Old Luxury: Vintage Shopping in Paris

When I think of “vintage” my nose crinkles at the remembrance of musty smells and my arms itch as if I’ve already dug through piles of fraying fabric. I’m a city girl, I like a polished look, and quite simply, I don’t “do” vintage.

But there was something irresistible about vintage in Paris. Here “vintage” doesn’t mean overpriced Salvation Army goods or your grandmother’s discarded house dress. In Paris, vintage is for real collectors and for those who want haute couture at bargain prices.

Many times on random walks through the neighborhoods I came upon little stalls, shops, and even sprawling markets that sell everything old. In this vintage enthusiast’s dream world I’ve seen and petted a real stuffed zebra (for taxidermy fans), I’ve touched lace so old and airy that I feared it would dissolve in a puff of magic dust on my fingertip, and I’ve tried carrying many, MANY crocodile frame handbags in the crook of my arm.

After a few fun but accidental drop-in’s at Parisian “friperies,” I decided to do a proper vintage (window-) shopping excursion. First, I had to do my research. I went to WH Smith, one of the biggest English bookstores in Paris, and shamelessly copied pages of a vintage shopping guidebook into my Moleskin. I then circled each of the stores I wanted to check out in my pocket city map-book. Lastly, I talked G into navigating me around the city to find these stores on bikes (easier than the Metro for some of the locations and far faster than walking).

The tony neighborhoods had plenty of ultra high-end vintage stores that required appointments. I skipped these and concentrated my fieldtrip around the younger, hipper, and cheaper neighborhoods in the Marais and Bastille areas. My favorite shopping experience was at Come On Eileen, which has turned me onto vintage for life.

Come On Eileen sits on a quiet side street off Rue de la Roquette. Outside, a pair of plastic mannequins stands underneath a pink neon sign (very 80’s) spelling out the store name. Once inside, shoppers immediately see just how deceptive the narrow storefront is – this is a three-level emporium stacked floor-to-ceiling with old fashion fare.

On the first floor is an impressive collection of dresses, handbags, eyewear, and shoes. I had to contain my excitement — genuine crocodile leather handbags from the 1960’s on sale for as little as 50 euros (compare to the thousands you’d have to spend on this season’s styles)! One floor down is a denim haven stocked with jeans of every age and variety. Most of these Levi’s are easily older than I am. Finally, in the lowest basement level, also the biggest showroom in the store, is a wild collection of outer wear (Burberry trench coats), boots, and the requisite wigs and knick knacks.

The abundance of goods is enough to make any fashionista drool, but what most appeals to me about Come On Eileen is how organized it is. The décor is bohemian and goods are carelessly draped on a chair here, a table there, but over all everything is accessible. No rifling through boxes of callously tossed clothing or wrestling with five hangers tangled together. Everything is also impeccably clean – the buyers have obviously taken the time to pick their goods and restore them to useable condition before putting them on the racks.

I chatted with the salesgirls a bit, Fabienne and Silvia, and learn from them that the owner, Daniel, has been a serious collector for decades. The store has been around for ten years, before “friperies” became all the rage in Paris, or New York and London for that matter. Daniel picks his pieces carefully and prices for what he thinks the goods are worth, not more, not less. Having visited the store, I now shared some kind of tenuous connection with a host of celebrities who are regular customers – Lou Doillon, Kylie Minogue, Chloe Sevigny, Tory Burch, to name a few. Wow, seems I randomly found the cream of the “brocante” crop here at Come On Eileen!

Being a total novice at vintage, I wanted to see what a seasoned eye would pick out of the store. I asked Silvia to show me a few of her favorite pieces. She protests a little, in her charming Slovakian accented French, but then obliges. Silva shows me a grey wool Hermes jacket from the 1960’s, trimmed with tan leather and in almost-new condition (500 euros); a Courreges ivory dress from the 1950’s, which also looks hardly worn (1300 euros); and a signature Pucci print dress.

Despite promising to myself in advance that I wouldn’t buy anything, I couldn’t resist taking just a small souvenir away with me. I focused on accessories for their generally smaller price tags. I spent a long time choosing from a few favorites – brown / orange python Mary Janes from Prada 2007 (150 euros); glossy black croc purse (100 euros); brown knee high boots (painfully chic and so very Parisian, 70 euros). With a little help from G, I finally settled on a deep scarlet leather sling-across purse from Cartier. It had a classic pillbox shape and looks new, probably easier to fit into my as yet non-vintage wardrobe back in Singapore. And it was only 30 euros! I’d recommend anyone lucky enough to find themselves in Paris next to swing by this amazing treasure trove.

Before I left I had just one question, what’s with the name? Turns out Daniel doesn’t only know his fashion well, he also is a fan of 80’s pop. He named his store after the British hit song and his daughter, Eileen.

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