Marie Hennechart

From antiques-filled flea markets to cult designer boutiques and hidden bargain stops, T+L navigates Paris with a trio of locals.

January 27, 2011

When I am in the City of Light, I rarely set foot in a gallery unless it has a gift shop. My favorite place to dine is the department-store café, with the frites stand at the flea market a close second. But recently it dawned on me that even a world-class compulsive shopper like myself has a tendency to visit the same markets, the same charming boutiques, the same venerable department stores. So on my latest trip I decided to consult three shopping gurus—two natives and one honorary citizen—about their favorite local haunts. Claudia Strasser, who runs a New York–based interiors business called the Paris Apartment and has been showing American clients around Parisian markets for decades, is charged with taking me fleaing; Juliette Gitel-Lassablière, a fashion forecaster and a tour guide for Context Travel, swears she can introduce me to surprising discount venues in lofty St.-Germain-des-Prés; and Rosemary Rodriguez, the creative director of Thierry Mugler, has been persuaded to share her secret cutting-edge addresses.

Hitting the Fleas

When Claudia Strasser sweeps into the café across from the Vanves Métro stop on Sunday morning she has quite an entourage with her—three members of the B. family, whose 15-room mansion in Seattle she is helping to furnish, along with Toma Haines, an Oklahoma native who calls herself the Antiques Diva. Before we hit even the first booth, Strasser and the Diva are unloading trade secrets: Did I know that the traveling fairs that set up in different neighborhoods on summer weekends are listed at the Vide-Greniers website, and that there are three keywords to look for: antiquités (for items at least 100 years old), brocante (for classic flea market merchandise), and vide-greniers (what in other cultures is commonly referred to as junk)? Was I aware that the best time to go to markets is the last weekend in July, before the whole of France goes on vacation, when dealers are desperate to empty their booths and want quick cash?

Okay, sure, but what if what I want to buy with that cash is, say, a copper bathtub as big as a truck? How is it that people like the B.’s are hauling those 15 rooms worth of furniture back to the Great Northwest? The answer, Strasser reveals, is a Camard account. At that Mr. B. takes out his Camard book and waves it gleefully in my face. Strasser explains how the account works: Camard, and a number of other shipping companies, maintain offices at the Porte de Clignancourt flea market and other spots around Paris. You register, and they give you a receipt pad, stickers, and your own personal Camard number. When you see something humongous that you are dying to take home, you take out your Camard pad and the dealer slaps a sticker onto your purchase. The dealer fills out some paperwork, which is relayed to Camard, which then picks up your furniture—even if you purchased items at a number of different markets—and the next thing you know you’re unpacking an 18th-century chifforobe in Cedar Rapids. The best part: no money changes hands until Camard has everything ready to ship. This arcane and wacky system, Strasser assures me, is based on an ancient antiques dealers’ honor code and is surprisingly foolproof.

Next, we’re off to the Vanves market. The B. family is searching for 18th-century chairs and chandeliers; the rest of us for anything that catches our fancy. Strasser surprises me by insisting that the best deals are to be found in the bins of prints for $4 and at the $7 tables, where she snatches up a mirrored 1930’s dressing-table box. Even when things are marked higher than $5, bargaining is swift and easy—while I scoop up a pair of framed sepia prints of 1920’s flappers for $40, down from $70, Strasser is dickering over a trifold Art Moderne mirror, a total steal for $140, though because she lacks her own Camard book, it would have to be lugged on the plane, a prospect she reluctantly decides is too daunting.

We sweep up our small purchases—among us we have bought vintage rosaries, old brass keys to string on cords as necklaces, and one dazzling bargain, an Alaïa dress for $140—and hop on the Métro to a brocante in the bohemian neighborhood of the Place des Abbesses, clear on the other side of town. I am torn up about not being able to buy a marble-topped night table here (it’s small but still needs a Camard sticker) until Strasser tells me why it’s lined with marble—once upon a time this pretty piece was used to store a chamber pot.

