Be honest with yourself: How much do you need an actual, functioning traffic light at home? Very much? I thought so. Because you can get one for yourself at the attic sale that takes place in one of Paris’ most charming neighborhoods.
Right down the street from the chic (picnic) brunch spot that is Montmartre Cemetery, along the seemingly never-ending Rue Caulaincourt, locals spread out for what’s called le vide-grenier. The literal meaning is ‘empty your attics’, and that’s exactly what they do, bringing out boxes of records, hangers full of clothes and troves of trinkets that have inhabited their basements and attics, hoping to find new homes for what they no longer need to keep.
Variations of this joyous occasion happen all over the city and several times a year. But to get the exact dates, you’d need to infiltrate with Parisian know-it-alls, or simply search “vide-grenier Paris Rue Caulaincourt.”
I caught one last fall, on September 25th. There I was, minding my own tedious business when a text from a friend appeared on my screen: “I don’t know if this is your thing, but there’s an attic sale in Montmartre, and there’s amazing vintage stuff, so if you wanna go…” It was the quickest “YES!” I’d said in a while.
The next morning, I was up, caffeinated, and ready to dig through pre-loved belongings, hoping to find multiple glimmers of joy. We were warned: Come early, the best stuff goes fast. So, yes, I do distinctly remember the sunrise that day.
When I got off the Metro at the Lamarck – Caulaincourt station, I was greeted by streams of people and objects, spreading seemingly into oblivion along Caulaincourt street.
You know that feeling when you take in something pretty incredible and, suddenly, an angel choir sounds off somewhere in your head?
A quick second coffee and breakfast–the street is packed with cafés covering every taste, from healthy to buttery–and it was time to join in, and what an affair it was!
The sellers are locals, living in the surrounding neighborhoods and buildings, rich in history and copious storage space. Everywhere you turn, there’s an air of neighborly ease, cups of coffee passed from one hand to another, an occasional fiery discussion spiced up with spirits and so, so many colors.
If you shop for clothes, I realized, the trick is to open your eyes and aim for the sellers that look very much like you. For me, it was the young women, dressed in comfy jumpers, Adidas Superstars and upscale pants to contradict the whole look; these women were visibly relaxed, evidently a few meters from their own building, their clothes hauled from nearby closets. All around them hung racks of clothes as good as new, but with one single flaw: They simply don’t fit in their closets anymore. And honestly, where else would you find Imperial culottes for 15 euros? I could already imagine them working with a pair of Irregular Choice cat heels that I thrifted in Switzerland.
I promised myself I’d try to stay calm. But, a few doors down, I found myself paying for and bagging a fantastic military-green Comptoir des Cotonniers trench coat – for 12 euros.
And that was it. Or was it?
Far from the clothes, and very close to a myriad of records, old lamps and a stressed pair of Chanel flats that had seen better days, lay a gorgeous, vintage, silver hand-held mirror, in its original case. Its little velvet sleeve smelled like a dilapidating attic. It was probably the first time it had seen the light of day since it was bought or gifted in the 1960s. I now found myself running out of time and running out of cash – the nature of the event does not involve card payments. The price tag was 10 euros, and I counted 7.30 into the palm of my hand. The seller, a charming Parisian, already busy handing over a cheese board to his neighbor, who, in turn, was sharing what looked like homemade wine, simply waved his hand – and it was mine. It’s probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever bought.
I might be romanticizing, but my philosophy is that a brand new piece will never have the story and depth of a vintage piece. A brand new scarf will never have the value of my grandmother’s hand-painted one, with vividly colored flowers on grass green. A trendy dresser ordered online won’t have the potential for a story like one found under the eaves of someone’s mansard roof. And no gorgeous, brand new, designer mirror will match the one I have in my possession right now, that has a reconstruction of un scene de Fragonard on its back and a tiny chipped spot – who knows how that came to be. We can only imagine. Because vintage shopping is, in the end, an imaginative journey.
The fact that all of this is happening in Paris, mere steps away from the bust of Dalida, and just under Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, is not too shabby a bonus.
The next Montmartre sale should be in the fall. But in the meantime, treasures can be found all around Paris – you can find the 2022 schedule for the vide-greniers in every arrondissement here.