They may not yet be weeping in the streets, but for French fashionistas, the closure Wednesday of Colette, the concept store which has become a Paris style institution, ranks nothing short of a national tragedy. "I cannot believe it is closing," said style commentator Melody Thomas in one of a blizzard of articles and blog posts mourning the passing of the mother of all lifestyle stores, where Madonna, Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry shopped for quirky objects of desire.
The three-story boutique on chi-chi Rue Saint-Honore, founded by Colette Roussaux 20 years ago, was far more than a gadget or design store to its many celebrity fans. It pioneered limited-edition collaborations between luxury brands and street fashion stars, and cheekily poked fun at Saint Laurent with the t-shirt "Ain't Laurent Without Yves" when the label stopped using its founder's first name, only to have then-Saint Laurent creative director Hedi Slimane, cut ties over the so-called parody tee.
With a basement Water Bar where you could sip iceberg melt water or anti-ageing spirulina seaweed cocktails, it soon sparked imitators across the globe. But for regular browsers like Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, it was never bettered. "It's the only shop where I go because they have things no one else has," he said.
"If Paris is the centre of the (fashion) world, Colette is the centre of Paris," said fashion documentary maker and Twitter wit Loic Prigent. "When Rihanna comes to Paris she goes to Colette. It's the same for Beyonce and Madonna and the others. Colette is a centrifuge," he said.
With the shop still booming, the store announced in July that Roussaux wanted to bow out at the top.
'The Coolest Shop in Town'
She had got to "the age to take your time – and Colette cannot exist without Colette," the store said. "All good things come to an end." While style lovers applauded her for not selling out, they were heartbroken that she and her daughter Sarah Andelman would no longer be at the helm of what Vogue critic Suzy Menkes called "the coolest shop in town.”
Ironically, the building is being taken over by Saint Laurent, which once threatened to sue Colette over that cheeky t-shirt. The two parties have - obviously - since reconciled thanks to the help of new creative director Anthony Vaccarello.
"We are totally disappointed it is closing. It's a mythic place," shoppers Gabriel and Kevin told AFP on the eve of its closure. "You come to Colette's to find something really exclusive," said the Parisian friends who now live in Canada, recalling the tiny run of 1,000-euro ($1,180) trainers Chanel made with the singer Pharrell Williams.
With only hours left before Colette closed for good, shoppers thronged the store, flitting between its trademark mix of humble and luxury wares -- a novelty sponge selling for four euros next to a 9,990-euro Saint Laurent jacket.