Lords of the Flea Markets
Published: May 2009
By Shane Mitchell, Lauren David Peden
Savvy bargain-hunters have long known that there's more to flea markets than baseball cards and tube socks. Here, some celebrated fans share their best-loved haunts (and most-cherished finds) around the world.
LAUREN AMBROSE actor When I was young, my uncle ran a market in Connecticut. We went there all the time and I would run around and meet the vendors. Now that I live in L.A., I love the Rose Bowl and Eclectibles on Melrose, but my favorite is Portobello Road, in London. I was completely broke when I went there last but envision returning someday to buy my silver. Object of affection: I recently found a beautiful linen tablecloth—it's hand-embroidered and certainly worth much more than the dollar I paid for it. I put it on our 150-year-old wooden table when my husband and I entertain, and it dresses up our tiny apartment.
BRUCE MAU designer For me, it started with the Salvation Army because I was fascinated by the idea of things being jettisoned. I don't like antiques but I'm intrigued by the collecting impulse. Sadly, I've also spent way too many hours on eBay. A friend turned me on to the flea market at Togo Shrine, in Tokyo's Harajuku. It has old ceramics, incredibly beautiful glassware, textiles, and proto-modern Japanese stuff. I found a gorgeous 19th-century cast-iron teakettle there. Objects of affection: I collect photo albums from estate sales—like of someone's trip to Florida in 1974. I love their melancholy quality and the way they offer strange, mysterious narratives.
DONNA KARAN fashion designer For textiles and accessories, I like the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show in New York. I also love the Southampton Classic at the Elks Lodge and Mulford Farm Antiques Show & Sale in East Hampton and the one at the Community Center in Bridgehampton. Plan of attack: Come up with a fair price and bargain the dealer down—sometimes haggling can be just as much fun as finding. For a small fee, you can often preview early or even the night before. Always wear comfortable shoes and a backpack so your hands are free. And bring lots of bottled water!
CALVIN TSAO architect and designer Fleas are a state of mind that's less about finding an overlooked de Stijl chair than about training the eye. I never have an agenda except to see and learn. When I do buy something, it's usually for its inspirational quality, like a patent for an invention. I gravitate toward weirdo things that you see and say, "What the hell is that?" They're evidence of our exuberance, our notions of beauty, or our neuroses. Objects of affection: At the Panjiayuan Folk Culture Market in Beijing, I found piles of austere silver objects with great flat, cutout patterns that looked like Christmas tree ornaments. I later found out they were tongue scrapers, but I still hung them on my tree.
CYNTHIA NIXON actor I grew up on the Upper West Side, so the Green Flea Market at 77th and Columbus is my favorite. Objects of affection: I collect antique earrings—since I don't have pierced ears, I have to search for the clip-ons. Green Flea Market is great for earrings, clothes, and plants.
ROBIN RENZI co-owner and jewelry designer, Me & Ro Brimfield in Massachusetts is probably the best U.S. flea market because it's where the great antiques dealers from the entire country go. I also love 26th Street in New York; it has everything from Tibetan rugs to Korean lanterns, at a good range of prices. Objects of affection: Last time I was at 26th Street, I got a beautiful fantasy Ginger Rogers-style dress from the twenties or thirties. It's pale orange, peach, yellow, and green silk chiffon. It's really fitted and looks like something a ballerina would wear.
HAMISH BOWLES European editor-at-large, Vogue I love Casa Barata in Tangier because of its almost post-apocalyptic sense of chaos, but my favorite flea market in terms of productive finds is Clignancourt in Paris (a very boring choice, I fear). There's an eclectic mix of antiques and the fact that so many of the dealers have such discriminating taste themselves. It's a good place to get a sense of what the new antiques trends will be. Plan of attack: Friday morning (early) is dealers' day, even though taxis will tell you the market is closed.
MARIKO MORI artist I find things that inspire my work in unexpected places. A small cosmetics compact became the color sample for a new sculpture; I used a die-cut glass lens in an installation titled DreamTemple. Objects of affection: For several years I collected crystal stones whenever I traveled: orange calcite from Greece, a rainbow crystal from London, amethyst from New York. I was drawn to them, though I didn't know why at the time. They were part of my Garden of Purification installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS singer-songwriter My family lived in Mexico City for a year in 1970, and I have vivid memories of going to the market there and learning how to bargain in Spanish. We picked up incredible things—vintage shawls, silver jewelry—for only a few pesos. Plan of attack: On tour, I get off the interstate and go through little towns to find shops or flea markets—especially places without a local college or university. That's where you can find really good stuff.