The B.’s haven’t found any chandeliers yet, so we get back on the Métro and cross the river once again, to the Brocante Rue Chardon-Lagache, in the 16th Arrondissement. The refined merchandise here reflects the surroundings, and before you know it a Camard sticker has been slapped onto a hand-carved early-19th-century walnut chest that hard bargaining (the language barrier surmounted by two of Strasser’s flea market staples, a pencil and pad) has reduced to $3,200. In short order, the B.’s have also fallen for a daybed with satin cushions for a ridiculously low $280, and I am loaded down with an assortment of necklaces and ephemera, anxious to get back to my hotel, log on to Vide-Greniers, and see what other antiques markets and brocantes are coming up.

Bargain-Hunting in St.-Germain

The next day I meet Juliette Gitel-Lassablière in the heart of the Sixth Arrondissement. Though Gitel-Lassablière, effortlessly chic in jeans and a trench, insists that there are all kinds of affordable gems hidden in this fancy neighborhood, I am frankly dubious. To prove her point, she suggests we dip into André, a chain shoe store I must have walked past a thousand times. Once inside I realize how it is that French women manage to look so stunning on minuscule salaries: a black suede high-heeled pump, elegant as a Louboutin though minus the red sole, is $125. At Monoprix, the massive discount store that I have occasionally visited to pick up Band-Aids and Bourjois makeup, the looks are a total eye-opener. Like H&M, Monoprix collaborates with designers, which is why the $110 black dress with the satin straps is so alluring—it’s from Erotokritos, a cult label with its own Parisian boutiques.

Of course, bargain is a relative term. Gitel-Lassablière points out that what a five-and-dime designer dress needs is a decent handbag and takes me to Les Trois Marches de Catherine B, where everything is secondhand, super-mint, and bearing one of just a few labels: Chanel, Vuitton, Hermès. Prices range from $140 for a scarf to $5,600 for a tangerine Kelly bag (but at least there’s no waiting list).

The next few hours are a retail whirlwind: she introduces me to Cyrillus, Paris’s answer to J.Crew, where a sharp blouse with pleated sleeves is $69; to Losco, where the made-to-measure belts worthy of Jane Birkin are around $195 (maybe not the most affordable belt in the world, but pretty good for a one-of-a-kind keepsake). At Des Petits Hauts, a literally star-studded boutique (étoiles dot the pink floors), a quintessentially Parisian pink mohair cardigan (think Amélie) is $145. For more-classic tastes, the remarkably unpretentious Eric Bompard has cashmere pullovers at under $280. There are even less-rarefied souvenirs at the vast Pharmacie Suprapharm, with coveted powder-room brands—Klorane shampoo for $5.90; Elgydium toothpaste, $7.50 for two; Anthelios sunscreen for $12—sold at reduced prices. “Don’t even think about coming here on Saturdays—it’s a nightmare,” Gitel-Lassablière warns. Last up is the adorable Bonpoint outlet, where the iconic baby clothes—pin tucks! smocking! hand-knitted booties!—are all 30 percent off, though it doesn’t actually say this anywhere, which is why I finally admit to myself that it’s sometimes indispensable to have a native guide.

Cutting-Edge Paris, Uncovered

The following afternoon I fetch Rosemary Rodriguez at her chic offices near the opera house. But our destination is far from these elegant digs. Like so many people in the fashion business, Rodriguez, who is wearing jeans, a Liberty of London button-down, a pair of spectacular antique diamond earrings, and a Goyard tote, only gets really excited these days by something truly off the grid. Which is why we taxi straight to Thanx God I’m a V.I.P., in the neighborhood between the Place de la République and the Canal St.-Martin. Rodriguez is ecstatic in this vintage clothing store, but in fact the whole quartier delights her. She points out Du Pain et des Idées (“Best baguette in Paris!” she crows); the leather wholesalers with their goods piled haphazardly in the window; the restored Alhambra dance hall; the couscous joints. We walk toward the canal to Artazart, a bookstore with Banksy monographs, among other finds. The peaceful curving waters, traversed by picturesque bridges, look nothing like the Paris I know.

