The big day has arrived. You’ve digested that article in your Sunday paper and you’re off, yes, yes, I am going to France to buy and sell vintage and make my fortune. Shall you find apothecary bottles or old, vintage maps, furniture to be shabby chic’d? Does your list include Koestler’s lost novel or Duchamp’s urinal in a Bordeaux brocante? Perhaps you’ll head for the Porte de Clignancourt in the 18th arrondissement , Paris, where you’ll find the famous Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, the biggest Marches de Puce (the colour you’ll be when you see the inflated tourist prices).
Rule number 1 is to barter, haggle and know your market, because over at the Porte de Vanves they’ll be buying to sell later at Clignancourt for a hefty profit and Rule 2 is : never underestimate the forward thinking Frenchman. Just remember Monsieur Baillon who kept 60 vintage automobiles from the 20s-50s, rusting in sheds on the family’s farm in western France – they’re now worth more than £12 million! This little video of the Baillon Collection by the auctioneers shows just how incredible the discovery of these cars is:
Vintage is different to antique – vintage must be at least 25 years old but to be antique, it must have been around for more than 100 years.
If you want a more unpredictable vintage sale, try a local, every day brocante (street/boot sale) where you will find the French are often bemused at what we visitors buy! The streets will be lined with stalls full of clothing, shoes, gothic church candlesticks, crucifixes and pews, a wealth of ancient farming equipment, gardening tools, wooden crates and barrels for halving and filling with flora and French furniture and art deco delights for the whole shabby chic up-cycle thing that the British so love. Well, let’s face it, the French are very happy to sell us these things and locals often open up the garage or attic (vide greniers) which is where you can pick up beautiful ‘bibelots’ – bits and pieces that are not furniture.
Look hard and you’ll sometimes find beautiful handmade vintage linens and more personal items. With so many French designers such as St Laurent, Chanel, Celine, Lanvin, Lacoste and the French woman’s love of fashion plus her diligence in storing things, you’ll often discover some wonderful bargains. At the moment French accessories beginning with S are all the rage – shoes, stockings, sunglasses and even slippers are much sought after.
The atmosphere at a brocante is a heady, happy one. The smell of street food cooking mingles with the scent of homemade donkey milk soaps or produce from the French kitchen gardens. Local bee keepers bring the elixir of youth, bee pollen, royal jelly and honey. Local artisans bring their work.
But… with so much on offer, from what will you make your fortune? This no true vintager will ever tell you, for that is your real mission and if nothing else, you’ll have great fun working it out with so much to choose from!
By Sandra Davis, a vintage nut with passion for French vintage clothing.