Shopping in Paris like a Parisian is a daunting experience for non-natives. Exchange rates and language barriers create a level of discomfort equal to middle school. Which is why, I assume, so many visitors to the French capital prefer to spend their time perusing tchotchke shops and faux antique art stands along the Seine. Now add vintage shopping to the mix and you’ve set yourself up for one epic goose chase.
Paris is unknowingly sprawling when it comes to vintage menswear. Shops are spread out and the quality and quantity of men’s garments in these stores are limited. After scouring the city of lights – a city that brought us some of the finest talents and remains home to garment-making quality unparalleled in the rest of the world – you’ll find two havens for unique finds, great prices, and hopefully the holy grail.
There is a place many know but few think of when one says "menswear," that is the market at Clignancourt. Slightly north of the city center, Clignancourt is known both as the home to hawkers of cheap knock-offs as well as the epicenter of vintage Haute Couture.
When you get off the metro at Porte de Clignancourt – past Montmatre, past Gare de Nord – you are surrounded by booths selling everything from cell phone cases to fake Gucci and Nike sneakers, to underwear and Samsung Galaxy smart phones. You shuffle through the crowds, most of whom are simply socializing, until you find yourself in a covered, multi-level Mecca with exquisite vintage Louis XIV furniture, lithographs, and books. There stands Falbalas, a purveyor of military costumes dating as far back as late 19th Century. Meticulously crafted top-coats with striped grosgrain detailing alongside olive brown cargo jackets, the booth is both nostalgic and terrifying. Among the racks of brown and navy sat a beautiful Chinese silk brocade dressing gown – something a great lord would wear, and not dissimilar from Louis Vuitton’s wild brocade/monster print for Fall/Winter 2013. When asked for the date, the wildly unfriendly sales woman responded “vingt” (twenty), which one can only surmise meant 1920s. The price tag read €280, while most items were around the €100 mark.
Across the street is another market entirely. This one started with a booth, which was really more of a storefront with a small but beautifully curated collection of modern industrial furniture. At first it seems as though the inventory consisted only wood and metal school chairs, 30 identical bowls, massive iron light-up letters that spell “bed” and a gigantic long wooden table. However, within the massive grated metal wall were five garments dangling. One was a Wrangler denim shirt; the next was a Filson-like striped wool coat, followed by a Levi’s denim vest and a pair of denim overalls. That’s it. No price tags and no sales associate in site.
Around the corner, there's another booth selling two things – Burberry outerwear and knit polos. The jackets ranged from the colorful quilted styles to the brand’s signature trench coats in a multitude of styles and cuts. This booth seems to represent the necessity for “niche-ness” in the Paris markets. With such overwhelming competition, those that succeed stick with what they know.
With an exterior covered in everything from hippie-style tie-dye capes to sailor shirts, Beatnik stands above the rest. Their mélange of the outlandish and the everyday earns its spot, and crowd for that matter, in the books. Standouts include a patchwork indigo leather vest with asymmetrical zipper for €80, a pair of Slimane-era Dior Homme velvet trousers for €70, and Sprouse for Louis Vuitton high-top sneakers (not sure if authenticity is guaranteed on those). With their American flag and old televisions broadcasting white noise, Beatnik is a mixes and matches iconography and in way that is distinctly French.
While the markets at Clignancourt are a feast for the eyes, pickpockets are notorious in this area so watch your things. Make sure to take out cash beforehand, the ATMs are few and have high service fees.
On the way back into town, stop in Le Marais, a fantastic shopping district (one of few open on Sundays in France). First stop should be Episode, a sort of hipster chain thrift shop with locations throughout Europe. On Rue Tiquetonne, Episode is inexpensive but not terribly unique. Walls of flannels and denim line the shop, offering both men’s and women’s goods. Similarly, The King of Frip, located on the corner of Rue Du Rich De Sicile and Rue Vielle Du Temple peddles the usual array on stuffed racks. However, both store have very low prices and are great for staples.
Finally stop by Vintage Bar on Rue de la Verrerie. Their men’s collection is nothing in compare to the sizable women’s offerings but everything within this rabbit hole is intensely covetable. Between the Louis Vuitton moto jacket in navy suede to the Yves Saint Laurent jacquard tuxedo jacket, it is hard not to drool. Prices are high here but well worth it.
Le Marais is relatively walk-able from anywhere in the city. If you choose to take the Metro, get off at the Hotel de Ville stop and walk north. It is growing more and more commercial, with shops like Cos, Sandro, and Comptoir des Cotonniers, but it remains a very hip neighborhood.
Words of advice: don’t get intimidated - they can smell fear. Cash is king. Look like you know what’s going on and you’ll be all set.
Words: Max Mccormack/Selectism.com
Max McCormack is a writer and fashion publicist in New York City. A global traveller, when not pitching brands, producing shows, and discovering New York's most vivacious locations, Max is found knee-deep in Sallinger or Sedaris, waiting for his connecting flight.