Some advice about Parisian flea markets


On a flying trip to Paris, probably my last before The Big Move, we went to the Porte de Vanves flea market. We were there on a mission: silver flatware and trivets. I hoped to find a few jewelry trinkets, or perhaps a pitcher or vase or two (or seven, who am I kidding. I have a thing for pitchers and vases…)

Flatware was pricey and I wasn’t as comfortable with reading the marks on it as I should have been. Oh yes, I do research before I go flea marketing, in the hopes I’ll be able to know whether or not I’m getting a good deal. Trivets were not to be found. Jewelry was plentiful, but none that was my particular milieu. Pitchers and vase purchasing were quickly vetoed once it was pointed out we had a long day walking around Paris ahead of us, and I would have to safely carry whatever I bought all day long. Sadly, I didn’t find anything I loved enough to justify carrying it on my already aching shoulders. Ah well. C’est la vie.

I did see the above taxidermied fox, which made me smile. Luckily for him, he was in far better shape than the poor weasel I saw a few weeks back. I asked the woman selling him what he might be used for — it looked to me like the iron circle he’s holding is a bit small for umbrellas. She said “oh, you could use him for that. Or for holding a dish of candy. Or perhaps a dish of nuts or something for a party. Or toilet paper.”

I still can’t decide what insight into the French collective mind one might deduce from these statements.

I’m a cheapo-depot flea-marketer. I don’t like spending more than $10 on anything at one, unless it’s really really really super-special. Portes de Vanves had plenty of things that I thought were reasonably priced, a large selection of professional sellers who specialized in one thing or another but also people who appeared to be just cleaning out Grandmère’s attic. (Further research informs me they are all professional sellers at Vanves. Some just have a narrower focus than others.)

Porte de Clingancourt gets more press because it’s immense. It’s truly a rabbit warren of tiny shops and sellers and the roads/paths twist and turn and split. It’s very easy to get completely turned and more than a bit lost. However, those stories you’ve heard about finding a vintage Chanel suit at Paris Flea Market — that’s at Porte de Clignancourt. (What those stories fail to mention is that it’s at a professional Chanel collector’s shop, and it’s still $3000. Oh yes, I went to that shop and I pressed my little face up against the window longingly. It’s a beautiful shop and it was lovely just to be in the presence of actual vintage Chanel suits.)

Porte de Clingancourt is like an antiques mall. If you’re looking for a taxidermied giraffe, or a crystal chandelier, or a silver service for 40 people, or antique Limoge ceramic figures — that’s the place to be. They’ve got gorgeous furniture, stunning antique jewelry, beautiful architectural pieces for your home — and an office to arrange shipping it all back to the US. Yes, there are smaller, more affordable shops and sellers as well, but if you’re looking for cheapo-depot flea market treasures, this just ain’t the place. It’s all been combed over and you’re just not going to find a hidden Chanel suit on a rack somewhere for $50.

Also, something I didn’t really see mentioned on any websites I looked at about Clingancourt — it’s *really* not in a good section of Paris. To get there from the Metro stop (Porte de Clignancourt) you have to run a veritable gauntlet of people trying to sell you knockoffs and items-of-questionable-provenance. “Gucci” belts, shirts, handbags, sunglasses, ties. I can’t say with certainty that they were stolen items, but one dude offering to sell you just one iPhone….ehhh, that’s suspicious to me. If one even pauses near one of these guys, you’ll be instantly swarmed by the other sellers who will try to get your business (oh the poor American couple walking ahead of us — they got nailed.) I can’t tell if the swarm really was about the business, or about the potential for an unguarded wallet, purse or cellphone…

Clingancourt is a cool market to go to, don’t get me wrong. It’s full of amazing things definitely worth seeing, and perhaps buying. Just be smart about it. Don’t wear a backpack, don’t leave your bag open, keep your wallet and your phone well-buried in your bag and hold onto that bag firmly. Do not bring an expensive camera, even if it’s hanging around your neck. Walk like you know what you’re doing and do not stop to look at the knockoffs. Once you’re actually in the market, it’s far less intimidating.

In my opinion, Porte de Vanves is the place to go. Easy to get to, a nice area of town though be smart about where you put your wallet. (info on how to get there: Plenty of great deals, plenty of amazing things.

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