Vintage Hunting with Charlotte

Assessing the value and quality of wares on sale at the flea market, whether its Scandinavian furniture, Limoges porcelain, or Chanel bags, is not as easy as you might think. That’s why touring the flea market with a savvy guide like Charlotte is a valuable lesson on bagging a bargain.

Charlotte, who is an expert in 20th century design, also has an impressive list of qualifications, including a Masters in History of Art, Law and Communication. An eagle-eyed smooth talker, she is the perfect chaperon for a visit to the Paris flea market.

In person, she is the epitome of French chic. She is elegant but unassuming and impeccably turned out, with a crisp silk scarf tied around her neck. Immaculate long auburn hair falls in wisps against her black leather jacket. For those trying to emulate the Parisian take on vintage dressing, she’s not a bad reference. We sit face to face in a Parisian café. She sips on her coffee, as I scribble down her answers in my moleskin.

Finding the Perfect Vintage Chanel Bag

She tells me that she got into tour guiding by chance because her friend Laurent had begun an informal introduction to the art market with a tour of the auction house Drouot. ‘Laurent was looking for people so he asked me. We discovered that the clients were not only interested in the auctions; they also wanted to know more about the flea market. Since the flea market can be very large, (the market at Saint Ouen is the largest in the world) and the sellers can be difficult, the clients were looking for someone with particular expertise who would be able to give them solid advice,’ Charlotte says.

I ask her what these clients are most likely to be looking for at the flea market? ‘I get all sorts of requests. There’s really no limit to the imagination when it comes to the flea market at St. Ouen, you can find anything.’ One recent request that sticks out in Charlotte’s memory, however, was a client’s explicit wish for paintings that depicted crucifixions. Lets hope they weren’t for the guest room.

When travelers from overseas come to Charlotte for her services they are often looking for vintage Chanel. This is not unsurprising considering the iconic quilted-leather shoulder bag has become a ubiquitous symbol of Parisian wealth and prestige. Paris’s reputation as the capital of fashion is confirmed in the remarkable choice of vintage designer gear on offer at the flea market.

Exploring the Marais

If a trip out to Porte de Clignancourt doesn’t float your boat, Charlotte recommends hitting the Marais for a spot of vintage shopping. She loves this area for its cool cosmopolitan mix of people and where you are likely to meet all sorts of characters. The fact that the shops are open on a Sunday makes it a hive of activity at the weekend. Her favourite addresses include: Thanx God I’m a V.I.P., 12 Rue de Lancry, where you can pick up some beautiful vintage pieces, and Resource, 7 Rue de Turenne, for its men’s vintage collection and 50s and 60s furniture.

A walk from the Musée des Arts Decoratives to the Left Bank

She mentions that a trip to the Musée des Art Décoratives, which is housed in a wing of the Louvre, is a must for those wishing to brush up on their design history.
A leisurely stroll will take you across the river to the Left Bank where a stop off at the Galerie Downtown, 33 Rue de Seine, is recommended for it’s intimate setting and critically lauded exhibitions of decorative art and furnishings. After all this wandering, a gastronomic detour is called for, and Charlotte knows a great little restaurant in which to cap off the evening: Le Chardenoux des Prés, nearby on 27, Rue du Dragon.

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