Les Puces – From Louis Gilt to Cardin Design

When the taxi dropped me off at Porte de Clignancourt I was confused and frustrated. I was sure I had made it clear to both concierge and taxi driver that I wanted to be dropped off to the Paris Flea Market. Instead, all I could see when I left the taxi was stand upon stand of t-shirt and sneaker sellers and fake ones to add insult to injury. With a sigh I thought I’d better do some exploring in case everyone but me had the drop off “right”.

104A few minutes of walking the perimeter did nothing to ease my frustration. But a minute after that I headed in behind the fake glamour and brand sellers and very quickly what appeared to be on the outside just another Victoria market quickly became the most extraordinary indoor and outdoor labyrinth of antique, period and vintage design I had ever experienced. Quite literally every period, category and medium was represented by hundreds of stall holders and larger dealers from the very small to the expansive. If one was searching for a name so comprehensively inappropriate for what it was describing this was a good example – the largest antiques market place in the world described as a “flea market”!
For lovers and collectors of anything “not brand new” and indeed those with an eye for modern design this market should be on your “bucket list”. I planned to spend half a day there, spent two, wanted to spend a week and probably could have happily camped on site for a month while I obsessively covered every arcade, side lane and shopfront in the vein hope of reassuring myself that it was indeed possible to cover every square inch of Les Puces. Aside from the completely satisfying aesthetic and historical overload I experienced over those two days I was excited to see the very obvious conversion many of the traders were making from “Louis gilt” to “Cardin design”. Put another way, the market was very clearly beginning to express the changing tastes of Parisians and tourists alike – period and beautiful furnishings were still plentiful but just as plentiful was European design from 1950 – 1990. And not only was the “conversion” exciting to me but also the sheer volume of post-war design that was available. Clearly the French have recognised the value (and resale value) of good design and manufacture even if it does stem from a factory and it seems to me too that Australians are also slowly but surely realising that an extraordinary light fitting from the 1970s or an unidentified chair from the 1950s can and should have a collectable value if good design and manufacture are present.
Despite the fact that modern retailers are churning out light, weak and pale imitations of many of these great designs I left Les Puces feeling buoyant about this new era of collecting that I believe is right in the middle of finding a new harmony between the quality old and the quality new.

John Albrecht
Leonard Joel Managing Director