BY Emily Bick in Profiles | 04 MAR 01
Featured in
Issue 57

I Shop Therefore I Am

Paris and Colette

BY Emily Bick in Profiles | 04 MAR 01

At Colette a group of mannequins face the walls. But 'face' might not be the most appropriate word: they have neither heads nor visible bodies. The clothes they support seem to hover in mid-air, and were it not for a metal rod connected to a matt black metal support upon which co-ordinating shoes are perched, it would seem that the outfits were worn by invisible models. They congregate in groups of twos and threes; if they were alive, and if they had heads, they might direct their gazes at the geometrically arranged shoes and neatly folded sweaters encased in vitrines that rise from the shop floor. They might also discuss the outfits of the other mannequins in the store, flanking the leather couch and standing in front of the discreet floor-length mirrors. By inhabiting the space between the customer and her reflection the mannequins offer both dialogue and shoulder-to-shoulder companionship; they are compelling strangers and best friends.

Colette is a concept store; it specializes in 'styledesignartfood', the focus of every major fashion and style magazine. It captures the ambience of the glossy magazine and makes it a physical reality. Avant Pop remixed by 'top DJs' wafts through the air, and its four and a half storeys offer a boutique for men's and women's clothing; a floor of cosmetics, houseware, trinkets and fresh flowers; a basement café; a bookshop; and an art gallery that overlooks all the rest. That the art gallery symbolically presides over the other floors is important: every display is calculated to make the customer feel like a collector or editor, overseeing a private view or a launch party, and reinforces the artistry of style. Those whose dreams are of participation, rather than control, are also catered for. Barring two rails of T-shirts and jeans on the ground floor, there is only one example of each item of clothing on display. Other sizes are available, but they are hidden behind protruding walls. When sales assistants dart back to fetch something for a customer, they do so with the utmost subtlety and discretion. On the sales floor each outfit appears to be a unique creation, assembled for its particular wearer alone, distinctive and photogenic but also comfortably situated among other specially assembled outfits. Every mannequin is styled with a combination of pieces from different designers: Helmut Lang mules with a Celine cardigan; a Miguel Adrover sweatshirt with a Miu Miu rah-rah skirt and Converse high tops. The emphasis is on personal style, and Colette's mix-and-match aesthetic is in contrast to that of major department stores which group clothes by brand. The Colette-created fashion world is poised to embrace whoever comes through its doors, and to offer them everything possible to maintain the bubble at home, from plates to perfume, dresses to Dr Pepper.

In the past numerous boutiques have established cult followings: Mary Quant, Granny Takes a Trip, Biba, Sex and Seditionaries in London; Paraphernalia and Fiorucci in New York. They embodied an urban, downtown cool that was championed - and at least partially created - by magazines. A pilgrimage to one of these shops by the legions of suburban dreamers who wanted a part of it all demonstrated an allegiance to an imagined in-crowd. Yet all these cult boutiques lost their cachet as the subcultures they had defined fell out of fashion or became mainstream. The genius of Colette is its ability to create a cultish longing that can evolve with the times. It represents no one brand identity: its name is printed on the windows in a clean, discreet sans-serif typeface 25 cm high, again on its carrier bags, and that is all. Colette is a site where brands converge and recombine.

Colette's bookshop is tucked away in one of its split levels. There one finds fashion magazines, style magazines, art and design magazines, underground magazines - piles of them. Several credit clothes to Colette; some print snaps of guests at the most recent opening party held at the store's upstairs art gallery. These are photographs of artists and models, fashion designers and editors, all having a marvellous time and wearing clothes not unlike those on Colette's mannequins. With a purchase, it's not difficult to imagine that you might, one day, be among them.

Emily Bick is deputy editor for The Wire Magazine and a writer on music, art and technology, based in London.