Unexpected connections are the simplest way of describing creativity. In its most basic form, it’s pattern recognition, and at its most complex, it’s a tangled web that humans have become surprisingly great at deconstructing. As an event series, Unexpected Connections brings together inventive people thinking across industries and bringing positive change — all those who are seeing, making, and facilitating unexpected connections.
Hosted by Intertrend, MAEKAN and Imprint Lab, last year’s event took the form of a virtual fundraiser to both continue the spirit of unexpected connections, but also to respond to the imminent effects of multiple issues affecting communities in the United States, the reverberations of which continue to be felt today.
Unexpected Connections 2020 revolved around the idea that every little bit adds up and successfully raised over $20,000 for selected charities centered around COVID-19 relief efforts and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The first talk of the day was between President of Global Creative at Fast Retailing, John C. Jay, and Sarah Andelman, founder of colette. They discuss what it means to evolve creatively throughout our careers.
John C. Jay: Hello, everyone! This is John Jay in Portland, Oregon and I have a very special guest here from Paris. I have Sarah Andelman, who has been my long time, long time friend and she has been so gracious to give us her time today from Paris. So welcome, Sarah! Thank you so much for being with us.
Sarah Andelman: Thank you, John.
John: You know, this title, Unexpected Connections, we are certainly facing a future full of unexpected things. We have just one thing that is certain — that there is a future, after all of this, after all of the disasters and the challenges that we’re facing, there is a future, and what we do with that future is very very important. And the reason why I invited Sarah to be our guest today is that she exemplifies this idea of taking risks, of evolving and changing yourself in order to be more creative and in order to be relevant for the future.
So Sarah, of course everyone knows your background about colette. We know that you’re a co-founder and that today you’re the founder of Just an idea. So today we’re going to spend a little bit of time on colette. I want to start with a very… I hope this is not too difficult, but what was the original concept of colette?
Sarah: colette started with a location in Paris, 1997. So you have to really travel back in time and imagine the situation in 1997. The internet was not what it is today. We couldn’t find in Paris many brands we liked. So that was the original idea, for this location to bring together brands we love from fashion design couture, to bring them together and to have a cafe where we could have lunch all day long, to have a gallery space where we could introduce new artists, and to bring together all these communities.
John: Obviously, you were very successful. Obviously, the concept of closing it at the height of your popularity was an extraordinary bold move to create yet another bold concept of Just an idea. But let me stay on colette for just a little bit longer before we move on. Any thoughts, any favorite moments in your history of those twenty years. I know it’s like picking your favorite child, but favorite moments in twenty years of colette?
Sarah: It has been a fantastic adventure with new things happening every day, every week, every month. We would transform ourselves so it’s difficult to pick just a few moments, but what comes to my mind are anniversaries, how we celebrate our anniversaries, ten, fifteen, and the last one was the twentieth anniversary when we organized this big event with Snarkitecture.
We brought to Paris the design collective. Especially now, when I think of this huge space filled with people, kids, older people, all these different people jumping and having so much fun. It’s a great memory. At colette we had lots of unique special collaborations which was a good way to end these twenty years.
John: Was that installation, Sarah, the beach?
John: So could we pull up visual number twelve and also visual thirteen? There’s a series of visuals that shows this. The installation is extraordinary.
Sarah: We tried to find a way to celebrate outside from colette. I was really happy. In March we didn’t announce we were going to close. We announced in July so it was just a few months before that. And it was a great challenge to bring this site to life. So much happiness. It was open for one week and we had lots of friends.
John: On the screen, tell me what are we looking at. The huge image of a white pathway. What is that?
Sarah: That’s done by Snarkitecture, so they do lots of art installations and design installations. I saw images of the installations they did previously. I think in Washington, I’m not too sure. I thought, we need to bring this to Paris. Often that was my philosophy with colette. We need to bring this to Paris. I started to think of locations. This is an extension of the Louvre. This is a museum five minutes walk from colette.
This space is usually used for exhibitions. There were fashion shows. We managed to find the right week we could get the space and bring the both together. It was logistics to find the way to recycle then, afterwards, to find sponsors to help us, but at the end, I invited kids from the schools where my son went. It was such a great mix of people which reflects the customers we had at colette. It was so many different people. It was really a happy moment, a happy celebration.
