Colette’s founder Sarah Andelman on how to get stocked in top stores
An exclusive interview from the Issue 4 business series.
Sarah Andelman knows what’s going down. Although Instagram is a diluted and expertly controlled view of how a person experiences the world, scrolling through the account of Colette’s founder makes it evident that the shop is much more than just a place to buy products – it’s got a holistic and inherently personal approach. There are pictures of intimate dinners, dolphin watching with the Colette sailing club, jazz nights with her son, flashes from fashion weeks, handfuls of flower bouquets – snapshots are collected from all over the world, illustrating Andelman’s well-defined taste; documenting as well as forecasting what’s happening on 213 Rue Saint Honoré. Perhaps it is fair to say that the department store, which houses around 20,000 products at any given time – from candy to Vertu phones to €30k dresses – is somewhat of a cultural movement.
Even as the Parisian landmark is nearing its 20th anniversary, Andelman still makes all the buying decisions herself, trusting hardly anything external from her gut feeling. It may seem like a big task to keep the perpetual innovation going, especially in a time where questions about ‘disrupting the seasons’ or ‘see now buy now’ strategies continuously pop up on the news feeds of emerging talent. But she keeps going, unfazed and in a laidback demeanour. Royal College of Art graduate Tugcan Dokmen, who did her BA in Fashion Print at Central Saint Martins, sat down with Andelman to find out if there’s any magic formula for a young designer to ‘make it’ and charm all fashion buyers.
What makes a young designer stand out for you? Is it about how well a graduate collection is being received?
Oh, it doesn’t matter how and when you get the attention. The start can be your graduate collection, or it can be your first collection when you are forty years old. I think what’s important is to bring something that we haven’t seen yet. Something very special, made of very good quality, with a message that makes you noticeable and desirable.
And to keep the interest fresh, designers shouldn’t repeat themselves and keep surprising.
Yes, it is very important.
“ADD SOMETHING THAT IS NOT EXPECTED. IF YOU CAN PROVE THAT YOU HAVE TALENT FOR SOMETHING ELSE, IT IS EVEN BETTER FOR YOU.”
But in the first couple seasons, don’t you think that it is okay for young designers to repeat some elements? Maybe key techniques, fabrics, patterns or concepts?
Yes, it is necessary to find out what you are comfortable with. But especially when you are young and you have time and energy, I think it is important to be courageous and push yourself outside the boundaries to surprise yourself. I do trade shows all the time, and when I see a designer and love their collection, after a while I need to see progression. Let’s say I book their key rings and after five years there is still the same stand and the same key rings – of course I won’t buy it for Colette anymore. Because it is done, and they don’t understand it themselves. How don’t they get bored with the same thing?
I would still say: add something that is not expected. If you can prove that you have talent for something else, it is even better for you. It means you are very talented. And you shouldn’t be disappointed if you don’t receive any orders in your first seasons.
After showing my first official collection in London, I decided to come to Paris too. And I became conscious of the difference between trade shows and private showrooms. From a buyer’s point of view, which one is more agreeable for you?
There is no rule. As a buyer, I have to go to Premiere Classe, for example. I think starting with big trade shows like this is not a bad thing for a young designer. It is actually good, because so many visitors go there: buyers, maybe some owners of showrooms and press. We have a very busy schedule and it is easier for us as buyers that lots of designers are all in the same place. So we have to go there. It is true that it can be frustrating for designers to be in the same place, with everybody in a square meter, having the same light and walls as everyone else, and you cannot express a lot apart from your products. I do lots of showrooms too, but not all of them, so it depends. There used to be some designers who were together in one showroom, in an apartment in the 18th or 19th arrondissement, but even if I want to go there, I cannot. I won’t have enough time.
Today, some designers can have success just by themselves with social media, with the Internet. You can be independent. You can have a great website, a great Instagram, and it will give you more attention than one of these tradeshows or showrooms.
“YOU NEED SOMEONE TO HELP YOU TO DO EVERYTHING AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.”
What are the main mistakes that young designers make, from the point of view of a buyer and a retailer?
To not take care of early delivery, to not be in the showroom and let other people speak about your collection, to not support the retailer in any way, to not renew yourself.
