Saturday 26 September 2009

City Shopping Feature: Marchée aux Puces de Saint Ouen - Paris.

Perfume shoppers descending on Paris may be under the misconception that they are likely to unearth some rare treasure at one of the many flea markets around the city. It is true that the very keen-eyed collector who is prepared to drag themselves out of a warm hotel bed at 5.30am on the first market day of the week MIGHT just stumble upon something special... if they know what they're looking for of course! Sadly, bargains are few and far between, despite the many markets dotted in and around the capital. It would seem the Parisians know only too well the value of their wares, which makes treasure-hunting an expensive affair.

The wildly popular Marchée aux Puces de St Ouen is no different. Situated north of the city center, the marketplace comprises 13 individual smaller markets and covers over 7 hectares of land! For those wishing to fossick through old books, retro light fittings, frames and mirrors and an enormous variety of bric-a-brac, the pickings are excellent. For the perfume aficionado however, there is a scant selection to be found. Small stalls particularly in the Vernaison quarter offer the occasional vintage or mainstream figural bottle here and there, or perhaps a long-discontinued miniature at a reasonable price (I bought a 7ml bottle of Guerlain Derby for just a couple of euros). When you do stumble upon what looks to be a forgotten Lalique flacon that appears to have been thrust to the back of a dusty shelf at the rear of a dodgy store (with your heart hammering in your chest), you will almost always find an accompanying sticker on its base that reads €800, or similar.
Unfortunately, much of the perfume clutter is just that: clutter.

Perhaps more of a showcase than a retail outlet, I'd recommend visitors to the St Ouen market drop by Eliane-Parfume - a small stall in Le Marché Vernaison. Here, one of the most delightful collections of perfumes modern, vintage and rare are on display behind tall glass vitrines. Many are for sale, and some are not, but all are lovingly presided over by Mme Eliane who has collected each miniature, factice and flacon one by one.
Guerlain enthusiasts will see a gorgeous display of rare and unique bottles, and Mme Eliane houses some truly stunning Lalique bottles from the turn of the century. A large display case also holds rare and enchanting perfume jewellery and promotional items - pins, bracelets, scarves - many given as gifts with purchase, or to sales reps to be worn as a part of their standard uniform. Mme Eliane is happy for you to browse and take pictures, but the promotional items are not to be photographed; "its complicated" she insists, whilst shooing you away with both hands.

As beautiful as they may seem, the rarities don't come cheap, but some very reasonable purchases can be made on modern bottles and factices. As for me, I bought nothing on this particular visit... instead I ooh'ed and aah'ed through the vitrines, pleased that after a long day of rummaging through boxes and baskets, I had been rewarded with this visual feast.

Le Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen is open Sat-Mon. from approximately 10am to 5pm.
Eliane Parfume is situated in the Marché Vernaison
Stand 144, Allée No. 3

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