John: Could we go to image number five which shows two very famous blue circles, two blue spheres that have become very iconic in the world. I want, Sarah, to ask you, because of my background in graphic design, I just had to ask you about the origin of that logo which then you later, as you opened Just an idea, you turned into a three dimensional shape as a gift to special friends. Tell me a little bit about the origins of the colette logo.
Sarah: So you have 1997, we found the location, we found the concept, we still have to find the name and visual identity. Nobody knows us and we don’t want anybody to know us. It was myself and my mom, the team was very very small. And we just need something simple for the shopping bags, for the business cards. I remember the discussion about the name, and my mom is the origin of the concept. And when someone said, “Why not colette?”
She’s very discreet, but she accepted because it was this old French name with a new space, very modern. And the logo, my friend Guillaume Wolf, I think you know him, came up with this simple concept, these two simple circles, without the dates of course. And, when we started, it was orange and there was a baseline.
Nobody knew us, so in addition to these two dots, we started designing art for it. And it was very important, with these four walls, to introduce ourselves, to explain what you could find in this space. And for many years, seasons, we changed the color of the logo from orange to green to red, twice a year, and at some point we did all of the possible colors and we decided to stop on blue. And originally it was a sign for the shopping bags and that’s it.
I didn’t want to use this logo on a t-shirt or on a product. Colette was a space to welcome all kinds of brands and we were not a brand. And it’s interesting how, after many years, maybe ten to twelve, fifteen years, we decided to use a little more the logo as a signature.
“Colette started with a location in Paris, 1997. So you have to really travel back in time and imagine the situation in 1997. The internet was not what it is today. We couldn’t find in Paris many brands we liked. So that was the original idea, for this location to bring together brands we love from fashion design couture, to bring them together and to have a cafe where we could have lunch all day long, to have a gallery space where we could introduce new artists, and to bring together all these communities.”
— Sarah Andelman, on the origins of colette.
John: Fantastic. So, Sarah, you started, you mentioned the beach is one of the highlights among your favorite projects in your twenty years. Any others that come to mind?
Sarah: So many. It was quite an experience to work with Chanel, to work with Hermes, to work with very prestigious brands who were not working with boutique brands, to meet artists from the gallery space. We have a little surprise with the documentary which will come out at the end of the year, which I would have never commissioned.
But when we announced we were going to close, Hugues Lawson-Body contacted me and asked, “Can we come to shoot colette regularly for the last weeks?” And they were friends, we didn’t expect anything, but they spontaneously came a lot and filmed the shop atmosphere, the clients, the designers we work with, the team. And there will be this souvenir, this testimony, which will give an idea to many people who maybe heard about colette and don’t know what it is. There is this little movie which, if you want, we can see a little trailer which will maybe bring a little bit of the colette energy.
John: Thank you, Sarah, such a treat for you to talk us through this. So, can we show the teaser of this documentary that will be out sometime this year? Let’s go to image one.
[Trailer for “Colette Mon Amour”]
John: Wonderful. Thank you for sharing that with us.
Sarah: You mentioned Chanel.
John: Could I pull up image seven and then eight? I’d love for Sarah to chat about this a little bit because I love this logo and I love how it was used and it was one of my favorite projects in recent years.
Sarah: We worked with Monsieur Lagerfeld, who we miss a lot, he was a fantastic man. He used to come a lot to colette to shop so many different things, fashion, books, music. Of course it was a dream for a long time to work with Chanel. We did a pop up in what used to be a gas station across the street and it was a fantastic experience, with Kevin Lyons painting the shop, with artists painting on Chanel bags.
Before we closed, we had to invite Chanel again for a last partnership and they took the space on the second floor. We had the windows with our names together and it was a symbol of what colette achieved. Before we did projects with them around sneakers, around backpacks, I think that we realized and acknowledged that colette could touch different people than those in the Chanel shop. I think for both of us, we had the sneakers with the Chanel adidas launch, which was one of the special moments in colette history, to try to keep everyone happy.
