Vintage fabrics at the Clignancourt markets Furniture and garden accessories at the Clignancourt markets An example of the several vendor alleyways at the Clignancourt markets

FNO 2010: Q&A With a Flea Market Expert

BY Sofia Cavallo | Wed. December 31, 1969 | 7:00 PM | OC,A La Mode
Time flies! We can't believe that in just one more day les puces take Ace by storm for our FNO French Flea Market! Although the OC flea market will be truly unique, preparing for it has had us thinking a lot about the real version that we drew inspiration from. Here is an interview with Sandy Price, an expert on the subject and author of The Flea Markets of France.

Sofia Cavallo: What do you see as the biggest difference between French flea markets and American ones?

Sandy Price: 
The French flea markets are often located in the most central, scenic and historic parts of towns and cities, unlike many American markets. Examples of this are the markets in Nice, Toulouse, Annecy, Belfort, and (to a lesser extent) Bordeaux. As a result, they are a great and easy way for visitors to experience the French way of life in beautiful surroundings. Paris is an exception to this, as the big markets - Clignancourt and Porte de Vanves - are located on the edge of the city (as that is how they evolved historically), but even these markets are easily accessed by the Metro.

SC: What should Americans look for when they shop at Parisian flea markets?
SP: The Clignancourt (St. Ouen) and the Porte de Vanves markets in Paris have just about every kind of antique and collectible, for every taste - vintage kitchenware, fabrics, paintings, silver, garden accessories, furniture, Art Deco, toys, militaria. Collecting is a very individual thing and my view is that when you see something you like you should follow your instincts. It is, however, a good idea to do a bit of research beforehand to get a better understanding of French style and design and the historical roots of the collectibles you are interested in.

SC: How have they evolved over the years?
SP: The Parisian markets have a long history and, particularly in the case of the Clignancourt markets, have evolved over time. Unlike the Porte de Vanves market, and many flea markets in France, vendors there have permanent booths (some even in modern premises) and are not obliged to pack up and move after each market day. This makes them less appealing to some (as the wares are generally more expensive), but more appealing to others, as vendors tend to specialize in particular collectibles and are quite knowledgeable about their wares.

SC: Big markets like Clignancourt can be overwhelming and there can be a lot of junk. Do you have any navigation tips?
SP: The Clignancourt markets are huge, but in a concentrated area, and can be visited in a few hours. I think the best idea is to set aside most of the day to see them, with a break for lunch at one of the restaurants nearby. Be flexible and let yourself wander, as strolling along and exploring each of the several markets that make up Clignancourt is the best way to really experience what French style and design is all about.

SC: What's the best thing you've ever found at a Parisian flea market?
SP: My best finds in the Parisian markets are wonderful pieces of regional ceramics - from Alsace, the Savoie, Brittany, and Provence. It is not unusual to find that regional collectibles are cheaper in Paris than they are in the regions they are from.

SC: Any bargaining tips?
SP: Try to master at least a few phrases in French, as vendors will appreciate it even if they speak some English. Don't appear too eager to secure the deal. Don't make an offer that is significantly less than the asking price, as you may offend the seller. Figure out what you are really willing to pay and offer an amount close to it.

SC: What's your favorite American flea market?
SP: I live in Toronto, but I have been to a number of American flea markets that I have really liked (though, sadly, I have not yet made it to Brimfield in Massachusetts. I really liked the markets in Santa Monica, California and Canton, Texas, as one of my biggest loves is Fifties American kitchenware.