Then it’s over to Merci. I am enraptured by this three-story multi-brand boutique. With everything from limited-edition designer clothes and books to flowers and linens, it is giving Colette a run for its money in the hipness sweepstakes.

Soon we’re deep in the heart of the Haut Marais. Rodriguez favors Pretty Box, yet another vintage store (a pre–Alber Elbaz Lanvin shirt is $130), and Hoses, a shoe shop with a sleepy dog in the corner and footwear with the coveted Avril Gau label. At Pring, the strappy heels are displayed in octagonal metal boxes; at Moon Young Hee, halfway between a shop and an atelier, a glorious silk chiffon skirt, puffy as a cloud, is $450. I love a gossamer garment, but in these hard times I am equally drawn to the more utilitarian, oddly chic designs at Yves Andrieux Vincent Jalbert, made from unlikely vintage fabrics—parachute nylon; linen and cotton meant to cover French camping cots. Happily zipping myself into an elaborate multi-seamed number, I’m forced to concede that without Rodriguez’s leading the way, I would never have parachuted into this place.

Lynn Yaeger is a Travel + Leisure contributing editor.

André 72 Rue de Rennes, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/42-84-99-46; andre.fr.

Artazart 83 Quai de Valmy, 10th Arr.; 33-1/40-40-24-00; artazart.com.

Bonpoint Fin de Séries (outlet) 42 Rue de l’Université, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/40-20-10-55; bonpoint.fr.

Brocante Rue Chardon-Lagache Near Église d’Auteuil, 16th Arr.; 33-1/45-89-32-07; spam.fr.

Camard 2 Rue de l’Industrie, Saint-Denis; 33-1/49-46-10-82; call for pricing information.

Juliette Gitel-Lassablière, Context Travel 800/691-6036; contexttravel.com; full-day tours from $860 for up to six people.

Cyrillus 16 Rue de Sèvres, Seventh Arr.; 33-1/42-22-16-26; cyrillus.fr.

Des Petits Hauts 70 Rue Bonaparte, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/43-29-40-46; despetitshauts.com.

Du Pain et des Idées 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 10th Arr.; 33-1/42-40-44-52; dupainetdesidees.com.

Eric Bompard 46 Rue du Bac, Seventh Arr.; 33-1/42-84-04-36; eric-bompard.com.

Hoses 41 Rue de Poitou, Third Arr.; 33-1/42-78-80-62; hoses-limited.com.

Les Trois Marches de Catherine B 1 Rue Guisarde, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/43-54-74-18; catherine-b.com.

Losco 5 Rue de Sèvres, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/42-22-77-47; losco.fr.

Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves Aves. Georges Lafenestre and Marc Sangnier, 14th Arr.; pucesdevanves.typepad.com (weekends only, best before noon).

Merci 111 Blvd. Beaumarchais, Third Arr.; 33-1/42-77-00-33; merci-merci.com.

Monoprix 50 Rue de Rennes, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/45-48-18-08; monoprix.fr.

Moon Young Hee 62 Rue Charlot, Third Arr.; 33-1/48-04-39-78.

Paris Apartment Custom Shopping Expeditions 917/749-5089; theparisapartment.com; half-day tours from $250.

Paris Flea Market Tour 49-162/244-7208; antiquesdiva.com; half-day tours from $198.

Pharmacie Suprapharm 26 Rue du Four, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/46-33-20-81.

Pretty Box 46 Rue de Saintonge, Third Arr.; 33-1/48-04-81-71; prettybox.fr.

Pring (Paris) 29 Rue Charlot, Third Arr.; 33-1/42-72-71-87; pringparis.com.

Thanx God I’m a V.I.P. 12 Rue de Lancry, 10th Arr.; 33-1/42-03-02-09; thanxgod.com.

Vide-Greniers A reference list of flea markets in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. vide-greniers.org.

Yves Andrieux Vincent Jalbert 55 Rue Charlot, Third Arr.; 33-1/42-71-19-54.