John: Well, Sarah, you, obviously have had great partnerships with some of the most famous designers and great brands in fashion and so forth. But what I think is so interesting is your relationship to artists, young artists, unknown artists, unknown designers, and how you have spent twenty years discovering new talent and you continue to do that.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our mutual friend Kevin Lyons, who you have a very very special relationship with, among many artists. Kevin, in particular comes to mind. I have to share a story with the audience a little bit. I was very blessed and honored many years ago when Sarah said, would you write an article in our magazine with colette and give me your impression of Kevin’s art and so forth? And I said, “Yes, of course, I’d love to”.
And, typical me, I took too long, I wrote too much, and Sarah probably was so frustrated, I sent in probably ten times more copy than she needed. But what happened is that I started… In order to write about Kevin, I had to research the history of colette and how it started and so forth and I got so interested in the history of what Sarah and her mother did that I kept writing and writing and finally I said, “I have to write about Kevin too!”
So I sent it in at the last minute, probably two days after deadline, and I got an email back from Sarah that said, she didn’t say it this way, she was much nicer, she said, “I don’t think we can deal with this, we’re just going to run the whole article, we’re not going to cut anything, we’ll just run the whole article.” So that’s one of my prized possessions. I have that long piece I wrote for you in your magazine. Can we pull up image number eleven please. This is Kevin. Talk a little bit about what this is, Sarah.
Sarah: Kevin Lyons is one of these incredible incredible artists in the history of colette. So we have the gallery space and exhibitions. Kevin, I think it was for the 2007 exhibition I asked many artists, “Can you draw one image for the year, what you expect, what you hope.” And Kevin used to draw monsters only for his family, friends, and I don’t remember how I saw them, a magazine or something.
Then, after this exhibition, I invited him for the show in the gallery space where he showed these monsters and then they really became part of our life. I kept asking Kevin for different projects and collaborations with brands. We did socks, I can’t remember how many. Kevin would always, he is one of those artists who draws by hand, and always does new monsters, that you can’t really vectorize. It was not always easy. He would want to do each project, something custom for the project. And for colette he did the last paintings for the garage door on the side.
John: While Sarah is speaking of this art, let’s go to image ten.
Sarah: We invited him for this project for the Hello Kitty anniversary and of course, he would really, with his simple monsters, it’s a good way to represent, maybe it’s too much to say… the values of colette, but it is to be light, to be fun, to be open. We are all different and we all appreciate that. I don’t know. It has always been very positive energy.
John: Every time you saw his work in the store, it always made you smile. Well, let’s move on, because the really really interesting stage of your life has begun a couple of years ago now. Just an idea, Just an idea — I’m going to have to ask you, what is the concept of Just an idea?
Sarah: Of course, it’s a continuation from colette without the retail. It’s to develop collaborations, to develop pop ups, lots of curating, but I kept it very open. It’s ideas for lots of different projects and that’s what’s inspiring for me, to help artists, brands, to create connections, to build bridges between different things.
“I sent it in at the last minute, probably two days after deadline, and I got an email back from Sarah that said, she didn’t say it this way, she was much nicer, she said, ‘I don’t think we can deal with this, we’re just going to run the whole article, we’re not going to cut anything, we’ll just run the whole article.’ So that’s one of my prized possessions.”
— John C Jay, on his article on mutual friend Kevin Lyon in colette’s magazine.
John: What is in your mind, since the name of your company, your service, your consultancy is “Just an idea”. What is an idea?
Sarah: That is the best question. And I’m sure you will reply better than me. In my mind, there are two kinds of ideas. I would say, and I speak in general, there are illumination ideas, ones you are suddenly in the shower or you wake up in the middle of the night and you think this is a new obsession and you are absolutely convinced that is the right thing to do.
And there are the ones that are more progression, brainstorming, and suddenly you manage to verbalize something you had in your mind for a few days. It’s vast, I think. But I picked it, again, for… the name for my company came through working with Chitose from Sacai on her popup on the second floor of colette, and we were in this meeting, and I kept adding new ideas. Why don’t we do this and this and this and this, and just an idea. And it just came to my mind that I kept repeating this, so that’s how.
