The Paris Series: Shopping in Paris – Vintage & Thrift! (Part 2) Navigating Les Puces
Read Part 1 here!
I had never heard of Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, or for short, Les Puces, until my trip “Paris with Dressed: The History of Fashion.”
Scheduled for our last day together and our first activity that Saturday, April and Cassidy told us more than once, and excitedly, that it was the largest flea market in the world and that everything and almost anything we could want would be there. I honestly didn’t know what to expect as far as how it would like. I kind of imagined it somewhat like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, where my mother and sister had visited. They both shared that it was huge and overwhelming. They got a few things, but the amount of options and people present were just too staggering!
But unlike the Bazaarr, for Les Puces, I didn’t even bother to Google it. I wanted Dressed to lead the way.
On Saturday, my sister opted out of going because she’s really not a flea market person. I like a good flea market, but I get why for some people they just don’t care for it. Like a thrift or vintage store, sometimes the presentation can be a turn-off. Things everywhere, tossed about, and much of it needing a dusting, and oftentimes, a washer and dryer. Flea market culture in general is really about the hunt, which I guess has a lot to do with the f*** it presentation of items. I admit, it would be nice if vendors and stores would sometimes not put everything on display and so sloppily. And I’m saying this as someone who lives within organized chaos with her belongings.
I definitely wanted to see the world’s largest flea market so I joined the group as we took the train to the Metro stop Garibaldi. Only April, Cassidy and Laura Hart of Like Minds Travel knew what was going on, as us attendees were bushy-tailed and wide-eyed. We had arrived about a half-hour in Saint-Ouen before Les Puces would be fully opened to the public. But we slowly saw vendors set-up and shops preparing to open. Once in the area, we felt the closeness of everything. It was like New York City: there was no space unturned aka unused. Though the part in which we entered on our way to Les Puces (I now know that there is another Metro stop that will take you to Les Puces and regularly recommended online: Porte de Clignancourt), we passed by normal, ol’ looking streets, and then a section of street art, including art on the gates of Studio des Bons Enfants. I also liked how Betty Boop was graffiti-ed on the gates of Le Valles restaurant. I also peeped this fantastic chair embroidered with a collage of books on the cushion and African art. Some vendors were already ready for customers.
After a briefing on the flea market, we were also repeatedly told to keep our bags close to us and zipped. And if wearing a backpack, to wear it on the front. We had been warned about pick-pocketeers all throughout the tour, but it was really stressed at Les Puces. The warning momentarily had me on edge. Like damn, was someone really just gonna come up to me and snatch my shit!
We were initially going to begin at Chez Sarah, an iconic shop made up of two long rectangular spaces, one for vintage clothes and another for accessories. But the manager wasn’t going to be around and available to open for us until, I believe it was, 1 PM. The hosts were frustrated because they had reached out beforehand, but they just dealt with it and stated that we would all agree to meet in front of Chez Sarah when it was time to walk back together and head back into Paris. I had seen through the window a Courrèges bag and a classic Paco Rabanne bag from the 1960s, metal chain and all. I really wanted them and hoped they wouldn’t be too pricey. Like, OMG, were my coins set on that Courrèges bag!
Before everyone would go their separate ways based on what they wanted to purchase and would hopefully find, we were given a walking tour of, say, the back streets of Les Puces. To catch you up to speed, by now, at least fifteen to twenty minutes or so had passed, so more vendors had set-up shop.
It was vendor after vendor after vendor selling clothes, clothes, and more clothes, counterfeit designer bags, sneakers and shoes, jewelry (real? fake? both?), and salespeople ready to pounce. It was exhilarating and nerve-racking to walk through. The back streets also seemed to be consisting of “newer” items. Not as focused on the antique aspect, as some of the shops were very Necessary Clothing and Fashion Nova, and streetwear-type brands. We then went into the building Marché Dauphine in which more vendors could be found but they weren’t opened yet. I wouldn’t say it was creepy, but prime for a haunted story! It just felt so deserted and nothing about it seemed to have been updated in decades. (Dauphine looks much older than its young 30 years of standing). Though that was awesome when it came to the spaceship in the middle of the ground floor that looked straight out of the 1970s.
