The Paris Series: Shopping in Paris – Vintage & Thrift! (Part 1)
There’s a lot I would like to write about when it comes to my recent getaway to Paris! I’m so grateful that I was finally able to go after it was delayed for about a year and a half.
To backtrack a bit, I was in Paris, France to attend a fashion history tour by the hosts of the fashion podcast Dressed, Cassidy Zachary and April Calahan. The travel agency Like Minds Travel had approached them about hosting a tour in Paris; highlighting fashion hotspots but also little known areas of fashion history and design. I had been listening to Dressed for a few months when “Paris with Dressed: The History of Fashion” was announced in December 2019. The idea of visiting Paris (again!) was amazing, and being able to access and visit areas of historical importance was also very exciting! I took a leap of fashion faith after reading what info was available on Like Minds’ website at the time, and submitted my deposit.
But my spring 2020, the coronavirus pandemic paused plans to be in Paris summer 2020. As the months went on, it seemed as though the trip was close to being cancelled, and seemingly, out of the two trips that Like Minds had scheduled, some attendees had dropped out.
I held in there though because (1) Out of defiance against COVID-19 upending so much of our lives and causing so much havoc and heartbreak out of nowhere. I wanted to get some of my life back! And (2) Because I still really wanted to go. It was certainly time to visit Paris again.
Finally, come late spring 2021, it was confirmed that The Fashion History of Paris was on, and while by July, it felt super surreal submitting my final payment, as well as my PTO dates for work, by the last weekend, I was on my way to Europe, and my sister was joining me, taking my mother’s place, as she was originally going to come. And yes, everyone that attended had to get their two vaccinations and have proof of them. I admit that I was nervous about getting my shots, but thankfully, the experience wasn’t dreadful at all. All I experienced were sore arms for about a day. I’m really thankful about that.
Prior to arriving in Paris, I knew I had wanted to do some shopping. Not a lot of shopping, but I was hopeful I would find some special items. I was especially desperate for some vintage Patrick Kelly because that label, even slightly more than Halston and other hot labels of the 1970s and ’80s, is hard to find and at an affordable price. Very occasionally, I find Patrick Kelly clothing on thrift and consignment sites, but then there’s the price. THE PRICE. Those two words would haunt me for most of my Paris trip when it came to fashion shopping due to the Euro conversion to American dollars. Once you hit over 200 Euros, UGH. You might as well just add an extra $100 USD when converting. It sucks. I’ll go into detail about that on another shopping post for The Paris Series.
To reiterate, I wanted some designer goods, but vintage ones. I had no interest in going into a Louis Vuitton flagship and buying new items. I could do that at home at the Copley Mall (though I admit, saying you got your Louie in Paris is a flex!) But I gotta believe that day will come. Besides, Europe is like prime real estate for certain labels. Like scoring some vintage Claude Montana over there? COME ON!
I had only heard of one place to check out, called Thanx God I’m a V.I.P. Both Dressed and the Fodor’s Travel 2020 Paris guide, that I borrowed from the library, suggested it. Online disclosed that while the color-coded options were great, it wasn’t a cheap place. And that’s something I’ve learned along the way in general about vintage shopping. Don’t assume because the item is thirty seasons ago, or from 1972 that a retailer is just trying to get rid of it. They are very aware of what they’ve got and that Etro suit you’re eying will cost you $400. Not $60 or $100, which is what I think most of us that vintage shop, when for designer brands, high-key hope for. It happens! Shoppers have found vintage Gucci for amazingly affordable prices, but trust me, I got some clothes and prices to share when I do my post on visiting the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, said to be the largest flea market in the world and Dressed took us there on our last day.
I learned about a handful of vintage shops after getting my portrait wonderfully illustrated by Aranxa Ortega at 59 Rivoli, an artist squat turned artist building where talent can rent out spaces to create their work, and of course, showcase, sell, and commission.