John: Let’s go to image eighteen, since you mentioned Sacai. And one thing that’s unusual, and this is pure you, when you normally, in vernacular, when you said, “Oh, it’s just an idea,” it means that it’s something you haven’t made happen yet. It means something in the future, something that you’re thinking about. But you made it happen, immediately. You made just an idea happen immediately. We have on the screen some images, I’d love for you to talk about what this very important client of yours, what you did together. Let’s start with eighteen and we can go through nineteen and twenty as Sarah speaks about this.
Sarah: Craig, that character, like Kevin Lyons, has been part of the colette family for many years. We have done many work projects together and this project with Ikea started before we announced we were going to close and with Ikea, any project will take many months or years to happen. I didn’t know that back in the day. I contacted them for our 20th anniversary to try and do something together.
And so, at colette, we had some Ikea classic furniture and artists came into the gallery space to paint them. It was a really really fun project. But then the collaboration continued and I didn’t want to do just colette products, so I suggested to Craig, because we both could imagine his character. And we worked with Ikea to give them this twist, which eventually came out last year. And we jump to Sacai popup shop, because in Paris we have this great relationship with Chitose.
I will always remember the first time I went to the Sacai showroom, since there is something new, this brand has a really really strong difference. We go far. And for many years, colette was the only shop in Paris to sell Sacai. She didn’t need to do a fashion show, she didn’t have a PR, we sold it very well, because it was the right clothes, you try it, you want it. I was very touched that she asked me to help with this pop up in Paris. We did collaborations with French brands, like A.P.C., Petit Bateau, Hervé Chapelier and she had this collaboration with Ryoto Morikawa for the design of the space, and it was a very nice project.
John: Sarah, what’s so interesting is that while major brands are calling upon you for your help and your creative thinking, and your ideas, of course, you are rather anonymous in this process. You have made a very obvious choice to stay in the background and not be up front. Can you talk a little bit about why that is.
Sarah: It’s super important. I never liked to be in the front, and especially now, with this new company where I help projects, it’s not about me, it’s about the brands that we work with. I’m here to give a perspective from the outside, to give some input, and I think many brands are too busy with all the content they need to do all the time and I think they appreciate having fresh ideas from me. But, after, they will adapt these ideas with their own process and their own way of working.
I’m here just to pass, and not like I used to do with colette, with a project from the beginning to the end, and participate with everything. With the brands I work with now, I’m from outside, and I’m very happy to stay in the shadow, even if I help to create some connections to help things move on.
John: Well, Sarah, in the world, all businesses are feeling a great sense of challenge today, to be relevant and so forth. And you have been such a great collaborator for major fashion brands, discovering new fashion brands and new creators. I have to ask this question, because I’m involved in it too, is fashion still relevant?
Sarah: No, I think, now everybody asks lots of questions. But, yes, for me, fashion will still be relevant. It’s a form of art, for me. There is creativity in fashion, like you can find in art, in music, in photography. Yes, there are lots of lessons to learn. It started, I think, already in the last years to question the way fashion works, the fashion weeks, the fashion system. But at the end of the day, we still need to get dressed every morning, and what you wear, it expresses a lot. So yes, for me, fashion is still relevant. Somethings are changing and will continue to change, hopefully. But, I think so. Can I ask you the same question? What do you think?
John: Yes, and I think that I am fortunate to have entered a new phase in my creative career. You know, the organization. I didn’t realize what a change in my mindset, I have this phrase I use a lot, “You have to unlearn to learn again”. So, for me, as a creative director, having to look at fashion and look at aesthetics and look at design and look at business through a completely different lens. I worked a lot on exclusivity and that was fun.
But now, when people ask me, and I’m trying to answer your question as short as possible, Sarah, so forgive me, “What do you do now, John? What’s your job now?” And I say my job is to bring the highest possible quality of experience to the greatest number of people in the world, and that means value and values are very important. So, my lens towards style or fashion starts with respect everyone from the beginning. “Made for all” is our philosophy. So we have to bring quality and bring that sense of style and quality together, but for everyone.