We hung around for a bit and then the hosts mentioned that another section called Vernaison, like a whole other flea market within a flea market was across the street. Oh gosh, I thought to myself. Will I be able to see everything at Les Puces? At least everything I’m supposed to see when it comes to my interests? (Fashion, a cute, random trinket. Maybe a plate).
At first in Marché Dauphine, only the book vendors were beginning to sprout (I love books! But naturally, these sellers were selling them in French), but Vernaison was opened, so most us went over there. And then guess what? It began to rain! Rain was in the forecast, but it wasn’t supposed to appear until 3 or 4 that afternoon. It hadn’t even reached 11:30 AM yet. I think only two of us in the group had umbrellas. I had mine out but felt bad for the vendors that had to scramble. Flea markets are already crammed, and then with rain and crowds?
I began to feel claustrophobic!
I proceeded to look anyway at what Vernaison had to offer. Random home goods stuff. I did see this one super cute Asian art teapot. (I should’ve bought it).
The first clothes shop I went in was stuffed. Clothes were even hanging from the ceiling! A few Dressed attendees were in there. I considered this one vest, but it was too small. And before I left, without even knowing it, my arm was in contact with what felt like a hand, but I didn’t know where it was coming from, and because, like vintage stores, flea market can have that creepy vibe, I said, out loud, “Oh God, it’s happening!” Then immediately a woman’s voice said, “Whoops! Sorry!” and she started laughing. We both did. She understood and I got out of there!
Still raining, I just kept looking and gleaning vendors. Where was the designer stuff? I admit a lot of the items for the home were nice, but how was I going to bring it back (and in one-piece?) One Dressed attendee actually brought a whole separate empty suitcase for items. Shopping-wise in France, she came for cheese and jam.
After walking for about another 10-15 minutes, I found mini Mecca within Vernaison: a shop specializing in designer vintage. I mean DESIGNER. From the outset, there were mannequins wearing Issey Miyake and Vivienne Westwood. I was taken on sight, walked in, and was greeted by the shopkeeper. And the same women from the other shop were in there, trying on items. Vintage Heaven, I found you at last!
The first item I entertained was a green blazer and of course I can’t recall the brand! Then I tried on a Yves Saint Laurent color-block blazer that was fantastic. Gem colored and structured, it fit perfectly and was unfortunately 550 Euros. So, like $700 USD for me, I thought at the time. (I Googled while writing this and the conversion would’ve been $645 USD). I just couldn’t do it. The Euros were killing me by Saturday and if I hadn’t bought anything fashion-wise yet, then maybe I would’ve splurged. I begrudgingly put it back. That sucked.
The hunt was on, and all over the store, were designer goods, and great ones. My mouth was watering. I had to leave with something! I picked up a marigold blazer with big pearl-like buttons. It was Guy Laroche. Say no more. I tried it on. Great fit. I asked the shop-owner how much, and she smiled and commented on how good Laroche was. She then peered at the rack it was on, and said it was on sale for 40 Euros.
“40 Euros?” I couldn’t believe it. After that YSL for 550, I was a tad crushed that homegirl knew what she had in her shop. But she confirmed 40 Euros. Sold.
I, however, had to get cash, because for 50 Euros and under, she only accepted cash. I scrambled for an ATM, and I knew better the day before. I should’ve taken out money to avoid this. But there was one nearby. It didn’t feel nearby at the time, but once I walked back to Vernaison, I saw that it wasn’t far. Just that Les Puces is a busy area so if you don’t know where it is (Marche Paul Bert), you’re gonna feel annoyed.
I was so pleased about my purchase, I left Vernaison shortly after to head back into Marché Dauphine. Now lively with shoppers and opened vendors everywhere, I went upstairs were there was a major music section. It was like eight vendors selling vinyl, CDs, cassettes, and some had VHS tapes. I love a good record shop!
My vinyl collection is wonderful and right now I got a shortlist of records I want, such as Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook. I was thinking of picking up a vinyl in Paris, but I would do so during my next visit to France. I did look up record shops, and found awesome suggestions over on Culture Trip. So I just enjoyed being surrounded by albums, music playing, and posters. Talk about a vibe!
