10 May 2021
5 reasons to go bargain-hunting at Les Merveilles de Babellou
At the Saint-Ouen flea market, Les Merveilles de Babellou is the place to be for vintage fashionistas. The long window display, vibrant with extravagant clothes and accessories, speaks volumes about the treasures concealed within.
By Sandrine Merle.
1/ Babellou – a real character
If you ever have the chance to meet Isabelle Klein, jump at it: ask her questions and let her regale you with her wisdom. Initiated by her mother, she has been hunting and collecting treasures since the age of 14. Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabanna, John Galliano, and many more: she knows the collections by heart, the best vintages, which cuff was worn by whom and in which commercial, etc. Whether authenticating or locating pieces, she spends hours leafing through her hundreds of advertising catalogs from the 80s and 90s, the Inès de la Fressange era, then Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford.
2/ The wow effect
Les Merveilles de Babellou is not the place for half-measures: extravagance and theatricality are the watchwords. A piece has to make a splash, it has to shine, it has to produce a wow effect. And if it rattles, it’s even better! This explains Isabelle’s passion for couture jewelry – those cuffs, necklaces, bibs, and showy and oversized brooches made from non-precious materials: wood, plastic, straw, brass and pearls. She tirelessly seeks out the most beautiful and outlandish items such as the fabulous creations of Christian Lacroix or Dolce & Gabanna.
3/ A unique selection of couture jewelry
Her store is a big hit with Christian Dior or Yves Saint Laurent fans because she unearths treasures in impeccable condition such as a necklace from the 80s made of multicolored paper maché balls and butterflies or an enameled metal coral branch breastplate. Both were sold in a flash! Meanwhile, the long rosary made of wooden beads seems to be waiting just for me… Isabelle is also one of the specialists in Chanel, of which she must have 300, 400, or even 500 pieces in stock: cuffs, necklaces made of pâte de verre from the famous Gripoix based company, camellias, etc. The oldest ones date back to the time of Mademoiselle Chanel, the most recent to the beginning of the 2000s.
4/ The irresistible jewelry bags
The collection of straw bags and minaudieres are to die for! And they’re all as good as new. On the shelves, tables and in the windows are scattered dozens of mini evening or day bags in gold metal, sequins, trimmings, wicker or even pearls. There are classics such as those in metallic lozenges from the 60s and 70s by Paco Rabanne, those from the 80s by Renaud Pellegrino or even those in gilded metal by Yves Saint Laurent. Of course, the prices soon shoot up, but the good news is that some unsigned ones, like one of my favorites, a shell with a silk cord, are still affordable.
5/ Lamé, beaded and embroidered clothes
Her evening dresses are real jewels. Created by the likes of Jean Patou, Balmain, Ungaro, etc., they are made of metallic gold organzas, silks embroidered with pearls and rhinestones… Paco Rabanne’s magnificent designs from the 60s and 70s are made of chains and metal pellets. My favorite is still perfectly wearable today – short, in green lamé silk chiffon, structured by vertical rows of golden pastilles. Time to start shopping! Time for a shopping spree?
Banner image: belt (Autumn 1996) and cuff-bracelet – Chanel
My jewelry itinerary at the Paris Saint-Ouen Flea Market