So that makes me have to look at the world in a slightly different way. But, culture, style, concept, all adds to fashion, and it is an art form and I do think it’s an important art form that happens to drive a lot of business as well. So, my view has changed towards fashion a lot, but I enjoy it immensely and I enjoy being inspired by all the typical people that we look at in the world. But my entry point into it is now very very different. This “made for all” has been a very liberating thing. It has forced me to look at the world in a very different way. And I’m so happy to be going through this experience.
Sarah, of course everyone, I hope they stopped asking you this now, but, everyone was asking, “Do you miss it? Do you miss it? Do you miss it? Do you miss the store?” And of course, your office is on top of what was the store, right. So it’s very close for you. You walk down the same street and so forth. But your answer was really interesting. I saw somewhere you said, “I don’t miss it at all, I don’t miss the store, but I miss the gallery. I miss the art gallery.” Tell me why. Why is it that part you miss so much?
Sarah: If you think about it, for twenty years, we had a new exhibition in the gallery space every month. I love the process to look for the artists, to meet the artists, invite them into the space, and to see what they would do within this space and how each exhibition would be different. We would take down the previous show on a Saturday night, paint white or the artist would pick something else, meet on Sunday morning at 10am, have one day to install, and Monday morning open the shop with a new exhibition.
I loved the interaction with the artists, to walk in the exhibition and sometimes to have a zine, a catalog, postcards, little souvenirs. I think art is so important in our lives for the emotional. The little gallery space, it was not like an art gallery, it was in the middle of the shop. But with time, more and more, I started to ask the artists, start from the gallery space, but you can use this wall here and you can use this wall here, and if you want to do a window, you can.
Slowly but surely, more and more space to work with and take inside colette. That’s true, there was a gratification to introduce an artist, to have some people who would come to colette and discover an artist, fall in love with, and follow his work after. No, it’s true, I miss this part. And I will try in my projects in the future to find again this process.
“In my mind, there are two kinds of ideas. I would say, and I speak in general, there are illumination ideas, ones you are suddenly in the shower or you wake up in the middle of the night and you think this is a new obsession and you are absolutely convinced that is the right thing to do. And there are the ones that are more progression, brainstorming, and suddenly you manage to verbalize something you had in your mind for a few days.”
— Sarah Andelman, on the nature of ideas.
John: You would often send me an email and you would say, “John, I don’t know if this artist is relevant for you or not, but you should know who this is.” You would send me these names and I would, obviously, of course, immediately go look up this artist and try to meet this artist and so forth. For me, we forget the power of art sometimes because we confuse it with commerce.
There is commerce, of course. But, for me, the role of the artist… And when I think about the young ones that you’ve discovered and given them an opportunity, it’s so important.
And I think about the power of the artist. Artists, to me, their skill, their ability is to see things that we don’t see, that we normal people just don’t see. Artists have a way of creating emotions and helping us find emotions that we don’t even know we have, until we are forced to react to something. And art has that very special role. And I think sometimes people can be very cynical about it and say it’s all about commerce, but it’s really the purest source of inspiration for me, to really see the world in a way that I just didn’t know was the way someone could see it. I agree with you. I miss your gallery too, by the way.
So, Sarah, you stopped at the height of the popularity of this iconic brand in Paris to do this, to do this extraordinary consultancy, to follow up on your dreams. I think that many young creative people, or people, who may be listening in, don’t really maybe understand how they can evolve. What is the importance of evolving? Because within the twenty years of colette, you kept evolving colette, but now you’ve taken even a bigger step. So what are your thoughts about evolving as a person, as a creator, as a businessperson?
Sarah: Difficult, but for me, it has to be organic. We evolved without thinking about we have to evolve. And it’s contradictory. I would say we need to have goals, we need to have some values, you need to create your own path, but then, life is stronger and there are some accidents and they can be positive.
You have to first, believe in yourself and you have to do what you want, I think that’s very important. You will evolve naturally. My philosophy is that it has to be very organic, to not think too much about it, to not be too impatient, it will take the time it takes, but, for me, that’s my philosophy.
John: Several key thoughts, in what you just said, “It will take the time that it takes”. And I’m sure when you interview young people, many of them will say to you, when you say, “What do you want to do in your life?” or “What do you want to do in your career?” They’ll say, “Oh, Sarah, I just want to do what you do!” And they may be 20, 23, 25 years old. That idea that it will take the time that it takes, can you talk a little bit about that.