I had known about 59 Rivoli, named after the street Rue de Rivoli, probably since my December deposit. After she was done, Ortega was cool enough to write down some stores for me to check out when it came to vintage shopping. Now that I’ve returned, I can’t find the paper she wrote it on. But while in Paris, I held on to it so well! Ortega, having lived in Paris for the past five years and fluent in French, we initially started chatting because she complimented by long shorts from Opening Ceremony in French. And while I knew she had said something nice, I admitted to not knowing French, and she seamlessly translated in English!
(What an amazing gift to be bi-lingual, let alone trilingual as she is. Spanish, English, and French. I was tres grateful to all the French people I spoke with that knew English. They didn’t even have to be fluent, conversational was more than enough! And I essentially asked the same questions, and if it was super specific, hello Google Translate. My sister actually had a whole conversation with an Uber driver who had Google Translate up and ready during our ride from Bagnolet to our hotel, Maison Nabis by HappyCulture).
I wish I could find the paper, but I know it had three stores on it, and two were Free ‘P’ Star and Kilo Shop. At first I had no idea where they were located. I had gone to 59 Rivoli on Sunday, and it was my second day in Paris, so, so much was still new to me about my surroundings. But come Wednesday, after we had visited the Van Cleef & Arpels “Pierres Precieuses,” or “Gems” exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, my sister chose to go back to the hotel to rest. And it was a long day, but it was still early enough to frolic, sight-see, and vintage shop! I was going to find those shops.
Via the Metro, Free ‘P’ Star wasn’t far, and I had become familiar with the train station. It’s quite fab in Paris. It gets you anywhere, doesn’t take forever, and is well connected. Being that I’ve lived in Boston and New York, both transit-heavy and New York can be especially infuriating(!), I was impressed with the train system!
When I got to where I was supposed to get off, I immediately recognized it as the area in which Dressed and I had visited the day before to see the Alaia and Lindbergh exhibition at the Azzedine Alaia Fondation, which was EVERYTHING. The area is also known for being LGBTQ+ friendly and fun! And I had no idea that Free ‘P’ Star was nearby.
Except that when I got to the address, I was confused because I saw two P Star locations, and the first one on the right looked be closing up. My eyes then darted to the left where I saw a bigger P Star store and I went that way. A bohemian-dressed man, smoking, however, stopped me from going though the opened door, in an agile manner, stating that it was closing. I remained confused as I had Google Mapped the store and it said closing time was 9. He then, with an air of le sigh told me to walk further down and that the one that closes at 9 was down there. I was all kinds of “What!” because I wasn’t aware that P Star had three locations.
I started walked as I Google Mapped, but when I was about to cross the street, I was still CONFUSED. He had given the directions as if I knew the neighborhood well already. So, even though I didn’t want to, I walked back and asked him to please explain one more time. He was exasperated and only a tad more detailed than before. He had an attitude that was uncalled for and I just wanted to get away from him and head to the store, thinking about any potential designer or simply cute stuff waiting for me. He then, as I started to head towards the third location, add, “Second time,” as if to imply that he was annoyed he had to explain twice. My back was fully turned by the time I was ready to cuss him out, and instead of giving him the middle finger, I just threw a peace sign. He was the first rude Parisian I had met at that point. Parisians can be sassy, but he was just being a jerk.
On the way, I did see Kilo Shop too!
I found the third P Star, and my reaction was relief and an eye roll. Like dang, why was this a mini-adventure? I went in and it looked and smelled like classic vintage stuff. Stuffy, a little musty, lowlight, cramped, but thankfully not too cramped in this shop. I recall lots of denim and jackets and began to desperately scan for something cute. I went through two aisles, looked at some stuff, but nothing caught me yet. I saw that there was a downstairs, and so I went and it was bargain basement style. Nah. I didn’t even care for that in the States. In Boston, the Garment District has By the Pound in which piles and piles of clothes are on the floor and in bins for you to rummage. I haven’t even done a By the Pound yet! And even though I was in Paris, this set-up was no less appealing. So I went back upstairs to give the clothes there another try.
