Parisian Colette Closes - is it really the end of Concept Stores?
Tue, 16 Oct 2018
Jean-Marc Chauve is a consultant and the Artistic Director of IFA Paris. He studied marketing, socio-semiology of fashion, fashion design, and used to work at Nelly Rodi and Maison Martin Margiela.
On December 20th 2017, the very famous Parisian concept store Colette closed down for the good. While the closure is officially because of the founder’s weariness, does this signal the end of famous concept stores and what does this mean for the future of fashion retail?
After 20 years, the Parisian concept store, Colette, closed its store, as founder, Colette Rousseau, wished to “take her time” and her daughter, Sarah Andelman, didn’t want to continue the Colette adventure without her mother. Despite the disagreements in the fashion world, wondering if concept stores are profitable, for Colette Rousseau it was more about being pertinent in today’s changing environment, as mentioned by Sarah Adelman in a Vogue interview.
“There was a certain point, when we began to realize that 20 years is a good age. It was either that we needed to change everything and start from scratch because it wasn’t as fresh as we wanted or we just turn the page or start something else” (interview of Sarah Andelman by Amy Verner, vogue.com, December 19th 2017).
Concept stores showcase carefully picked products and brands to form an overarching theme. And, it has had its fair share of success in the major cities from Paris to Seoul, Lagos to Berlin. In Paris alone, there’re several successful concept stores, like Merci; Broken Arm; and Centre Commercial. The Colette “concept” which was supposed to federate the multitude of different items sold in the store and on its e-commerce website online and can be defined with the hype, and the trendiness, isn’t an element of identification good enough anymore to gather groups of consumers and to be different from the competition. Even big brands are opening flagship stores incorporating the same principles as the concept store - selling decorative items, fashion, and even including a bookstore, coffee shop, or exhibition space within same store. The Dior flagship store in Seoul is a perfect illustration of this evolution.
At a time when everything can be bought online, do we still need traditional physical stores? Doug Stephen, the founder of Retail Prophet, explained in an article for Business of Fashion, the role of physical stores won’t be to sell the products, but instead allow the consumers to have unique experiences and build a relationship with the brands.
And this does not mean that there won’t be anything to sell in stores, but this won’t be their main objective anymore. According to Doug Stephen, this evolution means - stop thinking “stores” and start thinking the stories, stop thinking “products” and start thinking the “productions.” (“To save retail, let it die” Doug Stephen, Business of Fashion, September 5th, 2017).
Two brands seem to be embodying this future of retail: the first one is Wu Yong store from Chinese designer Ma Ke. Her only boutique, located in a Beijing, far away from other luxury outlets. It is a former print shop turned into a living museum of Chinese traditions.
Visitors enter the store into a vast exhibition space. They are greeted with sophisticated scenes and the objects from the past. The following spaces, inspired by a traditional farmers’ houses, and aim at “connecting the visitor with the power and the beauty of hand-made things” without ever drawing a border between the decor items and what can be bought, between the museum object and the products to sell. Although not consensual, the great experience that this place provides is even stronger since it is perfectly coherent with the brand identity, which outlines itself as ethically and ecologically responsible, and as a courier of cultural heritage as well.
The second example is the Korean eye and sunglass brand “Gentle Monster” store in Shanghai. Stores are found in Seoul, other South Korean cities and as well in Shanghai, Beijing, and Los Angeles. Although all stores are different, each include surreal and incredible staging, decor and the machinery spread out on commercial surface areas of hundreds of square meters. This may seem excessive sometimes as the only product being sold is eyewear; however, every single visit to Gentle Monster store is a fun and a surprising experience and builds a unique relationship to this glasses brand, whose designs are as off-the-wall as the store.
What is new coming is not necessarily the end of the concepts stores, but its future transformation. This affects how the fashion retail industry needs to discard the idea of a single range of products and instead embrace creating an experience for consumers to bond strongly with the brand.