Sarah: I think it’s very important to find yourself, to do things, to not wait, or whatever. But when you say young people, I always, I’m a little scared when they think it’s their life or their career will change with one person’s social media. They have asked, can you share? And I am happy to do it because that’s transmission of information, that’s how it works, but they should, most important, maybe, I’m not sure if I’m right, but to not look for that profile of the people, but just have to create, find people to share with, but it has to be real.
Everything in our world, everything goes so fast with social media, and I think it’s more human to try and find a space, even if it’s in the streets, to explore and to find what makes what you believe in, not necessarily different, but even if, I think it’s important, you bring something a little unique, like you said, a new way, artists, a way to escape from reality and show your difference through fashion, through what makes your vision unique.
John: You said, of course, the magic words for eternity is, “You must find a way to do what you want to do.” Now, of course, that holds true for probably all of us, right. But, how do you know what you want to do?
Sarah: I’ve been very lucky. I’m in a ways free to do what I want to do. And I know it’s not as easy, and I know it’s not as simple. But I think even if you have inspiration, even if you have to learn a lot, you have to educate yourself. And I believe in this magic star which tells you what you should pursue and maybe you will realize at some point that, okay, what is important is to express, to try, and I think it will be natural, your path will be in front of you. But, I know it’s maybe not as simple, but I want to believe it.
John: One of the things that has been so interesting in my career is that I live in Tokyo, New York, and Portland. So I live in different cultures and different societies and I live and work in all those cities. And sometimes we take things for granted. So, as an American, I’ll use words like “inspire” which actually doesn’t exist in Japanese.
I remember when I opened the office in Wieden + Kennedy in Tokyo, back in 98. I talked a lot about dreams. Well, my filter, my thought, my definition of a dream, was, “Oh, it’s something that I don’t have today, but if I really work hard, if I really work at it, it might happen, it might become reality.” In some cultures, that’s not true.
Their definition might be, “I don’t have it today, and I’m sorry, John, I will never have it.” So I think that understanding cultures is really one of the great things about what you did. It was a store, but, quite frankly, it was much more than that. It was a cultural exchange. And what you’re doing now with your ideas, just an idea, it’s like you are traveling the world, creating these cultural exchanges, creating empathy and sympathy for different ideas. Have you looked at it this way, have you considered it this way, and so forth. I’m sure there’s, for a lack of better words, a high and low culture, which almost doesn’t even exist today, but that ability for what you created.
So, Sarah, this has been incredible for me to have been able to listen to some of these ideas, for me to put you on the spot and say is fashion relevant anymore or what is an idea, this has been great fun for me, I hope it’s been fun for you as well. I wanted to share with the audience that Sarah and I will be happy to answer questions, if you send them by text. And you should go to uc-2020.com and ask your questions and they’ll be posted and Sarah and I will put some extra time in this.
We didn’t want to interrupt our discussion and try and take away from the other speakers today, so we thought we’d give it much more care if we could answer your questions via social media for you. And so, Sarah, this has been an amazing treat for me, thank you so much, thank you for helping out Unexpected Connections.
Sarah: Thank you so much, John. It has been my great pleasure. And I can’t wait to meet again in person and, of course, I can’t wait to reply all the questions.
John: Thank you to our audience, thank you so much for listening in this morning, and we look forward to your questions. And thank you to Unexpected Connections for this opportunity.
Sarah: Thank you very much.
“I think about the power of the artist. Artists, to me, their skill, their ability is to see things that we don’t see, that we normal people just don’t see. Artists have a way of creating emotions and helping us find emotions that we don’t even know we have, until we are forced to react to something. And art has that very special role. And I think sometimes people can be very cynical about it and say it’s all about commerce, but it’s really the purest source of inspiration for me, to really see the world in a way that I just didn’t know was the way someone could see it.”
— John C Jay, on the emphasis on the artist in relation to commerce.
We’d like to once again thank our partners for making UC2020 possible and are eagerly awaiting the next iteration. If you’d like to stay up to date with information on upcoming events and talks, you can subscribe to the Unexpected Connections Newsletter here.