Context Travel, Paris

Context Travel puts a new spin on the classic walking tour by marshaling a network of English-speaking art historians, writers, architects, and other specialists to open up, both literally and figuratively, unique aspects of the city. Among its latest offerings are Scent Dinners with New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr, who leads an olfactory voyage through the history of perfume; a tour of the Rungis food market—where the city’s greatest chefs stock up—with PBS personality Louisa Chu; and private runners’ tours led by local athletes. Juliette Gitel-Lassablière offers affordable Parisian shopping tours.

Les Trois Marches de Catherine B

Catherine B has been collecting vintage Chanel and Hermès pieces for more than two decades. Whether shoppers are searching for a discontinued Birkin bag, the perfect color Kelly bag, or a rare silk scarf, the store's hand-curated collection of more than 1,500 pieces is bound to have it. Her inventory from these two luxury labels is displayed at two boutiques in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres. At her first shop on Rue Guisarde, shoppers peruse mostly mint treasures in the company of exposed beams and an André Renoux original painting. 

Hoses

The city's aristocratic Marais district hosts this ritzy repository for designer shoes, handbags, and jewelry owned by stylist and fashion consultant Valery Duboucheron. Situated in one of the trendiest areas, Hoses displays one-of-a-kind pieces in a space exuding simple elegance: a cream Louis XVI couch and single 18th-century Flemish portrait adorn an understated interior with pale pink walls. A who's who of established and up-and-coming labels are in residence, including Marc Jacobs, Yves Saint Laurent, Roberto Del Carlo, and Avril Gau. 

Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves

Leave the hotel early on weekend mornings and take the metro to the far left bank outpost of Vanves, then walk a few blocks to Avenue Marc Sangnier and Avenue Georges Lafenestre for this small, excellent market, also an open secret among dealers. (Rumor has it that after dealers shop here, they bring their treasures to the far larger Porte de Clignancourt later in the day.) The tables brim with vintage boxes, glassware, old Parisian periodicals, posters, and other souvenir-ready material. Prices are congenial, but remember to bring cash—the ATM machine is a bit of a hike.

Saturdays and Sundays, before 1 p.m.

André

Established by designer André Perugia in 1896, this widespread French footwear chain sells trendy, high-quality shoes at reasonable prices. Considered an early innovator of modern high heels, Perugia used contemporary art and architecture as inspiration for his unusual shoes, such as the gravity-defying “heelless” high heel and the geometric sandal dedicated to Picasso. At this shop in the Sixth Arrondissement—one of many branches throughout the country—the inventory includes both casual and high fashion André originals as well as limited edition shoes from stylish young designers like Katherine Pradeau and Bali Barret.

Artazart

Along the banks of the Canal St.-Martin, a bright orange façade marks the location of Artazart, one of the most celebrated art and design bookstores in Europe. The company began as an online venture before opening this store in the 10th Arrondissement in September 2000. Inside, wooden shelves are lined with high-quality, reasonably priced books on a variety of art-related topics, including graphic design, photography, illustration, architecture, fashion, and graffiti. Most books are original English editions, although some are written in French. Artazart also has a gallery space that showcases the work of emerging artists from around the world.

Bonpoint Fin de Séries Outlet

For Bonpoint's iconic baby clothes—pin tucks! smocking! hand-knitted booties!—priced at 30 percent off, this French brand's Fin de Séries Outlet is the place to go on the Left Bank (Rive Gauche). Sure, they may be last seasons' designs, but the important-occasion outfits are here, like suits for ring bearers or dresses that flower girls wear at royal weddings. Bonpoint also carries a small section of fashionable women's clothing and maintains 15 additional upscale boutique shops in Paris (but this is the only place to buy this high-class brand without the high-dollar price tag).

Brocante Rue Chardon-Lagache

Located in the Auteuil neighborhood of the 16th Arrondissement, this open-air flea market takes place twice a week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Beneath large awnings, an average of 80 vendors sell everything from vintage chandeliers and daybeds with satin cushions to hand-carved wooden furniture dating from the early 19th century. The vendors also showcase a large selection of antique, estate, and costume jewelry, including a number of Art Deco pieces. Prices run the gamut, but bargaining is encouraged (and often quite successful).

