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Where Paris shops for chic antiques


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PARIS, France (CNN) -- If you're on the lookout for antiques, the chances are that someone somewhere is selling what you're after at the Marche aux Puces at Porte de Clignancourt on the outskirts of Paris.

Europe's largest flea market attracts thousands of visitors every week, including antique dealers, French shoppers and tourists all set on spotting a bargain among alleyways featuring everything from 18th century furniture to Art Deco ornaments to assorted bric-a-brac.

But the market's history isn't as glamorous as it's present day image.

As civic planner Baron Haussmann transformed Paris from a medieval maze into an elegant 19th century metropolis, many of its rag-and-bone traders, a profession that was often associated with beggars and thieves, were driven out of the French capital.

As the traders continued to operate on the city's outskirts, along the road that separated Paris from the nearby town of Saint-Ouen, the area's reputation for bargains grew.

Now Les Marches, which covers seven hectares and boasts more than 2,500 dealers, is considered one of the chicest places to shop in the French capital.

"If you come on a Saturday morning you can bump into very famous people," market president Francois Bachelier told CNN.

"For instance Catherine Deneuve or famous actresses or singers. You can bump into political celebrities. Jacques Chirac use to come before becoming president."

Celebrity spotting isn't the motive for Mark Lock's regular visits, however. For the London-based antiques dealer, a trip to Les Marches is serious business.

Lock, who buys, restores and re-sells furniture, travels across to Paris every three weeks, arriving at dawn on Friday to find the pieces he believes will bring in the most profit.

"Friday morning is the trade day so it is when the dealers bring in their new stock for the weekend for trading on Friday, Saturday and Sunday," Lock told CNN.

"For the trade it is the best day to be buying and it's good because you don't get the public about. You've got to be out nice and early. It's the best time to come and try and get a bargain if you can. "

On this trip, Lock is on the lookout for Napoleon-era chairs and bedside tables -- a search that takes him through the 14 markets that make up Les Marches aux Puces.

His persistence pays off at Marche Paul Bert where he picks up two Napoleon III-era chairs for $710 -- $65 off the vendor's asking price.

By the time the pair go on sale in London -- revived, repaired and restored -- the price tag reads $4,000, but Lock insists they represent a good investment for a customer.

"If you were to buy a modern pair of chairs they would be a similar price, if not a bit more, with no real value to them," said Lock.

"I mean, I will happily buy these back off a client for somewhere maybe 10 percent to 15 percent less in a couple of years time because this model, and this period of chair, are becoming hard to find."


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