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Vincent Darré at ‘Puces, Mon Trésor’

At a festival to celebrate the world-renowned antique markets of Paris, The Design Edit caught up with its flamboyant ambassador, French interior designer Vincent Darré.

Les Puces de Saint-Ouen
19th – 23rd September 2019

By Anna Sansom / 20th September 2019
Vincent Darré at the Malassis market PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

Vincent Darré at the Malassis market
PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

The St-Ouen flea market in northern Paris sparkled on the evening of 19th September with flamboyant installations created by Vincent Darré, the French interior designer and decorator. At Marché Paul Bert Serpette, the best-known of the markets, pieces of furniture were exhibited in gigantic plastic spheres, while tuxedoed male dancers and ballerinas wearing white tutus entertained the crowds.

Vincent Darré, renowned for his chic, exuberant eclecticism, was ambassador of the event ‘Puces, Mon Trésor’ – an invitation to embark on a treasure hunt around the famous flea markets of Paris. Different theatrical sets were created for each market, using objects from its dealers. Imagine a scene resembling a masked ball in Venice at Marché Biron, and white plaster sculptures by the contemporary artist Philippe Valentin at David Roy Antiquités at Marché Vernaison. “I was thinking of a 1930s fairground,” Darré explains. “So I put together a stage set at the entrance to each market, like a small theatre, with different hand-painted drawings where people could have a photograph of themselves taken.”

Vincent Darré at the Jules Valläs market PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

Vincent Darré at the Jules Valläs market
PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

Darré’s Cocteau-inspired drawings at the entrance to each market sought to differentiate them. “I want people to get to know the whole market … Paul Bert and Serpette are the best known but each one has its marvels,” Darré says.

ILLUSTRATION: Vincent Darré

ILLUSTRATION: Vincent Darré

Darré also installed a whole decorative scheme at the tourism office on the Rue de Rosiers, which reflected his personal taste and love for Art Deco and surrealism. “I took screens from the antique dealer Arthur Bruet and pieces from all the markets and mixed them together to create a universe like Alice in Wonderland,” Darré, 60, says. His approach was instinctive: “I came across the first object at Paul Bert – an armchair in the form of a rhinoceros that I thought was brilliant. Then I found a regency screen with gorgeous wallpaper, chairs with fibreglass arms, magnificent stained glass windows and enormous, silver Gio Ponti pieces that all created this poetic, coherent universe.”

Darré’s passion for hunting around flea markets harks back to his childhood. “I started going when I was 11, collecting clothes and furniture,” he recalls. “I’ve always loved it. The St-Ouen flea market is like a labyrinth or Aladdin’s cave where you find objects that are predestined for you. You go thinking you need a console for a decor and come back with a vase. You come across objects with a rarity, poetry and strangeness that you can’t find anywhere else.”

ILLUSTRATION: Vincent Darré

ILLUSTRATION: Vincent Darré

The collecting habit lies at the heart of his business. Darré founded Maison Darré, his venerable interior design/decor company, in 2008. His commissions include the salon of Elsa Schiaparelli on Place Vendôme, Hôtel Le Montana in St-Germain-des-Prés and the Serpent à Plume cocktail bar on Place des Vosges, besides private residencies. Prior to that, he was a fashion designer. He worked for six years with Karl Lagerfeld on the Fendi label, and then at Moschino and Ungaro. “Karl used to call me ‘ma petite puce’ [my little flea] because I was always going to flea markets and would bring back haute couture dresses, like Chanel, to inspire him,” Darré remembers. “Once I brought back a parachute and he made a skirt based on it for a Chanel haute couture collection.”

Vincent Darré at the Vernison market PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

Vincent Darré at the Vernison market
PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

Unsurprisingly, Darré draws inspiration from the St-Ouen markets for his projects. “When I decorated Hôtel Le Montana, I wanted each suite to have a different personality with objects like those out of a Parisian apartment,” he explains. “One suite was a tribute to Cocteau so I looked for things that would correspond. For a new bar I’m going to decorate, I’ve found sublime arches from the 1970s. Sometimes an object provides the starting point for a decor, sometimes it gives a finishing touch.”

For Darré, the flea market is “a bit like a country house” that he visits every weekend. He heads to the Puces de Vanves, a more affordable, open-air flea market in the 14th arrondissement in southern Paris on Saturday mornings before spending Sunday at St-Ouen.

ILLUSTRATION: Vincent Darré

“You need to let yourself go and have a childlike sense of wonder …”

Vincent Darré

ILLUSTRATION: Vincent Darré

“…It’s about instinct mixed with nostalgia and a love of objects”

Vincent Darré

“I begin at Vernaison, then go to Serpette and Paul Bert, and right through to the end because one needs to see everything,” he says. “All the biggest antique dealers in Paris – Alexandre Biaggi, Pierre Passebon and Aline Chastel – started out here [before opening their galleries]. It’s a breeding ground of talents. I like Vernaison because it’s a real flea market, a bit less expensive. At the stand of Janine Giovannoni, you can find extraordinary, old curtains. Her son, Nicolas, is at Serpette and sells wonderful glasses and tableware. I also like Paul Bert because its antique dealers like Arthur Bruet have great taste.”

Vincent Darré at the Serpette market PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

Vincent Darré at the Serpette market
PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

What are the best finds that Darré has made at St-Ouen over the years? “I once found a gigantic, extraordinary 18th century sofa that was worth a lot,” Darré recounts. “The antique dealer told me: ‘This sofa has a history, a prince was assassinated on it.’ I was with a very suspicious Greek friend who said: ‘No, no, you mustn’t buy it, it’ll bring bad luck!’ When I told the dealer I wouldn’t buy it, he offered me an amazing price. I reupholstered it three times when I was changing my decor, then sold it in my Piasa sale [in November 2016, Darré’s sale fetched a total of €1m]. I also bought 18th century columns in the form of question marks that had belonged to an eccentric who lived on the Côte d’Azure. At the Puces de Vanves, I purchased a 1960s collection of marvellous, white plaster sculptures that look like something by Picasso – for which I paid nothing at all!”

Vincent Darré at the Dauphine market PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

Vincent Darré at the Dauphine market
PHOTOGRAPH: Déborah Lalaudiäre

What advice would Darré give to neophytes visiting St-Ouen? “Start with Vernaison and do all the stands,” he replies. “Don’t be afraid when the antique dealers give you expensive prices because often there’s something inexpensive on the next stand. You must never start by saying: ‘It’s too expensive.’ The dealers hate that. You should say: ‘I love this object but I don’t have enough money.’ It’s a game. You need to show that you would like the object but can’t afford it. It really is a treasure hunt, where prices can go from €80,000 to €80. You need to let yourself go, have a childlike sense of wonder because flea markets bring back lots of memories, and look for the charming object that’s a real find, not go for the obvious. Especially don’t try to replicate everything in the magazines. The flea markets are almost like a search for oneself, like psycho-analysis. It’s about instinct mixed with nostalgia and a love of objects.”

Bernard-Henri Lévy, Arielle Dombasle, Vincent Darré, Medhy Allaouchiche-Gerault at the Biron market (left to right) PHOTOGRAPH: ©Marché Biron

From left to right: Bernard-Henri Lévy, Arielle Dombasle, Vincent Darré, Medhy Allaouchiche-Geraultat the opening of ‘Puce Mon Trésor’ at the Biron market 
PHOTOGRAPH: © Marché Biron

Maison Darre – interior decoration.

Article By

Anna Sansom
Anna Sansom is a Paris-based journalist who writes about art, design and architecture for The Art Newspaper, Frame, Damn and Sotheby's Magazine, among other publications.