Camard

Camard, and a number of other shipping companies, maintain offices at the Porte de Clignancourt flea market and other spots around Paris. You register, and they give you a receipt pad, stickers, and your own personal Camard number. When you see something humongous that you are dying to take home, you take out your Camard pad and the dealer slaps a sticker onto your purchase. The dealer fills out some paperwork, which is relayed to Camard, which then picks up your furniture—even if you purchased items at a number of different markets—and the next thing you know you’re unpacking an 18th-century chifforobe in Cedar Rapids. The best part: no money changes hands until Camard has everything ready to ship. This arcane and wacky system is based on an ancient antiques dealers’ honor code and is surprisingly foolproof.

Cyrillus

Frustrated with the lack of stylish but practical children’s clothing in Paris, stay-at-home mom Daniéle Tellinge began designing her own garments in the 1970’s. Her first catalog was two pages long, and Cyrillus (considered Paris’s answer to J. Crew) now has multiple stores across Europe and Asia, as well as a large mail-order business. At this Rue de Sevres shop in the Seventh Arrondissement, the inventory may include silk dresses and pleated blouses for women; leather jackets for men; sweaters and gingham pajamas for children; and a range of house wares such as glass candleholders and silver coffee sets.

Du Pain et des Idées

The words “fabrication traditionnelle” are emblazoned above the entrance of this antique-filled boulangerie (bakery), advertising Christophe Vasseur’s “traditional manufacturing” of homemade breads. Vasseur left a sales career in the fashion industry to pursue baking and, after working as an apprentice for three years, opened Du Pain et Des Idées (Bread and Ideas) in the 10th Arrondissement. Housed in an old bakery space dating from 1889, the shop sells such specialties as the nutty pain des amis (bread of friends), apple chausson (turnover), and mini pavés (bread dough stuffed with dried apricots and blue cheese or dark chocolate and raspberry).

Eric Bompard

Eric Bompard was trekking across the Gobi desert in Mongolia when he came across the Capra Hisca, a goat with a long, soft hair that insulated it from the cold. That encounter began his obsession with cashmere, which led him to launch his own clothing line. Bompard uses Mongolian wool and a variety of knitting techniques to create both classic and modern garments for men, women, and children. At this Seventh Arrondissement shop, one of multiple Paris locations, the inventory may include thick cable-stitch knits, thin V-neck pullovers, brightly colored hooded jackets, and accessories such as gloves and stoles.

Losco

Inspired by Native American leather goods, this atelier des ceintures (belt studio and workshop) first opened in 1979. The original Losco shop and atelier is located in the Marais district, while this Left Bank offshoot is situated on the famously chic Rue de Sèvres, home to many high-end boutiques. Behind a light gray façade featuring a large window display of buckles, the shop contains a wide assortment of durable, high-quality materials used to make customized belts. Clients choose from a variety of widths, textures, colors, and buckles, and then the Losco artisans handcraft each belt on the spot.

Monoprix

Paris provides ample opportunities to shop for high-dollar brands, but when the shopping list is full of essentials, Monoprix is the answer. Considered the Target of Paris, the discount store has multiple locations throughout the city and carries everything from makeup and toiletries to home furnishings, gourmet foods, and fresh breads from the in-store bakery. Monoprix also carries its own line of basic, inexpensive clothing, but it also collaborates with outside designers and stocks higher-end brands like Erotokritos, a cult label with its own Parisian boutiques.

Moon Young Hee

Paris-based Korean designer Moon Young Hee is a regular at Paris Fashion Week, and she is known for her deconstructionist techniques, layered fabrics, and feminine designs. Her avant-garde garments are executed in mostly neutral tones (cream, white, and black) and fuse Western and Eastern fashion in a bold style. At this unassuming boutique in the Upper Marais neighborhood, the cement-floored, blank-walled space provides a clean background for an inventory that may include oversize white linen pants; color-block dresses with blue, gold, and maroon accents; and light, airy tops made with twisted pink and cream organza.

