Luxury labels used to be snobbish about associating with mass consumer brands or street culture. Eclectic, eccentric Paris boutique Colette helped break down those barriers, selling Balenciaga boots and Barbie dolls, along with merch from both Coca-Cola and Chanel. Somehow it all made perfect sense, thanks to the taste-making talents of its founders, namesake Colette Roussaux and her daughter Sarah Andelman, the shop's creative director and purchasing manager.
The 20-year-old boutique is preparing to close down in December as Roussaux retires. That's sad news for fashionistas and for mass consumer brands too. Colette was famous for its limited edition products in collaboration with both high-end fashion labels and everyday brands, and for allowing brands to take over its store displays on the chic rue Saint Honore near the Louvre. Overnight, its windows would suddenly fill with Apple watches or Ikea Billy shelves and Lack tables, and often the photos would go viral.
"Any brand that that was picked by Colette automatically gained some coolness," said Isabelle Tardieu, associate director at BETC Pop in Paris, part of the big Havas-owned French agency that has worked on collaborations between Colette and clients including Evian and Air France. She added that Colette's tactics have caught on, as the "idea of doing limited editions and odd brand partnerships has now become quite ordinary."
Here's a look at the most inspired recent mashups.
Colette X McDonald's
When the world's biggest burger chain debuted a capsule collection at the Paris boutique, one headline proclaimed that "Colette X McDonald's Is Today's Fashion WTF."
The 2015 designs came from McDonald's and TBWA Paris, which at the time was doing campaigns of graphic representations of iconic products – fries, sundaes, chicken McNuggets – without the brand logo. The designs were printed on T-shirts, cloth bags, notebooks and cell phone cases.
"Colette's good idea was to have pieces that would not be very expensive, so everyone could buy something," said Luc Bourgery, managing director at TBWA Paris. A T-shirt cost under €20 ($23), and the capsule collection sold out in three days.
Colette's secret was that "everybody could find something they would like, whether they were very fashionable, classic, modern or hipsters," Bourgery said. "It was always unexpected, you didn't know what you would find, and it was changing all the time."
Colette X Ikea
Colette's logo is two blue dots. When the shop paired with Ikea this year, its trademark big crinkly Frakta shopping bag was printed white with blue dots. There were artist collaborations and clever in-store redecorating; the brand's cheap-but-cheerful tables and chairs took over Colette's café, dubbed the Water Bar because of its staggering choice of sparkling and still water brands.
Ikea's collaboration with Colette was set to continue into 2018, but there's been no word on how that will play out, given Colette's shutdown.
Colette X Coca-Cola
Brands are constantly popping up in Colette's window displays. Last year, Coke took over its entire façade. Artist Maztrone decorated the building with red tape for soccer's 2016 UEFA European Championship. It was notable that Coke's red dominated the design, since blue is both Colette's signature brand color and the color of France's national soccer team. Maztrone also decorated limited edition aluminum bottles for the event in two versions, Coca-Cola Classic and Coca-Cola Zero.
Colette X Air France
Colette is selling Air France chewing gum, conceived with the airline's creative agency, BETC. The idea is that you chew so your ears don't pop on board. A pack goes for €3.50 euros or $4, and the two flavors are très français: pistachio macaron and creme brulee.
Colette X Playboy X Hello Kitty
This has to be one of the kinkiest brand mash-ups of all time. Colette put together skin mag brand Playboy and demure childhood icon Hello Kitty and threw a party for them in 2014 at the Crazy Horse, the Paris cabaret known for its prancing denuded dancers. Colette sold a Leica camera and Haribo marshmallows under the odd brand pairing. The shop's creative director Andelman had been in touch with both Hello Kitty and Playboy separately, for the cat's 40th anniversary and the magazine's 60th. And then, as she told Women's Wear Daily at the time: "I had a dream with the vision: Let's combine them!"
--Emma Hall contributed to this report.