Our day at the flea market was extra special as we were splitting up into teams. We all definitely got our steps in! We had 4 stops we were visiting and a stop for lunch but of course the flea market always turns into a bit of a ramble. The Clignancourt is a huge flea market, reportedly the world’s largest, and it usually requires a full day just to even walk the entire thing. It’s split up into various blocks and the Marchés wind in and around the streets of the enclave of Saint Ouen. We were focusing on a few of the specific markets as they have the most vintage and antique textiles and notions but we did have a quick walk through most of the markets to see what other treasure awaited us.
The market spans about 6 blocks square and if you think that doesn’t sound that big you would be wrong. It is densely packed with historical french antiques, mid century treasures, architectural salvage, and more vintage and antique clothing and textiles than you can shake a stick at. From the tumbledown shacks of the Vernaisson to the orderly shops of the Marché Dauphine, my favourite is a tiny notions shop in the Marché Malassis, where Flora Barlan has set up her 1.5 sq m shop called Les Perles D’Antan.
Flora has a unique collection of beads, trims, embroideries, jet and buttons that were all made by her family’s factories from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. Flora has been selling off the back stock since 2000 after closing up the manufacturing the year before and she says she has enough to keep up her booth at the market for another 4 or 5 years. Most remarkably her drawers and drawers of paillettes and beads include some gelatine sequins from the 1920’s. Remarkable because these sequins are made from gelatine and melt the same way. Many dresses from this era didn’t survive in tact and show the spillage of it’s owner from a drink or two or even the melting of the sequins from the hot and sweaty hands of her dance partner on her back.
This is but one of hundreds of shops at this incredible historic flea market. You will find many of the vendors do speak English and are all passionate about what they are selling. It’s an incredible opportunity to touch and even bring home some of this amazing textile and garment history.