Paris Apartment Custom Shopping Expeditions

Claudia Strasser, who runs a New York—based interiors business called the Paris Apartment, has decades of experience showing American clients around Parisian markets. In 1993, she founded a boutique in New York City to sell the refurbished French furniture and accessories she found at flea markets. Now, she splits her time between New York and Paris, where she takes small groups on shopping trips to find furniture for their own collections at markets such as the famous Marché aux Puces St.-Ouen (Clingancourt). Using her firsthand knowledge, Strasser guides visitors through the entire process, including introductions, transportation, bargaining, and shipping.

Paris Flea Market Tour

The bustling Puces de Paris St. Ouen, a.k.a Paris Flea Market, is the setting for this four-hour tour offered on Saturdays and Sundays by Toma Clark Haines, an American expat living in Europe. Actually a grouping of more than a dozen seperate districts, the Puces de Paris spans an approximate seven-mile maze of narrow streets and alleways. Antiques Diva & Co. guides help you navigate the nooks and crannies of the nearly 2,000 different stalls with insider knowledge of where to find the best quality items, which range from antiquties to vintage clothing to artwork.

Pharmacie Suprapharm

The vast and often crowded beauty supply store, sometimes referred to by guidebooks as City Pharma or the discount pharmacy at Saint Germain, stocks French brand toiletries and cosmetics at reduced prices that average 20 to 40 percent less than the big name pharmacies. Narrow aisles lined with tall white shelves fill the two level building, and staff members sporting white lab coats explain the perks of each cream, cleanser, and fragrance. Buying coveted powder-room brands here—for example, Klorane shampoo, Elgydium toothpaste, and Anthelios sunscreen—will usually save you a few Euros.

Pretty Box

Boutique Pretty Box was founded in 2004 when owner Sarah wanted to sell the vintage wardrobe she had amassed during years of world travel. Celebrities, including Kate Moss, have targeted the small store for the high quality collection of unique pieces culled from around Europe, which date back as far as the 1920's and rarely top 200 Euros. There are items for both men and women and finds are frequently referenced in top French fashion mags. The unusually large selection of handbags made of rare materials like crocodile, python, ostrich, lizard, and aged leather are particularly noteworthy.

Pring, Paris

Paris-based Thai-American designer, writer, and DJ Pring Pichayanund Chinadahporn (known simply as Pring), began her eponymous shoe and accessories brand in 2007 at her high-end boutique in the heart of the Marais. Her signature brightly colored pumps, metallic heels, platform wedges, and peek toes in fun, funky shapes and styles are all handmade at Pring’s atelier in Thailand and displayed amid empty gold frames and antique furniturein her Paris shop. A line of accompanying handbags feature equally over-the-top materials and fabrics such as glazed calfskin leather, water snake skin, and pink goat velvet.

Thanx God I’m a V.I.P.

Sylvie Chateigner opened this Paris vintage shop with an ironic name between the Place de la République and the Canal St.-Martin in 1994. A few months later she launched a series of fabulous parties under the same name that united the worlds of music, media, and fashion, catching the attention of big names such as Karl Lagerfield, a frequent collaborator. Color-coded racks hold impeccably selected pieces from designers ranging from Yves St. Laurent to Lacoste that are in superb condition and won’t break the bank. A basement space holds less expensive, multi-ethnic items.

Yves Andrieux Vincent Jalbert

The utilitarian, oddly chic designs at Yves Andrieux Vincent Jalbert are made from unlikely antique fabrics—parachute nylon, canvas, and cotton originally intended to cover French camping cots. The small boutique specializes in transforming the recycled materials, ensuring every item is an original, into elegantly tailored jackets, skirts, and pants for men and women, as well as hats, bags, curtains, lamps, and pillowcases. The military-chic pieces primarily come in muted browns, blues, and greens. Originally designed for war, the clothing has drawn accolades for its durability as well as its style.

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