lundi 30 mars 2009

Hunting for treasure at the Puces

One of my favorite things to do is to visit brocantes (“flea markets”). Whenever I see something that even remotely resembles a brocante even one with a measly collection of stalls, I have to stop and check it out. The lure, as I’ve said countless times before, is the idea of finding treasure. You never know what great things you’re going to find. Of course you could come away with nothing. But then again, that’s part of the fun. The famous Puces de Saint Ouen is therefore the mother lode of all brocantes to an avowed fan.
During my last most recent visit, I realized that I don’t know much about how it actually came about. A bit of research turned up a number of interesting facts. The term Marche Aux Puces dates back only to the beginning of the 20th century. Contrary to the well organized markets we see now, it only began to be organized in the 14th century when specific hours were designated for the “brocanteurs” to unload their goods at a designated place. The rest of the time, these itinerant sellers plied their trade by walking the streets and calling out their wares. It’s a vastly different matter now. The Puces is actually divided into 12 different markets, with each market divided into several allées and the brocanteurs arranged on both sides of the allées. The number of stands inside each market varies and it can be a dizzying array to the uninitiated.
Fortunately, there are helpful signs everywhere and you can print out maps of the markets from their website. Oh and I should warn you not to be distracted by the outside stalls that ring the actual antique markets. The good stuff is inside. Once inside, it is a veritable display of all kinds of objects. Furniture, Clothing, Accessories and Jewelry, Books, Paintings from all eras are all present. Most of the items are in pristine condition and all of them quite ready for a new home. Be prepared to pay a good sum for the items you want, and more often than not, prices are not dirt cheap. But the items are of very good quality and well worth every penny you spend.

Of course my favorite stands are those that feature vintage clothing and jewelry. There are a number of exceptional ones like Falbalas (Marche Dauphine) for museum worthy vintage clothing, Artemise et Cunegonde (Marche Serpette) for fur and haute couture and Olwen Forest (Marche Serpette) for Chanel costume jewelry. Be warned though that Olwen Forest doesn’t take kindly to pictures being taken of her stand, lest the items be copied by the Chinese as she says. My personal favorite is Les Merveilles de Babellou in Marche Paul Bert. This is Isabelle Klein’s first actual vintage store and to a vintage aficionado, it is Ali Baba’s cavern. Her selection is immense, featuring turn of the century lace, 20s beaded flapper dresses and wonderful crocodile skin bags from the 60s. She also has an amazing selection of jewelry, featuring Chanel, Dior and Lanvin, as well as a good collection of pretty vintage scarves. You can literally spend hours at her place and she’ll let you try everything. She’s quite happy to share her knowledge too as she replied to my numerous questions. I was so glad to discover that she’s now got an actual store as she only used to participate in Antique fairs like the ones held in Bastille every November. Now, I can visit her store all year round!
Here's something from Isabelle Klein's store...
A pretty Chanel brooch from Olwen Forest's store (please take note, this picture was taken from the Puces website and not by me!)
For those who are not as into fashion, there are stands to satisfy every decorative and home furnishing urge. Everything from linens to art deco lamps and sturdy iron railings are available. Carpentier at Marche Paul Bert featured original and extraordinary furniture. They recover air plane parts and use these parts to create striking tables, shelves and other furniture for the house. Try to imagine if you will, the nose of the plane turned into the base of a table and you get an idea of what they do. It’s impressive and quite beautiful. Another stand called CVS at Marche Dauphine has beautiful Syrian furnishings and 19th century sofas. At Marche Serpette, you can find beautiful old fashioned Vuitton travel bags, vintage Hermes and hat boxes from Le Monde du Voyage and Voyages.
Despite having gone a few times now, I still haven’t discovered everything that the Puces de St. Ouen has to offer. I am so looking forward to the next opportunity to do more treasure hunting at the Puces.

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