JOAN BUCK writer and former editor, French Vogue My mother was a decorator, so I started going to Portobello when I was 10. I think if an object hasn't got a story, it's not interesting. My favorite markets are the ones that seem to appear for only three days—there's one at Place St.-Sulpice in Paris. The best thing I've ever found was a 71Ž2-foot-high shuttered steel railway safe. I have German blood, so I buy big things. Plan of attack: There's no point looking for anything in particular; that's frustrating. Just look around with a diffuse awareness; for me it's a form of meditation.
INDIA MAHDAVI interior/furniture designer Paris is one of my favorite flea market cities because I know it best. I go to Paul Bert and Serpette [both at Clignancourt], which are furniture-oriented. Alfie's Antique Market in London is also wonderful. I often find little nothings, such as images or old postcards, that become a reference point for new projects. Plan of attack: Wander around once, just to see what strikes you, but don't get emotionally attached. Then go around a second time and start buying. Patience is good, cash is better—if you have both, you're set.
—Additional reporting by Richard Alleman
Annex Antique Fair & Flea Market 26TH ST. AND AVE. OF THE AMERICAS, NEW YORK, N.Y.; 212/243-5343 www.annexantiques.citysearch.com SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
Bridgehampton Community House MONTAUK HWY., BRIDGEHAMPTON, N.Y.; 631/537-0333; www.hamptonsantiques.com; MAY 29-JUNE 1,
JULY 17-20, AUGUST 21-24
Brimfield Antiques & Collectible Show RTE. 20, BRIMFIELD, MASS. NO PHONE; www.brimfieldshow.com MAY 13-18, JULY 8-13, SEPTEMBER 2-7
Eclectibles on Melrose 7171 MELROSE AVE., LOS ANGELES 323/876-7356; THIRD SATURDAY OF EVERY MONTH
Green Flea Market 77TH ST. AND COLUMBUS AVE., NEW YORK, N.Y.; 212/721-0900 SUNDAY
Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show AT THE METROPOLITAN PAVILION, 125 W. 18TH ST., NEW YORK, N.Y.; 212/434-4312; www.manhattanvintage.com APRIL 25-26, OCTOBER 17-18
Mulford Farm Antiques Show & Sale JAMES LANE AT MONTAUK HWY., EAST HAMPTON, N.Y.; 631/537-0333
www.hamptonsantiques.com JUNE 21, AUGUST 2, SEPTEMBER 13
Rose Bowl Flea Market 1001 ROSE BOWL DR., PASADENA, CALIF.; 323/560-7469 www.rgcshows.com/rosebowl.asp SECOND SUNDAY OF EVERY MONTH
Southampton Classic SOUTHAMPTON ELKS LODGE (ON THE GROUNDS), RTE. 27E, SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y.; 631/261-4590 www.flamingoshows.com JUNE 28-29, JULY 26-27
Alfie's Antique Market 13-25 CHURCH ST., LONDON 44-207/723-6066 www.ealfies.com TUESDAY-SATURDAY
Clignancourt Flea Market AVE. DE LA PORTE DE CLIGNANCOURT,ST.-OUEN, 18TH ARR., PARIS NO PHONE; www.les-puces.com SATURDAY-MONDAY (FRIDAY IS DEALERS' DAY—YOU'LL NEED CREDENTIALS)
Place St.-Sulpice Market IN FRONT OF ST.-SULPICE, SIXTH ARR.; PARIS 33-1/40-46-75-06; JUNE 1-30
Portobello Road Antiques Market PORTOBELLO RD., LONDON NO PHONE; www.portobelloroad.co.uk SATURDAY
ASIA AND AFRICA
Casa Barata BENI MAKADA, TANGIER DAILY (ASK YOUR CONCIERGE TO ARRANGE TRANSPORTATION)
Panjiayuan Folk Culture Market INSIDE E. THIRD RING RD. (BETWEEN PANJIAYUAN BRIDGE AND HUAWEI BRIDGE), BEIJING; NO PHONE SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
Togo Flea Market TOGO SHRINE, 1-5-3 JINGU-MAE, SHIBUYA-KU, TOKYO; 81-3/3425-7965; FIRST AND FOURTH SUNDAY OF EVERY MONTH