A Rainy Saturday at the Paris Flea Market: Les Puces de Saint-Ouen

Random Cute Strangers at Les Puces de Saint-Ouen
I was looking through photos yesterday and came across all these fabulous pictures from the Paris flea markets in September that I never got around to showing you.  First, a disclaimer: I am by no means any kind of expert on the fleas.  This was my first time going, and since I was in Paris for a trade show and was squeezing in as much sight-seeing as possible, I didn't allow nearly enough time to fully explore all that the Paris flea markets have to offer.  In fact, I was only there a couple of hours and then we raced off to Versailles, which I was determined not to miss out on again.  If you're headed to Paris for some serious shopping, I highly recommend that you download Claudia Strasser of The Paris Apartment's iPhone app "Keys to the Fleas." 

Why had I never been to the flea markets on previous trips to Paris?  Well, for one thing, when I hear "flea market" I instantly think of the Englishtown Auction where I had my very first job in a breakfast stand in the Red Building, serving Canadian bacon and egg sandwiches to the bargain hunters of New Jersey at the crack of dawn.  As my olfactory memory is overcome by greasy breakfast smells, I remember the Englishtown Auction (billed as one of the largest open air flea markets in the United States) as an enormous and overwhelming yard sale full of a mixture of junk and brand-new clothing with tags, recently shoplifted from the nearby malls.  You can get in some interesting people-watching at the Englishtown Auction, but did I really need to go to a giant French yard sale and look through French people's junk while I was in Paris?

The answer is oui, oui, OUI!!   I can tell you most emphatically that the Parisian flea markets are MUCH more elegant than Les Puces de New Jersey! ;-) 

Ventriloquist's Dummy and Vintage, Antique Doll Parts


Another quick disclaimer, before we get started: There are two main flea markets in Paris, Les Puces de Saint-Ouen (where I went) and Clignancourt (where I did not go, although I heard it's more affordable).  Then there are all kinds of smaller, less permanent flea markets going on in different places at different times.  Again, if you're looking for something specific, check out Claudia's Keys to the Fleas before you head out.  My goal was just to get a taste of what the flea markets had to offer in the few hours I was there.  I saw much that I loved but bought nothing -- everything I liked seemed to cost at least 3,000 euros and the exchange rate was lousy.

Françoise Schuler, Marché Vernaison, Saint-Ouen


This was one of my favorite stalls.  This antique textile dealer had the most amazing things, everything from embroidered table linens to silk damask window treatments (I was tempted to buy the valance in the photo above to hang in my office, but she would only sell it as part of a set with several other matching valances and drapery tiebacks that I wouldn't be able to use).  There were also some beautiful 18th century aristocratic garments, embellished with some of the most exquisite hand embroidery I've ever seen in person.

Can't you just imagine Mozart scampering around in this outfit?
Detail of Hand-Embroidered Floral Motif

This vendor also had museum-worthy religious vestments (see above), antique quilts, and tapestries.  I feel terrible for drooling all over her lovely things.

Tapestries from Françoise Schuler
All that was just from one stall no bigger than a two-car garage.  I was beginning to wish I'd alotted more of our day to the flea market at this point!



This was another fun booth.  I think our fearless leader Deb Barrett may have gone back and purchased the vintage Draperies sign later in the day.  The vendor at this stall asked me not to take pictures (after I'd already taken this one -- oops!), but then she relented and gave us permission to photograph a fascinating antique window blind that she'd already sold to another customer:

Antique Window Blind; Love the Metal Cornice!
By the way, in the flea market, as elsewhere in Paris, I found that Parisians were friendly, helpful, and very gracious when we were courteous and attempted to speak a little French.  Most flea market vendors spoke some English, but not as fluently as the sales staff at the Galleries Lafayette or the cafes.  I was happily surprised that I remembered enough French to converse with a couple of vendors in a mixture of French and English that my high school French teacher would have scorned as "franglais!"

Fit for the Queen of the Universe?
This next stall specialized in vintage costume jewelry.  Aren't these crowns fabulous?  In my house, when I ask my children to do something and they start whining about why, I often reply "Because I said so, and I'm the Queen of the Universe."  I got away with this when they were in preschool, but since then they've wised up and now Anders will retort, "Yeah?  If you're the Queen of the Universe, then where's your crown?"  I think the crown at bottom left with the stars would be perfect for the Queen of the Universe, don't you?

The same stall had a great collection of vintage Chanel costume jewelry as well.

Vintage Chanel Costume Jewelry

Taxidermy Tarantula
Of course there were plenty of odd things for sale at the flea market, like this taxidermied tarantula.  I almost bought this for my son Lars because he would think it was unbelievably cool, but then I considered the potential for customs hassels if I tried to bring a dead spider back to the States in my luggage.  I don't recall there being a box to check on the customs form to declare deceased arachnids specifically, but I decided to let it go anyway. 


Another stall that demanded our attention was Les Perlés d’Antan, where vendor Flora Barlan is selling off the inventory of her family's now defunct trim company. 

 Look at the hand embroidery and beadwork on this piece!  This definitely gives me some ideas.  A little bead bling embellishment (with restraint) added to an embroidered drapery fabric could be amazing on a drapery cornice or pillow.  Pearl beads, small rhinestones and seed beads could also be added to machine embroidered designs to give them a more unique, three-dimensional flair.  The piece in the photo here is an embroidered collar, and Mme. Barlan explained that it would have been used as a sample in a shop where clients could order custom embroidered garments.  What would I do with something like this if I had purchased it?  Well, it would be stunning framed as textile art.  It might be possible to adapt the collar pieces for use as drapery tiebacks, but it would be an absolute shame to destroy any of the embroidery and I would worry about UV damage -- you'd definitely want to invest in UV film for your window before you used a vintage textile for a window treatment.

Embroidered and Beaded Sample Collar

Cutwork and Beaded Sample Collar

Antique Crocheted Lace Trim Samples

By the way, after I returned from Paris, I came across a wonderful idea for these small pieces of antique crocheted lace trims.  Of course, now I can't remember where I saw it -- Pinterest, maybe?  Someone had framed a piece of fabric stretched over a board, with horizontal "stripes" of different laces, and was using it as a place to organize and display her collection of earrings.  These bits of lace would be perfect for a project like that, and they could also be sewn into one of those fabric jewelry travel pouches for the same purpose.
Vintage Crystal Pagoda Chandelier



By the time we came to this lovely courtyard of shops, it was almost time to head back for lunch and our afternoon trip to Versailles.  We really only got a glimpse of the treasures to be found at Les Puces de Saint-Ouen.  Next time I'm in Paris, I plan to spend a whole day at the flea markets, and I'll be bringing back more than memories and pretty pictures!

4 comments, opinions & scuttlebutt:

couturewindowfashions said...

Rebecca,
thank you thank you thank you for this post! What eye candy and I'm so glad I didn't open this up when I didn't have my two eyes! I might have had tragic thoughts:)

I love the embroidery and the textiles and your ideas are very similar as to what I do what I would do with them too. My fav was the 18th century jackets. Do you remember the price of those by chance?

Of course I loved the tiara and know that you would wear it well and I would love any of the others in that case. Thanks for this feast for the eyes and share some more of your trip with us please.

Cote de Texas said...

so beautiful! makes me want to go right now.


you are so right about the enlarged prints and damasks, etc.

plus - now they do fabrics in colors no one ever used before - so size and color can both be trendy.
great point.

Joni

Ivory Spring said...

How fun! I enjoyed the pictures

harold hollingsworth said...

simply wow, fantastic things found and spotted!

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