A large part of the last full day in Paris is spent browsing the flea market at Porte de Clingnancourt. In fact this is the collective name for a number of markets, each with a different character, spread over a large area.
As a whole Les Puces de Saint-Ouen is very diverse, but as a whole, it’s the largest, and probably the oldest such market in the world. I love old furniture, vintage design and flea markets, (who doesn’t?) so this is definitely one of my favourite things to do in Paris.
There are far better authorities than i to talk about “les Pulces” , how to get there, get the most out of it, how to watch your wallet, (beware pickpockets!) how to find the best stalls and negotiate the best deals. So i shall content myself here instead just with the things that grabbed me personally on this, my latest visit.
Here they are…
This dealer (above) specializes in high-quality vintage or early modern design, with the nice twist that all the design in her shop was made for children. This chair (above, centre) was my personal favourite. I seriously considered buying it for my niece, as an addition to her small but well-chosen collection of early-modern design. My niece is two and a half.
Most of the shops in the market are small, albeit artfully arranged. But inside these gates, ranged around this courtyard, are three or four much bigger outlets. One of them, out of sight here to the right behind the gates, is the Habitat 1964 (below) selling items that household giant first retailed from the late 1960s to mid-80s. The shop was opened just this year, to celebrate their 50th birthday, in the middle of a self-styled “Designer-Village”
Although i loved the feel of the building and the shop, I wasn’t that impressed in general with the supposedly “iconic” designs. Some of the prices also seemed absurd. It is a beautiful shop space though, and I did warm to this unit, below, with its cut-out cavities for clothes storage and (one presumes) a seat. Do you like it?
In the middle of the same complex of shops around the same courtyard “village” was this outrageous stylish shop, Steinitz. So stylish in fact, that I couldn’t really work out if the main focus was on selling antiques or on designer clothes. Not that it matters. Both probably.
But the main emphasis is on clothes, right?
No, hang on, its more antiques, and objects d’arte.
Like this whale vertebra.
or this elephant..
and this tasteful, stuffed-Python microphone holder.
Oh I don’t know. But clearly, the Design Village is all terrible hip, chic and pricy. But that’s not representative of the flea market area as a whole.
Outside this pricy little enclave, most of the shops around the area, are more standard, a mix of genuine antiques, pastiche, repo, retro, nick-knacks, bric a brack, and pure solid tat. Some of the real antiques are over-priced, but there’s a lot of value to be had too. My companion spotted a beautiful little French table, card-table sized, which was old, elegant, graciously proportioned and beautifully made, and still only priced around €350. That’s before she even tried to bargain, which of course you should always do. So you can find value here if you look around.
Curiously, the one area of material you probably won’t find any out-standing value is among the early modern stuff, especially at market Serpente, which is for serious dealers and collectors of the period. On the other hand, some of the stuff is wonderful. And of course, you don’t always have to own something to appreciate it.
Adjoining market Serpente, as you see in the picture above, above is the market Paul Bert. We thought that was a nice coincidence, because mile away, back in central Paris, we were staying on a little street called Paul Bert, named after the same man (a 19th century French zoologist apparently) And, just around the corner from that apartment is another little street (with a funky little bar called Chez Mamy, (that became a sort of home from home in the evenings) That street is called after a 19th C writer and progressive radical, Jules Valle.
While still out in Port de Clignancourt, on the way to the metro to head back to central Paris, we came across this little school. Guess what the name was…
Seemed like sort of fate or sign to me. Just don’t ask me what it meant.
Thanks for reading.
For a good general, introduction on the Port de Clingnancourt and a few good tips to get the best out of your visit there, try this site. Or for some expert tips on focused bargain-hunting, for clothes, bags and vintage accessories, have a look at this elegant little post by one of my favourite writers on contemporary Paris, Theordora Brack and her elegant take on the City of Lights. To read Theordora’s post on visiting another of Paris’ great Flea markets, the Porte de Vanves, see here.
above: map of the Port De Clingnancourt area.