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Colette Buzz Kill: Why It's Great But Not That Great

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.

Mecca? via Trendland

Dear Past, Present and Future Visitors of Colette,

Colette: It's a retail traveler's Mecca. The original concept shop. The store that, upon opening in Paris in 1997, shook retailing to its very core by mixing high and low fashion with high and low culture; alongside exclusive product and dozens of varieties of bottled water. The store that, for those of us who'd never yet visited, was supposed to transport us to pure fashion euphoria upon crossing that fabled Rue Saint-Honoré threshold.

And, to be fair, it is a remarkable shop. The offerings are edited to the hilt (another Colette-born monster: The "well-edited" or “well-curated” shop) and are certainly beautiful and from a range of the best and brightest designers. And, of course, the environment is hip and fun, fast-paced, and international. It’s closest cousin—just for a frame of reference—is undoubtedly Opening Ceremony. But with the quirk turned way down, and it's significantly smaller—both in size and in scope.

That said, if I’m being totally honest: I was a little disappointed.

First, it is rather small—much smaller than I ever expected. Foremost, it's utterly packed—with Asian tour groups, with the German socks-and-sandal set wielding the guidebooks that encouraged their stop by, with fashion thugs, and with that curious subset of European streetwear skatesters who manage to always look rather smart despite the fact that Abercrombie & Fitch anchors their every outfit.


Love.

The bodily bottleneck and audio crunch of many shouted languages creates a roar—to be honest, I couldn't even tell you if music was playing. But music certainly is a theme: The ground floor is stocked with the stuff that makes Colette a concept store: books, gadgets, gifts, collectibles (the Jean Paul Gaultier Diet Coke gift set) and oddities—all hip (a guide to Brooklyn’s (not New York’s) coolest, most fashionable points of interest, for instance) and many with a music or pop culture slant.

Racks line the perimeter—they’re stocked with streetwear. Most brands I was unfamiliar with—and a lot of it seemed pretty expensive for the category. That $300 polo you’ve never heard off? Well, it’s Italian made. You’ll also find a deep array of Comme des Garçons Play. Mixed in and around—tiny, pretty accessories and sunglasses (more classic than directional, lots of Cutler and Gross).

The fixtures are white. Pure white. And they’re totally without embellishment. The eyewear cases are almost pharmaceutical—but more Damien Hirst than steampunk. Everything is spaced and stacked just so. Which, considering the crush of traffic—is impressive.


Taste the rainbow: Colette by color.

Upstairs you’ll find the real clothes (and a bit more quiet)—Raf Simmons, Thom Browne, Valentino, Rodarte, Junya Watanabe, Proenza Schouler. And, so much of it is just so beautiful—the buyers absolutely have a unique eye and a point of view. Unadorned, un-accessorized mannequins (each in a head-to-toe single designer look that can only be determined by either an immense knowledge of fashion or the shamelessness to poke around for tags and trims) flank more stark white and stainless steel racks. Each is sparsely stocked with evenly spaced bits of expensive gorgeousness. Organized by color—rather than by category or theme or brand—they reminded me of those super well-organized thrift shops with racks that gradiate by hue. Which, you know, is great if you’re looking exclusively for yellow. Shoes are basically on the floor—so you sort of miss them.


Love the jewelry cases.

The stand-out on this upper floor is the jewelry—not so much the actual jewelry but the way it’s merchandized. Each case is a work of art: Starbursts and wagon wheels created by chains and rings and bracelets arranged just so. It’s museum-like, and as fussy as Colette gets.


Really?

A small mezzanine at the rear features a small beauty section with a smattering of both the so-so (Topshop nail color? Really?) and the unknown. Again, the assortment of Comme des Garçons is jarring. Also, there’s a fairly uninspired bay of two small fitting rooms—a bit of an afterthought. But you’re not there for the fitting rooms.


Bathroom wallpaper—so friendly!

Not an afterthought: The restrooms. They’re down at the basement level—which also serves as a café (real food, all those bottled waters), an events space, and an art gallery. All fine and good—but let’s talk about the bathrooms! Ally McBeal-style, ladies and gents share a communal set of sinks and mirrors in a hospital-bright space wallpapered in adorable characters.


The toilet of the future.

Off that main space are individual water closets outfitted with those insane Japanese toilets that have different flush levels, built-in massagers, rinse-and-wash options, automatic dryers, climate control settings—the whole nine. All hands free and/or via wall-mounted remote control!

And, I mean, that’s awesome. Where do you ever see a toilet like that? But, also, like, leave it to Colette to spend more on getting super exclusive, tech-savvy toilets than on, like, all of their store fixtures combined. Also: Who is using the features a toilet like this has on offer in a place as public as Colette—in a co-ed bathroom, no less! Weird, right? Basically, it’s just Colette wanting the best, the most exclusive—even when it comes to something that doesn’t much matter and won’t really ever get used (the bidet-features and the massagers, not the regular toilet aspects).

Maybe those crazy toilets are symbolic of the whole Colette operation—beautiful, expensive things that serve little purpose or don't get used at all. All housed in a chic, glossy shell that welcomes viewers but doesn't necessarily encourage utilizers. Or, for that matter, buyers: I didn't see a single transaction take place.

· Love, Frank [Racked]