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Paris's vintage stores and flea markets help you escape the hype of London fashion week. Jenni Marsh went vintage shopping for TNT.

Paris's vintage stores and flea markets help you escape the hype of London fashion week. Jenni Marsh went vintage shopping for TNT.

Say ‘bonjour’ to Paris’s Le Marais district – your wallet and wardrobe’s new best friend.

Here taffeta cocktail dresses are in abundance, leather satchels are aplenty – and price tags are rock bottom.

Free'P'Star

My first stop in gay Paris, between Bastille and the Chatelet, was Free’P’Star (8 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie – Hotel de Ville Metro).

Drab on the outside, inside Free’P is dizzying – clothes and people are everywhere. Taking elbow blows in my stride, I scour racks of cowboy jackets and sequined tops with 80s shoulder pads, slinging a red polka-dot dress, nipped in lovingly at the waist (£8), over my back.

Then I see it – the rickety stairway to vintage heaven. My heaven being a balcony, where cardboard boxes of screwed-up vinatge clothes are marked ‘TOUT 1 EURO’.

I make my ascent. In the musty boxes I find a seductive (and possibly unwashed) Lyrca leopard print top and a grey towel mini skirt. I buy all three. At £10, I can afford not to try them on.

Coiffeur Vintage

Next is Coiffeur Vintage (32, Rue de Rosiers) – it’s calmer than Free’P and the rails are refreshed by deliveries twice a week.

Here caramel fur coats go for £42, but I’m drawn to the scarves (85p each). In a moment, I have a brown paisley neck scarf, a woollen shawl, scarlet neck tie, chocolate chiffon wrap, and polka dot neck tie in my arms. £4 for the lot? Merci beau(tiful)coup.

Generique

Hopping on the Saint Paul Metro to Cardinal Lemoine, I head for Generique (68 Rue Card Lemoine). This pink-fronted consignment store in the Latin Quarter specialises in vintage jewellery and big names are buried in the racks. I opt for a fake pearl necklace (£8) and a Comptoir des Cotonnier Breton top (£8).

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By now, the bags are weighing me down, but it’s barely 10am, so with a gulp I take the Metro to the end of the line (Porte de Clignancourt) to the world’s largest flea market – Les Puces (open all day Sat -Mon).

As I disembark to a world of high rises, I realise this is the Paris on the news, where residents riot and fires burn.

Loins girded, I stride on.

Vintage shopping in Paris

Slipping under a concrete overpass, I find stalls and shops as far as the eye can see. Learn to sift the bad stalls (those selling Happy Meal toys) from the good (shops with Paddington Bear leather trunks – £10) and the bargains are yours to barter for.

As for warnings of being mugged? What tosh, I think, gravitating towards a store with a Wild West front and corrugated iron entrance.

Then I round the corner fully and see that what’s on display is not dynamite clothing but genuine ammunition – and what look suspiciously like AK47s.

The hooded men guarding this outpost of banditry eyeball me unwelcomingly and I decide it’s time to flee Les Puces.

As I turn on my heel, clutching £60 of truly divine clothing, I declare my warfare against overpriced vintage fashion victorious.

Europe's vintage Havens:

ANTWERP
It’s not just chocolates that the Belgians do well. Head for My Ohm (Vrijdagmarkt 14) where catwalk designers make their way onto the rails at reasonable prices. Consignment store Belchique (Kloosterstraat 177; belchique.com) is not to be missed.

ROME
Once you’ve been to Rome’s vintage stores you’ll be itching to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain. Behind the Piazza Navona, the Via del Governo Vecchio is the heart of the city’s used clothing scene. Pulp (Cavour Metro) has classic Versace and Chanel pieces for less than €50. Primitus in the Trastevere area, near Piazza San Cosimato, specialises in vintage jewellery – 40 per cent sales in January and August.

BERLIN
Berlin’s vintage scene is burgeoning. Check out Jumbo Second Hand (Wiener Strabe, 63), a giant jumble sale. Made in Berlin (Neal Schon Strasse, 19: kleidermarkt.de) is packed with punky pieces while Ohne Frage Toll (Chausseestrasse; ohnefragetoll.de) has a good range of retro.

Essential information

WHEN TO GO: Weekends (Sat-Mon) when Les Puces flea market is open.
GETTING THERE: Travel to Paris by Eurostar (eurostar.com) from £69.  EasyJet flies to Charles de Gaule Paris.
GETTING AROUND: Hotel de Ville Metro or walk between 4th and 5th arrondissements; For Les Puces, take Metro Line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt.
VISA INFORMATION: South Africans need a Schengen Visa.
CURRENCY: Euro. 1 GBP = 1.17 EUR.
LANGUAGE: French.
ACCOMMODATION: Young and Happy Hostel, 80 rue Mouffetard – 75005 Paris is €25 a night.
GET MORE INFO: youngandhappy.fr., franceguide.com


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