A journey through the largest flea market in Paris

Of the many flea markets in Paris, the one that comes up most is Marché Aux Puces De Saint-Ouen Clignancourt. Besides being the historic cradle of gypsy jazz, this mythical market hosts over five million visitors every year. We decided to do a day-long tour of this Parisian flea market, which is said to be the largest in Europe.




The market is actually a grouping of 15 smaller markets – made up of endless stands, stalls and junk stores – spread over seven hectares of land. What struck us most when we arrived was the sheer diversity: the range of items we found and people we met was dizzying. In terms of a budget, the items range from a €1 toothbrush to a €30,000 armchair, so there’s something for everyone. It’s located right on the border between north Paris and the suburbs, and is easily accessible by Metro Line 4, stopping at Porte de Clignancourt.



Saint-Ouen is famous for its adorable village-like antique markets and also for providing the backdrop to films like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Louis Malle’s Zazie Dans Le Métro. But it’s not all cheesy and romantic. In fact, the first 200 metres out of the Metro station was a wild competition of boys trying to sell fake perfumes and all kinds of second-hand goods (we nearly got in serious trouble for trying to photograph them!). But it’s best to avoid their dubious offers and hold off for the actual market. 



Soon we found dozens of stands lined up one after another selling just about anything from traditional African masks to the most random objects, such as hybrid taxidermy, Japanese woodcuts or keys that have no locks, all for appealing prices. The items were sometimes beautifully displayed by their owners, at other times were stacked in shapeless piles – still worth digging into. The merchants were friendly and took pleasure in telling us stories about the objects they had on display. We got ourselves some fine Pikachu glasses for €2.50 (bartered down from €10).



Walking a little bit further into rue Jean-Henri-Fabre, we came across different sneaker shops, record stores and bric-a-bracs. 



We soon learned to enjoy the spectacle of the other market-goers, all dressed up in their Sunday best. It’s likely when you visit you’ll come across several overdressed characters; one or two typical French chineurs (bargain hunters) picking up objects by the tip of their fingers and examining them with reluctance; and a few overly confident five year-olds walking around on their own and showing some serious negotiation skills.







By this point we were getting hungry and gave into the temptation of Yann’s delicious Breton crêpes on the corner of Jules Vallès and Jean-Henri-Fabre. The chef’s choice – an assortment of potatoes, onions, Tabasco and cheese – was heavenly. 





Once we left this densely packed area, the noise suddenly attenuated and there was a more relaxing array of stores. We discovered some fine sounds at Copa Music (54 bis rue Jules Vallès) and Beatsqueeze Recordsnext door. Then we found an affordable décor shop called Vintagez-Vous, selling furniture from the 50s to the 70s, lamps and objects, and a lovely vintage clothing store nearby called Antilopes, with numerous affordable and fun pieces.





We spent some time looking at old posters, second hand books, pins and badges at the marché Dauphine, which is sheltered by a glass ceiling. At the centre was an immense orange saucer, which seemed to have landed there from outer space. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside but it turned out to be a house made of plastic called Futuro, designed by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in the 1960s. 







A few blocks further we found le marché Serpette – an enclosed market with a whole different atmosphere. We had the impression we were walking through a large house with low ceilings and endless corridors, with each room designed in a different style. Some rooms looked like the bedroom of a compulsive collector sheltering thousands of items that have nothing in common, while others resembled the residence of a tidy minimalist with expensive taste. 



We decided to finish our tour by exploring one of the most central and famous markets within Saint-Ouen, the Paul Bert market. Each stand, truly unique, puts together a few exceptional pieces, mostly antiques and designer items in a carefully thought out arrangement. There were so many great stalls here we decided to focus in on a few for you:

Bénard Compagnie (Allée 2 Numero 22) & Augustin Deleuze (Allée 2 numéro 107)
These two stands opposite each other are united by the cutest partnership between the 69-year-old Pierre Bénard and the much younger Augustin Deleuze. Mr. Bénard, besides being the sweetest man of all Saint-Ouen, has been selling antiques for twenty years since he quit a career in advertising. He has an admirable mismatch of ages and styles in his stall, from a 19th century wooden armoire to a white Danish couch from the 1940s. On Augustin’s stand, we found a curiously split terracotta vestige from the 18th century, and a bust of Apollo made of cast iron. Although the stand belongs entirely to the youngster, his father was hanging around with him, and the two formed quite an impressive duo.





UnDeuxTroisAntics (Stand 123 marché Paul Bert)
Another good-looking father and son duo we met were François Flamand and his son Henri, who were relaxing in fancy armchairs and casually chatting as we walked by. Although the stand belongs to François, Henri shares his father’s passion for antiques. We were particularly impressed by a samurai costume that was standing amongst other lamps and statues.



Remix Gallery (110 rue des Rosiers)
This stand caught our attention because of its shiny golden walls (which are actually covered in survival blankets), which matched the several neon items displayed within. We had a long chat with the owners, Valérie and Antoine, an artist and history professor respectively, about the art of being a chineur. Apparently it’s a passion usually passed between generations in a family, and requires the virtues of thoroughness, knowledge and instinct. 



It is hard to name all of the stands we liked during our visit, but we enjoyed Nathalie Blancard’s collection of globes (16 rue Paul Bert); Didier Jean Anicet’s beautifully arranged lights (A1043); and Viviane Hadida’s stand, which specialises in luxurious seashells (allée 2 stand 113). We were also delighted to see some Memphis and Ettore Sottsass’ amazing creations at the Galerie Wauthier (Allée 6, Stand 226).





What seemed to emanate, no matter the style or background of the dealer, was their love for the objects on display. When you walk around Saint-Ouen, you can’t help but imagine how each item embodies a complex and expansive story.  Each item having once been conceived of, drawn, created, bought, offered, used, loved, detested, exposed, hidden, broken in an outburst of anger, fixed, abandoned, and maybe found by a grandson in the garage of a holiday home years later. 

Marché Aux Puces De Saint-Ouen Clignancourt​ is open Saturday from 09.00 – 18.00; Sunday from 10.00 – 18.00; and Monday from 10.00 – 17.00. It's a thirty minute journey from Generator Paris. Take the No. 2 metro from Colonel Fabien, change at Barbès – Rochechouart and take the No. 4 metro to Porte de Clignancourt.

Photography: Alice Kunisue