Marché Dauphine did have a lot of great artwork and home goods too. I even saw three Birkin bags up-close at a fashion shop (behind a glass case).
I then had lunch at il Napoli, a classically charming French cafe and restaurant. I had noticed in the rain that they had these great tables, on the patio, covered in vintage ads and posters. Though the rain had stopped when I arrived and ordered a pasta dish, I ate inside but near the open entrance. For being in such a hectic area, il Napoli offered respite!
Afterwards, I nearly got lost on my way to Chez Sarah. I’m usually pretty good on directing myself on visuals alone, but this time I was really stumped. And Google Maps couldn’t help me because I had been having shitty service in Les Puces all day. I actually began to tear up because I could tell I was getting lost. I didn’t (1) Want to miss going into Chez Sarah and by then, I had about fifty minutes to get there and explore and (2) Be separated from the group by the time it was time to leave. At one point, I turned around, ready to angrily walk back to Marché Dauphine and walk the long strip of back streets, which I didn’t want to do, I had made it to an open street with shops and restaurants on both sides. I felt like that would lead me at least closer to Chez Sarah and I was right. I soon saw Cassidy walk up to me, as she asked if I was heading to Chez Sarah. I saw that she had been sitting at a restaurant with April, and I believe the third was her sister who had joined her on the trip and is awesomely six feet tall.
“Yes!” I said, trying to hide the fact that just seconds ago, I was on the verge of tears. “I wanna see about that bag!”
“Okay, great! Yes, meet up there. They just opened up, finally. I hope you get that bag!”
“Thanks! Me too!” I said, and Cassidy walked back to the table.
Once inside Chez Sarah, the stuffy, vintage store feeling returned. It was organized, but a tight squeeze. Two women were running things, and they had a gorgeous, huge dog with them. The dog (I didn’t catch the breed) was as chill as ever. It would simply walk from one spot to another, and then just lay there. You had to be careful not to walk on the dog!
Pictures inside were not allowed, so I only have the outside. Chez Sarah is highly respected. April recalled a story of someone, a costume designer I believe, that had reportedly spent over 2,000 Euros in there. Now knowing the prices they attach to vintage items, I can see why. Desperately searching for a deal, I couldn’t find one. Chloe, Pucci, and Missoni were all too much and overpriced for me at Chez Sarah. I was tres disappointed. This some bullshit! The feeling got worse when I inquired about the purses in the window. Courrèges was 350 Euros, and Paco Rabanne was 1000 Euros. I hardly knew ya and have a nice life.
Even Cassidy expressed disappointment for me.
“Ugh, but it’s vintage Courrèges.”
Who you telling!
This was awful. No purse from either brand (seriously, what a let down!) and I was debating whether to just screw it and go back to Vintage Heaven and get the Issey Miyake pleated tunic jacket on the mannequin. It was 448 Euros. My freelance writing checks, that had very much got me through Paris, were, however, screaming at me no! (What was left of them anyway).
So Chez Sarah was a bust for me. Cassidy found a super cute, affordable skirt, and a few others found accessory items. I forgot to mention, but earlier, April found and purchased incredible art prints that she was in search of at Vernaison. If you really know what you’re looking for Les Puces, I think you’ll find it there, to be honest. And again, at Vintage Heaven, Lauren, a Dressed attendee, bought this delectable Christian Lacroix striped blazer.
Even though I wanted to leave Les Puces kicking and screaming (“Bring down the fucking prices!”), I was glad I came through with the group and ventured the iconic flea market. Will I return? I think so. There’s still so much to see!
It was a lot to take in and nearly broke me down at least three times. Looking back, that’s what flea markets do. They get you high, desperate, on edge, it throws you bone when you do find something super cool and affordable, you grab a bite to eat that’s actually good and the diamond in the rough of it all, and you head back home with something you’re glad to have found, while wishing you could’ve bought everything you saw and liked.
An experience indeed.
P.S. Have you been to Les Puces in France? Do share in the comments! As well as your fave thrift stores and spots!