Sarah Andelman came up with Just An Idea before she and her mother, Colette Roussaux, drew the curtain on Colette, one of the most influential and adored retail destinations in recent memory. Although the store’s two decades of exclusive collaboration, inspired curation, and merchandising mastery now exist in the past, Andelman’s new consultancy concept draws on all this value-added expertise as she helps conceive products and experiences for a diverse array of brands. Her ideas are already making a difference, whether people are aware of her involvement or not. Within days of sitting down with Amy Verner and Violette Lacloche, Bonjour Sacai!, the pop-up project that she developed with Sacai designer Chitose Abe, made its Paris debut to instant turnout and buzz. And as a neat bit of backstory, it was during a conversation with Abe back in 2017 that the name, Just An Idea, was born.
From her uncluttered yet artsy office, where immaculate white walls and a collection of limited-edition items conjure a familiar Colette vibe, Andelman shares her thoughts on what makes something desirable and why collaborations will never go out of fashion.
So far, many of your projects through Just An Idea have lasted for a limited time only. What, for you, is the value in doing this?
For me it’s more interesting, more exciting. People need to take advantage of the moment while it lasts. I like that something is sold out after one day or one week; it doubles the interest in the product if the supply is limited. What’s also interesting for me is the process of developing the ideas: reflecting on them and making sure they work for everyone. And then, just like that, it’s over.
Do you ever get the impression that a brand wants to do a collaboration with you, but gets cold feet afterwards?
Actually, it’s the opposite: sometimes I introduce two parties to collaborate on a product, and in the end, they get along so well that it keeps going. Clo’é Foirat with Pliage for Longchamp started as one bag and became a big development. Undercover x Valentino became a huge collection. I’m happy when small collaborations become bigger projects.
In the case of Bonjour Sacai, your name is attached to Chitose and the project. But you’re also very discreet with some of your work. How do you determine whether to be public or private?
I don’t control this. I wish my name was never public. I don’t protect it, and maybe I will learn to be more careful in the future. I think, in general, people shouldn’t know I’m behind these projects. I think it’s better for the brands that people think it’s coming from them. You don’t need so many messages.
So there’s something attractive to you about being anonymous?
Absolutely. I don’t want to develop a brand; I feel more like a production company. I don’t mind that a small professional circle knows I’m behind these projects, but I don’t think it’s relevant from a press viewpoint. Everything is so transparent today, but ultimately, the project is what matters.
Would you say there’s a commonality between the brands you’ve worked with so far?
For me they’re all talented brands, often with a brilliant history or sense of creativity. Many of the brands are fashion, but there’s also design, beauty, art, street. They’re very diverse in the end.
At Colette, it was always your own expression as the identity. Now, the primary consideration is their needs—and their expression.
I’m very comfortable with this. For Colette, I controlled a project from A to Z, from conception to communication. For the brands, I like to come with an outsider eye because I know they’re busy and sometimes lack perspective. Then I can propose what they should develop and where they should go in a way that’s very natural and authentic to them. They should not try to be cool if it doesn’t make sense. I try to be a part of the whole process, not just make the introduction. The brands trust me to accompany them all the way.
With all of these clients and the projects you’ve taken on, is the end result always a product? Or else, an experience?
It’s a lot of experiences. I can develop a message—and ways of communicating. With Nike, we didn’t make a product; I helped with curating and partnerships. A lot of brands want an experience; but just like a collaboration, it’s not a magic word. The experience can’t just be for the sake of it because everyone does it and it’s cool. A brand needs to find its own voice, and communicate to the target audience.
But in the end, which lasts longer? A product kept on a shelf, or an experience as a memory?
Both are important. You can really enjoy a moment, like a fashion show, for example. A brand should be able to produce and/or balance both.
What would be the ultimate collaboration for you?
For Colette, we worked with Chanel, Hermès, Vuitton, Apple… We were very lucky to have worked with all the most prestigious brands. More recently, the best collaboration in my opinion is Palace x Ralph Lauren.
When brands contact you for a collaboration, do you think they really have sales in mind, or is it just as much about communication?
It depends. Moncler Genius, for example, was an unusual project for me. The Genius project was existing, but my involvement was to develop special collaborations for the NYC and Tokyo stores, which I did with Burton snowboard x Hiroshi Fujiwara or Pier Paolo Piccioli x Alexandre Desplat vinyl and many more special items. These products were great both for selling or as communication tools.
And these collaborations are also meant to bring attention to the main line?
Yes of course—to generate traffic, to bring attention.
I read somewhere that you are doing more online shopping now. What do you like about the functionality, the interface?
I think there’s still room for improvement. There’s a lack of choice; you can’t find everything you see on the catwalk. I encourage brands to manage their own e-commerce. I know it’s a big investment, but the most successful brands today are the ones that sell through their own online stores. I don’t think clients need multi-brand platforms anymore; they know which brands they want to buy. They can scroll and do their own shopping.
Are you surprised by some of these brands that push their identity even further, like The North Face and their collaboration with Hyke?
They are doing great collaborations. Any brand with a history and special expertise, something no one else can do, can become so much more. Some brands refuse collaborations, like Patagonia. But I think if they did the right one, they would benefit from it, which would open up the brand to more people.
Have you ever refused a collaboration?
Yes, when I don’t feel close enough to the project; I don’t feel like I know enough; or I don’t know the territory well. I need to share some values with the brands to feel attracted, to be inspired.
Will we ever reach peak collaboration?
I think there’s an infinite possibility of collaborations, because it’s the idea of creating, of exchanging, of unexpected encounters and connections. There are so many great levels of possible collaborations—and without them, this means we are just in our bubbles, and this is scary.
Since Colette closed, has anything come along that feels innovative? People were attracted by the idea of augmented reality in stores, for example, but it hasn’t worked so well.
No, for me it’s a gadget. What’s important is to have good products, and good people. I’m shocked by how people don’t care about store displays and maintenance. I realize it was an obsession at Colette to repaint each weekend; I notice that a lot now in stores.
Mostly, shops are interesting when they’re specialized; I’m less interested in concept stores.
People always think that things need to be desirable. How do you do that?
It becomes desirable because it’s rare, it’s limited. But there isn’t a magic recipe. People need to see that it’s authentic. There are some great pairings and unexpected partnerships, but there’s a difference between creating a huge buzz and the desirability of a product. This has always been the case. I have learned from Colette that just because you see a product everywhere in the press does not mean it’s going to sell.
It seems you are still enlisting the creative services of people from the Colette community.
I try not to be limited to these friends and artists I worked with. I’m always looking for other names. I don’t try to favor my friends at all cost.
Do you have a team?
No, I’m so happy to be just by myself. I’m all about efficiency. It makes me feel free.
Your office is located directly above where Colette used to be. On a scale from 1 to 10, how much do you miss the store?
Zero! The only part I miss is the gallery. It’s not that I want to open a gallery and I work on connecting certain artists with brands but I would love to create installations inside a shop as a special project for brands to channel this energy. Other than that, I don’t miss having a physical space; it’s all too much. And I think with the way we consume today, it doesn’t make sense to shop in a store anymore. We do everything online. I liked looking for new brands, discovering and sharing. And I keep doing this today.
This interview has been condensed and edited.