Is Paris the only city to set up your showroom if you want to get orders?
Paris is essential, but you can also have your showroom in New York, London or Milan.
How important is the social following of a new brand for you?
It can be important, but not 100%. I consider everything, but the most important thing is my instinct and feeling, and the fact it can complete our current assortment.
“EVERYONE COPIES YOUNG DESIGNERS BECAUSE THEY HAVE A STRONG IMAGE.”
Do you think designers should have a PR at the beginning of their careers? A lot of emerging talent is quite unsure about these kinds of decisions.
You are very lucky in the UK with London Fashion Week and British Fashion Council. They give so much support to young designers, and push them a lot. We don’t have the same in France.
I have studied and worked in London for many years now, but I am Turkish. Even though Turkey is strong at textiles and production, there is no systematic help for designers there too. Most countries don’t see the importance of supporting young designers – the UK is special in that sense. But still, if a designer will hire one person at the beginning their career, who should that person be?
You need someone that can help with everything. When you get an order, it is important to get your collection in time. It is great if you can do your lookbook in advance. Someone that can help you with press, with contacting people, production of the collection, production of the showroom. You need someone to help you to do everything as early as possible.
“FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS AND WHEN IT COMES TO STYLE, DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE CURRENT STYLES.”
Do you think customers right now are more interested in young designers?
I think we are all a little tired of big brands which are the same everywhere and who don’t really renew themselves. Very strong brands like Vetements are being copied by companies like H&M, and they are very fast at it. Everyone copies young designers because they have a strong image.
Are we in a transitional period right now, where there are no specific rules and designers can create their own path and be successful?
What is interesting right now is that a lot is coming into industry just from the streets. You see something on a celebrity; it goes super fast. It is about ‘see now, buy now’. It is true that we are in a moment of transition, but I am not sure if it actually changed a lot for a young designer to establish themselves. It is not only that the system is moving, I think for a young designer starting up a brand, you still have to focus on your collection, make sure it is still relevant.
In a previous interview of yours, I read that you would like to see a ‘buy button’ on Instagram. It would be great, but at the same time a bit scary.
The ‘buy button’ is actually happening; there are apps where you do exactly that.
Do you think the influence of social media is negative or positive?
Well, you need to be careful. It is a great way to communicate. It is fantastic to be so well informed all the time. We have now been open for twenty years and I know that a dress can be on the covers of all the magazines, it can be super strong for press, but it might not always be good for sales, unfortunately. And this is what I love: making a selection which is good for both press and sales. Sometimes there are some pieces that are everywhere in the press and on social media, but they remain on the shop floor and you don’t know why. It doesn’t mean that that look is bad. You can love it, but not really want to be the person who wears it.
Do you think that young designers should discount their pieces at the end of the season in the same way that big brands do, or can a different model work for them?
I’m not sure if there are other solutions, I would be interested to know…
“SOMETIMES THERE ARE SOME PIECES THAT ARE EVERYWHERE IN THE PRESS AND ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUT THEY REMAIN ON THE SHOP FLOOR AND YOU DON’T KNOW WHY.”
As a young designer, there are many moments where you question everything. Your style, your decisions, your timing…
You shouldn’t be asking these kinds of questions to yourself. There is space for everything. There are lots of shops around the world and lots of different people. You should do what your instincts are saying. Follow your instincts and when it comes to style, don’t worry about the current styles.
What is a big no for you in the work or attitude of a designer?
I’m sensitive to all kinds of little things… but you have to be extremely rude to get a big no! And I know how things can turn around in many ways…
Is there anything that young designers are not aware of that can really influence your work with them?
Not really, I think they have to try with all their energy. Some designers I meet say: “I was afraid to contact you.” Don’t be afraid!!!
How do you like to be approached by designers?
Again, no rules. I like to discover them by myself of course, through the Internet, showrooms or social media or friends, but I don’t mind being contacted directly, and it happens a lot.
Could it be better for new brands to show you their collections off the fashion week schedule? I can only imagine how many appointments you have during the fashion season – what would be the most ideal time for you?
Any time. Anywhere. Any place.