The first item I found was a Barucci blazer! A classic blazer in that it’s a darkened beige with greyish-black flowers all over. It has a pocket on each side and one button. I tried it on and loved it. A good fit and for 10 Euros. So like $12 USD.
My thirst got realer and I kept looking and then I found a Pierre Cardin shirtdress! Yes! I picked it up so fast. By the register was a mirror, and it was there I saw that behind it were higher-priced items from iconic labels, like a Valentino blazer and that Guy Laroche floral bolero I wanted.
Space was limited, so I made sure my things were in plain view, and I tried on the dress after taking off my DVF blazer. Another good fit and comfy. And Pierre Cardin! 30 Euros wasn’t bad either. So in total, I paid 40 Euros and got 10 Euros back since I paid with 50 Euros. I was pleased and really excited about Cardin. Back in late 2019, I had visited Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion, a retrospective of his innovation in fashion and foray into interior design and licensing, at the Brooklyn Museum. It was great and my mom had a few of his pieces when I was a kid. In Boston, during a vintage fair, this one vendor had Cardin shorts, but they were a little too small for me!
After I got my change, I looked again at one more rack because I feel like that’s just what you do in thrift/vintage stores. I did find a blazer that was okay and tried it on, but it was too obvious. I’ve slightly forgotten what it looks like a bit, but I think it had lace-up detailing on the sides and front. And while I normally like that touch, it wasn’t working for me. I placed it back and exited and that was when I took that picture of the storefront!
With a basic plastic bag carrying my P Star goods, I strolled around the area some more, fascinated and in love with the ambiance of the area. People were out, shopping, heading somewhere else, eating, just living life fully. I couldn’t believe I was really in Paris. I suppose that’s a typical, standard feeling as an American visiting, but I do not care. The feeling was awesome. I beyond wish I could’ve bottled it up. And by walking around, I realized I wasn’t far from Le Centre Pompidou, where I had walked on Sunday. By trip’s end, I realized that so many Parisian neighborhoods were actually very close to each other. I could’ve easily have walked right back to 59 Rivoli, even though I chose to take the train. (I had my weekly Metro pass thanks to the tour. We took the train to most of our visits).
While walking back to the Metro, the same guy outside of the main P Star was there, just chilling like before. He recognized me a bit, and I held up my bag. “Found it,” I said.
“Oh, it’s still opened?” He sounded surprised and relieved, as if he ready to send more people there. The main store still didn’t even have it’s door closed yet! But there weren’t people in there either. No new ones anyway. Strange.
“You know, you weren’t very nice earlier. You were mean,” I added, as I continued walking.
“I was what?” he asked, almost amused.
“I said you were mean.”
“Mean! You were mean! Angry! Mean earlier when I asked for directions.” I was facing him now, but eager to make the train. I had made my point.
While he still seemed baffled, I guess he got the gist, and I couldn’t believe he had forgotten already. It was only like thirty minutes ago. I’m not anybody to him, but sheesh.
Now, if I can paraphrase, he went on make statements about how life is hard and people can be standoffish for many reasons. Essentially that’s what I was able to somewhat gather. I think he was also having some trouble translating his thoughts in English out loud. (Again, not a problem. The running joke throughout the trip was to tell a French person when they felt bad about their English: “Your English is better than my French!”) It was very tangent-esque, and I while earlier I knew his behavior had nothing to do with me, this moment proved it. I held some empathy for him, yet was still glad I said something. And, as always, I understood. Hell, sometimes, I am standoffish. You know, trust issues.
I forgave, let it go and we said good-bye. Soon, back by the streets of Rivoli, and before taking a bus to Maison Nabis, I looked through the window of Samaritaine, or La Samaritaine. A recently re-opened luxe department store I had browsed through earlier and that had been closed in the city of Paris for sixteen years.
Here’s Part 2!
P.S. Feel free to share as a comment vintage, thrift and consignments shops you’ve been to or would like to shop at!
Below is a vlog of a woman in Paris who went shopping at one of the P Star locations and Kilo Shop!