designers? Does Colette take any action towards sustainability?
We do regularly carry eco products and we did few special projects around sustainability. It’s something very important for us to support, but I much prefer it when it’s not even visible that a product is eco-conscious.

You have always defended the fact that your operating mode was more of an instinctive nature than business driven. With Colette’s phenomenal rise to success and it’s current status, did you ever feel the pressure or need to change your strategy?
We have been very lucky so far in working this way, and honestly, I don’t think we could do it in any other way. I feel our freedom is the key.

You have an amazing knowledge of many different worlds and art forms. How do you keep up to date, and manage to always be one step ahead?
It’s just very natural. I’m always curious to see what’s going on in many different fields. So we never get bored!

The system of the shop is what makes it so unique. From toys channelling the kid in each and every one of us, to technology and cutting edge couture, Colette keeps us on our toes with a new layout and windows every week. Where do you find your inspiration to keep the Colette energy afloat?
Again, it’s just very natural for us. The inspiration comes from the products themselves From the artists and designers we meet every day.

As you know, this issue is all about unique women! Colette is a “woman” driven adventure which inspires many of us. Was this partnership with your mother something that naturally fell into place?
Absolutely! We’re in fusion and it’s obvious.

The “woman” you looked up to growing up? A “woman” you admire today?
My mum!

Is there a “Colette” woman?
All women!

You have managed to bring a fresh outlook on urban culture, breaking codes and showcasing it in a whole new light side by side with luxury brands. Has this interest for street culture always been part of your life? Did you intend it to become part of Colette’s identity?
Yes, from the beginning we contacted brands like Nike, Reebok (we had the first Fury in France, I think), New Balance… Streetwear is part of our culture and was naturally part of Colette’s “cocktail” from the beginning, with beauty, books, etc.

Which area of Paris has the best energy to you?
Paris is better than ever, and there are so many exciting neighborhoods at the moment.

What is your WILD Wish?
To be able to travel around the world in 1 minute, and to be able to extend days to as many hours as we need...or at least 90 hours !

text by: Marine de la Morandière

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