Got a spare room to decorate or spruce up for the holidays? Get your hands on a copy of Antiquaires, Paris Flea Markets by Laure Verchère (Assouline, $65) or make a bee-line to Saint-Ouen in Paris on the weekend where treasures and inspirations in every shape and budget await. If you can’t get to Paris, then this lavishly photographed book will transport you there. Using your imagination and creativity, you too can create a magical mise en scène in your home.
You won’t need a full command of the French language to find your way to this renowned marché aux puces (flea market). Just hop the Métro to the Porte de Clignancourt station and you’ll find yourself in the largest antiques market in the world, which first opened in 1885. Clusters of stalls, streets, and markets overflow with individual dealers who offer secondhand furniture, clothing, books, housewares, bric-à-brac, and objets d’art, over an impressive 50 acres. Some of the world’s most famous antiques dealers and interior designers, such as Jacques Grange and the late Madeleine Castaing, shop here and find treasures for their clients. Pablo Picasso, Coco Chanel, Rudolf Nureyev, Alberto Giacometti, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent were among some of the famous frequent browsers and buyers.
Paul Bert, Serpette (dating from 1970 and housed in an old Citroën garage), Biron and Jules-Vallès (opened in 1938) are some of the better-known markets where individual dealers have set up their own stalls. The original term, marché aux puces, as it’s fondly called, came about in the 1880s as a way to describe the rag-tag, random set-up of stalls and merchandise scattered about the area, some of it directly on the sidewalks. Call them curios and curiosities, but the stuff sold and word spread. Soon after, the area was redefined, and in 1920 a wooden structure was built and called Vernaison Market. Malik Market and Biron Market soon opened in 1925. Malassis Market came along in 1989. The area was now established, and the old and young artists of Paris had found a new place to gather for an endless stream of inspiration.
Progressing from the history of les puces, the author moves onto to charming anecdotes which reveal the collecting secrets of Coco Chanel, Rudolf Nureyev, as well as Jacques Kerchache, the curator who brought primitive art to the Louvre in 2000. What follows next are sections divided into “classic”, “modern” and “unusual”, detailing individual dealers and their idiosyncratic merchandise. So depending on your taste, you can stay in one market and delve into history and beautiful objects at Didier Thiéry, (aisle 2, stall #117) or take in more contemporary décor at Schweitzer-Hoerni (aisle 4, stall #217) at Paul Bert’s market. Full-page photos accompany each discovery.
Before your journey at Saint-Ouen begins, you should consult the last chapter of the book, called “Overview of the Markets” which pares down each market—remember, there are 16—into salient points of interest for the collector and the curious. There is no uniformity in this maze, but there is a wealth of possibility and patience is truly a virtue when it comes to discovery.
Fat Tire Bike Tours are great for seeing Paris in a different light. You’ll see more, have more fun, and not feel tired at the end of it. These are highly recommended and truly a great thing to do during your stay.
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