Paris Tips: Porte de Vanves Flea Market
By Theadora Brack
Blame it on the falling autumn leaves, but suddenly I’ve got a hankering for some good old-fashioned, finger-snapping, moody-bluesy time travel at the Porte de Vanves Flea Market. Grab my hand. Here’s one for the ode.
Thank the notorious “rag and bone men” (today’s “dumpster divers”) for getting the flea market party started in Paris during the late 19th century. Mon Secret: The one down at Porte de Vanves is where I find most of my retro treasures. Mum is the word.
Throughout the market, you’ll find racks, tables, and boxes of vintage clothes, holding court with costume jewelry, bags and belts, hats, sunglasses and shoes. Collect old copies of fashion rags like Marie France and Elle? They’ve got you covered.
Also, be prepared to be bug-eyed by the market’s cool mix of absinthe spoons, glazed wine pitchers, and tastevins (nubby-bottomed wine taster’s cups), along with ice buckets, ashtrays, glasses, and bottle openers, all sporting logos of old-school French bar classics like Suze, Ricard, and Picon.
And since you can still buy these Cylindrical Dandies at supermarkets like Monoprix, you can dial back the clock with all the senses, not just your sense of style. À votre santé!
Now, let’s dust off my Flea Market Tip Sheet. Market Warriors, unite. We’re off to the Puces!
1. Set your Big Ben
As the flea market opens at 7 a.m., and the dealers start packing up to leave around noon, get your beauty rest, but plan to arrive early. Save time by trapping your breakfast at Le Fournil de Vanves Patisserie, located next to the “Porte de Vanves” Métro exit. I recommend giving their flaky, heart-shaped palmiers a shot!
2. Carry cash
Organize a small “till” the night before. I usually carry €50 in coins and small bills. If you forget, don’t fret. There’s an ATM near the “Boulevard Brune” exit from the Porte de Vanves Métro.
Tip: In France, most ATM machine “keys” do not include letters, just numbers. So what to do if you’ve memorized your password as “Hero” and not as “4376”? Get thee quickly to a payphone booth. Here the keys include both numbers and letters. Voilà, Super Man! This tip saves the day every time.
And speaking of numbers, if you plan to shop for clothing or shoes, get to know your European size numbers. There are no cha-cha-changing rooms at this open-air affair!
3. Be Prepared
Pack a survival kit: water bottle, chocolate (for energy), moleskin, Métro tickets, and maps with flea markets and brocantes circled, and coins for WCs. Also bring a sturdy bag, because dealers tend to give out flimsy plastic sacs. Most grocery store chains sell bold and beautiful fiber-cloth bags for less than a euro.
4. Arrive with a mission
It’s great to have a “quest” in mind, since visualization will help narrow your hunt while increasing your chances of finding the object of your desire. Also, mind the gaps. What’s missing from your closet? A vintage belted trench coat in black or khaki? A stiff striped shirt? Glossy ballet slippers? All three are timeless French classics, and souvenir-worthy.
5. Pace yourself
Don’t buy the first treasure you see, since you may spot a similar, less expensive item later on. And don’t dawdle—the market stretches for about eight or ten blocks along Avenue Marc Sangnier and around the corner on Avenue Georges Lafenestre. When you get to the snack wagon on the corner you’re halfway. You can always go back and snag something if it’s still calling your name on the way back.
6. Bargain Bliss
These are usually marked with hand-written signs like, “TOUT À €5 CETTE TABLE.” (Anything on the table for five euros). You’ll find them scattered throughout the flea market.
7. Bragging Rites
After shopping, grab a café at the nearby bar “Grill 14” and admire your newly-acquired purchases. Always one to boast, I recently scored yet another pair of Salvatore Ferragamo pumps. Back in the day, he created wonders for Mary Pickford and Marilyn Monroe. His shoes usually retail for big bucks, but on this sunny day, the dealer let me sashay away with them for just €20. Talk about a Hollywood ending!
More, More, More?
If your morning at Porte de Vanves only whets your appetite, then hop on the “95” bus and ride it clear across Paris to the Porte de Clignancourt flea market, which stays open till 7 p.m.
For the mere price of a metro ticket, you’ll be able to kick back and catch your breath while the panorama of Paris rolls by en route to the next market. The 45 minute ride will give you time to rest your feet. Plus, it’s one of the most scenic bus routes in the city, so don’t pack your camera away.
Clipping from designer Elsa Schiaparelli, “Buy only the best or the cheapest!” Happy Hunting!