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Secondhand Shopping in Paris

Lars Pillman A panoply of Chanel, from the sixties through the nineties

Photo: Lars Pillman

Luck in the Outskirts

The most extensive selection lies ahead. Wait for the weekend and set out early (but not before 9 a.m.; this isn’t Portobello Road) for the mother of all antiques markets, Les Puces de Paris St.-Ouen, at the Porte de Clignancourt. Hurry past the late-rising merchants setting up shop to the Serpette, a huge, half-enclosed complex within the market. Despite the rough edges of this former garage, the Serpette’s 130 vendors sell the sort of pieces—gleaming 19th-century chandeliers, burnished Art Deco armoires—for which the French are famed.

At one of the stalls, Voyages Boutique, sigh over a 1950’s Hermès Sac Malette in burgundy calf (very Grace Kelly, though not itself a true Kelly) for $3,250. The owner is full of information: If an Hermès bag is embossed "24 Faubourg Saint Honoré," he informs you, it was made before World War II; if it reads "Hermès Paris" it’s pre-1974; if it says "Hermès Paris Made in France" it’s less than 33 years old. He goes on to explain another benefit of vintage shopping: it’s easy to stumble upon things that are truly one of a kind, since wealthy clients have a penchant for having items custom-made and then quickly tiring of them. As an example, he brings out a Vuitton special-edition satchel rendered in pink ostrich leather.

Head spinning, you walk a few feet to Le Monde du Voyage to find…Hermès Gige clutches that close with a strap tucked under a giant H! And a special-order Birkin with rare matte hardware! "What about this?" you cry, swooning over an extraordinary 1930’s fitted Vuitton shoe trunk with its original tray and drawers. The dealer shakes his head. It was designed for the opera singer Lily Pons, he says, and it’s not for sale.

Oh well. You can always console yourself with that ostrich Vuitton.

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