In France e-Bay is in the Streets – all Summer

Vide-greniers and Brocantes mushroom all summer long in towns, villages and hamlets across France, and are so-well organised, a national guide is published a year in advance.

Vide-greniers the real world's e-bay

Long before the internet and e-Bay’s electronic alternatives, flea markets, car boot, jumble and bric-a-brac sales were and remain, a source of pin money for students and pensioners, a career for some and enduring entertainment for holidaymakers and visitors.

Witness the haggling at Braderie de Lille, Europe’s biggest flea market, where, over the first weekend in September each year, two million stallholders set up a market that dates from medieval times when servants were allowed just one day a year to sell off their master’s unwanted goods.

Crédit photo: braderie par CocotteSara

A scene at Europe’s largest flea market the Braderie-de-Lille Photo: CocotteSara

While some reports suggest the street market is dying under the onslaught of electronic trading , many others defend the tradition, the ability to see and touch the goods, the face-to-face contact with the owner and the bartering, as reasons why the virtual will never replace the real world.

Indeed one popular French website Le Bon Coin has challenged e-Bay and now dominates in France . Its success is because it is an online imitation of the Vide-Grenier — on an interactive map, users select the corner of France closest to them to do their online buying and selling.

A PriceMinister report in March this year claimed the Internet has now replaced the vide-grenier as the best place to sell attic trash and treasure, taking 36% of all second hand sales in 2009, up from 29% in 2008 while vide-greniers account for just 27% of such sales. PriceMinister, bills itself as the largest guaranteed vide-grenier in France

Not only are vide-grenier’s a great source for treasure large and small, but they can also be life changers as Danielle and Robert Girard a pair of entrepreneurs from Apt in the Vaucluse département (84400) attest.

Coming up, a one-off Paris Match lampshade, Danielle and Robert looking pleased with their 1950’s magazine found on a vide-grenier at Martel while they were on holiday.

Falbala Luminaires
Danielle and Robert set up an artisan’s atelier — Falbala Luminaires in Apt –eight years ago, designing and hand making artisan lamps, lighting and lampshades. They confess to drawing much inspiration from the treasure troves they found visiting vide-greniers around the country. “Our raw material stock for our first year’s production was collected in the region and from then on we have never looked back”, they said.

The pair still visit vide greniers searching for the highly unusual, for old magazines and newspapers and pieces of lace or similar world-weary materials which can be recycled into creative hand-designed shades and lamps or used to refurbish well-worn light fixtures in unique combinations of old and new.


An abandoned oil lamp from someone’s attic is transformed thanks to a bulb socket, specially made fabric-covered flex and a transparent lampshade created from recycled materials in Danielle and Robert’s Apt atelier.

“We started out with no clear idea of where we were going collecting odds and ends from vide-greniers and then began by totally restoring some crystal chandeliers for an antique dealer. We moved on to design and craft handmade lampshades, taking bespoke orders and by word of mouth and some good contacts began selling to wealthy visitors and residents in the region. We also retailed some of the famous designer names– Béatrice Desrousseaux, Jieldé, Charlot & Cie, and so on in the early days. But today we restrict ourselves to our own designs as these have earned a good reputation,” said Robert.

Now clients come to the cosy little atelier from all over Europe and the United States and they ship their unique hand-made pieces around the world.

With a chuckle Danielle recalls how one chance encounter helped transform the business.

“One day we were having lunch at home when the phone rang and a lady said: ‘I’m standing outside your atelier and I want to buy some of your lamps and lampshades.’ I told her we only reopened at 3pm and she agreed a little reluctantly, to return. By then and in a hurry she swept into the shop saying I want that and that and that and that and she bought virtually every handmade item in the place — it took us 6 weeks of work to restock! Only much later did we find out she was an interior decorator specially flown in from the United States to decorate a part of the campus of the Pierre Cardin Savannah College of Art and Design — the Lacoste School of the Arts — in the village of Lacoste in nearby Avignon”! This link to Cardin, Lacoste and SCAD, (as the Savannah College of Art and Design, founded in 1978 in the southeast US state of Georgia) is known to its alumni, proved fortuitous and has helped the name and fame of the two artisans from Apt.

As their website says… “We create unique lighting from battered or new relics, some made of nickel, or coated in zinc- or copper or even badly rusted. We assemble all the elements harmoniously and above all in a style that we ourselves like. We offer new life to the damaged old and dear lamps and restore ramshackle crystal chandeliers to their former glory. “We custom make and create our own models of lampshades, preferably using recycled materials, but also from new fabrics.”

To visit their website, Falbala Luminaires – click here

The Story of Pierre Cardin and Lacoste
According to the New York Times: “Fashion designer Pierre Cardin is the owner of a castle formerly occupied by the Marquis de Sade in Lacoste, France. He bought the ruins of the castle in the 1990s and restored it in 2000 later establishing a summer music festival in the village, population 450. He has invested nearly 23.5 million euros in Lacoste, founded L’Espace Cardin and now owns 42 properties there employing 80 people in the summer. Each year Cardin’s Lacoste festival draws thousands in July for world-class opera, theatre, and music at a festival that coincides with the Festival d’Avignon,. Today the Savannah College of Art and Design hosts four quarters of classes for art students and professors from all corners of the globe, studying fine arts, architecture, design, fashion, film, photography, sculpture, and theatre at the Lacoste School of the Arts which has brought a multicultural and artistic sense to the village.”

More Information/Links
For more information about where to find brocantes and vide-greniers around the country, click the following links:

Story: Ken Pottinger

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