Tastemaker : Colette Founder Sarah Andelman Interview
A conversation between Sarah Andelman and Alexia Aubert
How did Just An Idea come about?
Sarah: The name came to me when I was still working at Colette. I was working with a brand on a project for the store windows and I kept saying: “And what if we did this? And what if we did this?—it’s just an idea… it’s just an idea…” It’s a name that’s loose enough to include a diversity of collaborations with brands in fashion, in design, in beauty, in art… It’s mostly connections and proposals for labels that consult me. I like to immerse myself in their universe, and to have an exterior point of view; it enables you to bring something else to the table, in a way that you can't see when you’re in the midst of your own thing. I had this at the store myself too. Often, you’re in such an infernal hurry. At Colette, with events, I thought: “Zut! I should have done this! I should have done this!”—and just a little distance would have enabled me to have perspective. So that’s what I bring, that disposition. I’m discovering how it works according to the brands, as some projects become concrete and others take quite a lot of time. In any case, it’s an experience! I’m not a brand—my web presence is just a page to get in contact, with an Instagram to go with it, because that seems the natural thing to do, but I want to hang back. At first I didn't even say I was part of the project, because it almost felt like being a secret agent, but I realized that was a little too mysterious. I am at the service of brands so that they affirm themselves—but I’m not creating my own.
How did you come into contact with Solovière, and what attracted you to brand?
Sarah: The first time I saw the collection… I don't remember if I responded to an email amidst the masses or if there was an introduction…
Alexia: No, you came to check out my friend’s brand—I’d lent him a space so he could show his sneakers—and when you came, we jumped on you.
Sarah: [laughs] Right away I liked the shoes, because they were a new silhouette I hadn't seen a million times. I liked Alexia’s professional profile and her personality, and I thought it was a good complement for the store. It was a product we didn't have. I wanted to try it.
The genderless aspect came later, but what did you think of that?
Sarah: At the beginning, it was just a menswear brand. The first time we worked together, I bought for the men’s section. Maybe we discussed it being mixed-gender, but I don't think that was the first season.
Alexia: I think yes, actually. The first season, there was an order—
Sarah: Oh yes! That’s true! I thought it could work for men, for women, although I think I made a different selection for each.
Alexia: Yup yup—it was that.
Sarah: It’s true that it has that genderless possibility, but essentially what I was attracted to was the silhouette. It’s crazy that no one has thought of this simple detail: the fold. And the colors and materials were really original.
Having worked with so many emerging designers, what wise words would you offer on how to secure longevity?
Sarah: To be honest, despite the fact that I worked with a lot of young designers… there are no intrinsic rules. Each has their own story, each is case-by-case. What struck me early on with Solovière was the quality: “Made in Italy” is an added value. From the very beginning, there were communication tools that were really good, really clear, which I find important—not everyone is able to develop those. You seem surrounded by the right elements and team and that’s a strength that many young designers don’t necessarily have. Those are assets. After five years, yes, I imagine you still want more recognition, more points of sale… if there was a magic formula… [laughs] the recipe would be well-known. I think you have to not get lost. It’s complicated to keep your identity but also evolve. It’s the balance to find: to continue to have a unique and iconic product without repeating yourself. Renewing yourself is work, is work, is work!
Alexia: Me, I come from a design background, I have production experience… I could say, from that standpoint, I have an expertise. But it means my brand is very much about the product—I’ve heard this a lot—and it’s not “fashion.” But I’d like to reverse that tendency. I propose a lot of products and I love doing that, but then again I want to give them life in another way, for them to be more than shoes. There’s a challenge to face there. I need to make the products evolve, for them to have a life and have stories, more than just being in the showroom. Our fans are real fans, but it hasn't gone past the phase of “la jolie chaussure.”
Sarah: “La jolie chaussure” needs to be incarnated through some kind of ambassadorship—without pairing up with just anybody… you need to find an original way to do it. The shoes are fully realized, but it’s about opening up so it’s not just addressing a confidential group of insiders. I think you could easily, given the variety of countries you’re present in, go beyond France—even if that’s a strength that you’re la Parisienne—and find friends of the brand who can represent it and open you up to wider recognition. It’s easy to say [laughs] but it’s another thing to make it real.
How does digital help with international outreach?
Sarah: For digital, the more generous you are, the better it is. Unfortunately, it’s continuous and just non-stop to create content. It can be around the product and how it’s made, or things that are completely crazy that will have a snowball effect or—without citing influencers that the brands are fighting over—finding a “personality”…
Alexia: For our five-year anniversary, the personalities and personalization we’re doing is around people who have supported the brand. But people with artistic profiles: Parisians with great sensitivity, from musicians to architects… it’s this community I would like to highlight.
Sarah: That’s super. That will gain ground.
How would you situate Solovière within the larger landscape of fashion—in France, and internationally?
Sarah: When you say I’m not “fashion”—I think that’s a good thing. And I think more and more there’s a desire, with specialized brands, to not have something feel démodé after a few weeks.
I think there’s almost a return to the essence, with both designers and potential clients, in seeking a real product. Mais, bon—that doesn't mean having the same visibility as a brand with a lot of turnover. J.M. Weston wasn't built overnight! It takes time.
Alexia: That’s the benchmark! Having longevity for a young designer means limiting yourself in your creation, and reflecting carefully on where you place the puzzle pieces. It’s true that for me, my benchmark—more than an emerging brand that mushrooms overnight—are brands like J.M. Weston and Hermès, which are very product-focused. But it’s true there’s the storytelling… You to find ways to activate things.
Sarah: Collaborations can be stale—there are too many, we’re overdosing, you shouldn't do them just to do them—but on the other hand… when it makes sense, when there’s a real affinity, it’s a way to open up. And you need to have people wear the products in shoots. You need intelligent crossover. But you have no reason to be stressed. Continue to sketch, sketch, create… voilà!
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