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Great Escapes// Flea Market Destinations

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Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen

Flea markets first made their mark in Paris centuries ago, when peddlers sold peasants flea-infested clothes and castoffs from the wealthy at bargain prices. Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen (commonly known as Les Puces, or “The Fleas”), now ranks as the city’s oldest—and the world’s largest. With 52 acres and more than 2,000 dealers, its stalls and shops overflow with art, furniture, vintage clothes and bric-a-brac of every imaginable sort. As many as 180,000 visitors flock here every week.
 

Photo by Birgit Hergert

Marché Vernaison

Fourteen markets, each with its own personality, come together at Les Puces. Marché Serpette gets props from dealers and designers for its exceptionally high-quality antiques—the best at the market. Marché Paul-Bert scores high on charm thanks to the beautiful interiors of its shops. But the oldest and largest is Marché Vernaison, where a maze of winding lanes leads to the goods. Discover nostalgic pieces of childhood at Tombées du Camion (“Fallen from the Truck”), where young antiques dealer Charles Mas fills bins to the brim with toys and carnival trinkets. His displays alone are worth the visit, although it’s hard to resist picking up a small piece to take home.

Photo by Owen Franken

Marché Serpette

At Nini Peau d’Chien, check out miscellany such as apothecary jars, wooden toys and cast-metal Eiffel Towers. More soothing is the namesake shop of owner Janine Giovannoni and its soft French linens, including bedding suitable for French royalty displayed neatly atop a marble-topped table. Perhaps the most intriguing niche shop is Les Porte-Clés and its very specific merchandise—key chains from the 1960s.

Marché Serpette.

Photo by Owen Franken

Marché Serpette

Find hundreds of examples representing an amazing diversity of topics, from banks and bourbon manufacturers to petroleum companies and political campaigns.

Here, Marché Serpette gets props from dealers and designers for its exceptionally high-quality antiques—the best at the market.

Photo by Owen Franken

Marché Paul-Bert

Across the street from Marché Vernaison at Marché Dauphine (the newest of Les Puces, with an elegant, gallerylike hall), you’ll spot Monica Fripes—Desguisements, where vintage dresses, blouses, men’s suits, shoes and accessories from princes of 1950s and ’60s fashion Pierre Cardin, Guy Laroche and Yves Saint-Laurent mingle among lesser-known vintage labels.

Marché Paul-Bert scores high on charm thanks to the beautiful interiors of its shops.

Photo by Owen Franken

Maison Beys

Nearby and not to be missed is L’Armada, with its collection of finds from seafaring vessels. Antique lights, barometers, scuba gear and globes mix with scientific objects and other curiosities. And don’t overlook storefront SARL Giraud Art Deco at rue des Rosiers 91, where The Great Gatsby is alive and well with early 20th-century bar carts, mirrored vanities and lamps.

Maison Beys, rue des Rosiers

Photo by Owen Franken

Les Porte-Clés

Note that the quoted price isn’t the one you’re expected to pay; vendors assume you’ll bargain. Plan to land on a discount of about 10 percent in most cases. The best deals often come late in the day, but for the best picks and lightest crowds, come early. Open at 7 a.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays; many vendors shutter their doors for holiday the first two weeks in August.

Perhaps the most intriguing niche shop is Les Porte-Clés and its very specific merchandise—key chains from the 1960s Find hundreds of examples representing an amazing diversity of topics, from banks and bourbon manufacturers to petroleum companies and political campaigns.

Photo by Owen Franken

Monica Fripes—Desguisements

Other flea markets of note: The Marché de la Porte de Vanves on the southern edge of Paris is considerably smaller, but known to have better deals than Les Puces. Open on weekends, it’s generally best to come on Sunday, because dealers are out combing estate sales and antiques fairs in the countryside on Saturdays. More adventurous and gritty is the Marché aux Puces de Montreuil on the east side of the city. Although much of the merchandise is junk, the prices are low, the treasure hunting fun and the atmosphere a fascinating display of the city’s diversity.

More from Monica Fripes—Desguisements.

Photo by Owen Franken

Marché Dauphine

Getting there: On the northern edge of Paris, Les Puces is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the Metro line 4 stop Porte de Clignancourt. After passing through a rather bleak area and under an elevated freeway, turn left onto rue des Rosiers.

At Marché Dauphine, you'll spot Monica Fripes—Desguisements, where vintage dresses, blouses, men's suits, shoes and accessories from princes of 1950s and '60s fashion Pierre Cardin, Guy Laroches and Yves Saint-Laurent mingle among lesser-known labels.

Photo by Owen Franken

Marché Dauphine

Where to stay: On rue La Fayette in the 9th Arrondissement, Hotel Jules (doubles from $245) is the newest jewel in the design-hotel collection of Paris hotelier Grace Leo. The chic rooms were inspired by 1950s, ’60s and ’70s style.

In Marché Dauphine—rows of containers of colored beads.

Photo by Birgit Hergert

Marché Dauphine

Where to eat:
Chez Louisette at Marché Vernaison in Les Puces offers good local fare and is always full of Parisians. Café Le Paul Bert at Marché Paul-Bert is known for its excellent onion soup, but it’s also a pleasant stop for a café crème.

Within Marché Dauphine is L'Armada, with a collection of finds from seafaring vessels. Antique lights, barometers, scuba gear and globes mix with scientific objects and other curiosities.

Photo by Owen Franken

Marché Dauphine

Marché Dauphine is across the street from Marché Vernaison and is the newest of "Les Puces", or the fleas (common Parisian term for flea markets).

Photo by Owen Franken

Marché Biron
Marché Biron.

Photo by Owen Franken

From fine antiques for the design set to frivolous and fun secondhand items for everyone, Paris' flea markets are sure to yield special, one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

To view the original story, see the digital version of the August 2010 issue of Sky.

Photos by Owen Franken and Birgit Hergert.

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