France is famous for its flea markets and antique fairs. Every town and village seems to hold at least one flea market a year and for many people in France, a weekend spent browsing at a brocante is a way of life. For visitors to France a visit to a local flea market is an opportunity to join in daily life in France as well as to find a unique souvenir to take home.
For Marmen Bechade, a Canadian expat who now lives in Auvergne, going to the French flea markets is more than just a hobby – sourcing and selling fabulous French vintage items is also her passion and her job. We love her little Etsy shop with its quaint and quirky one of a kind pieces that hark back to authentic France of yesteryear.
We caught up with Marmen to find out how her love of French vintage began and what inspired her to set up her popular Etsy shop French Attic Finds, which has thousands of admirers and a loyal clientele who love her taste and her original and fabulous finds.
Marmen says that when she first went to France she worked for several years for wine makers in the Roussillon region, nestled between the French Pyrénées and the Mediterranean Sea. “It was in a sunny vineyard that I met my husband to be and yes, it really is as romantic as it sounds”. Bryan is a stone carver who specialises in Cathedral renovations and Marmen travelled throughout France with him before they settled in their 300 year old house, once a postal relay, in Auvergne.
Marmen always had a strong love for vintage. Her parents were antique dealers in Canada, specializing in 1800 French antiquities and 1900 Americana and they taught her the trade and fed her avid curiosity from an early age. “They also taught me how to bargain, a skill I am teaching my own children today” laughs Marmen.
One of her tips for the novice “chineur”, or treasure hunter, is to smile. “A smile paves the path to good negotiation”. Marmen’s guidance is based on years of practice and she says that you should always follow up with a friendly “Bonjour” while maintaining eye contact and throw in a “s’il vous plait” when asking for a price. “If the price matches up, I usually don’t bargain, but I quickly look around to see if there is anything else I want on the stand.”
Arriving in France Marmen discovered the brocantes, vide greniers, marchés aux puces, braderies, rederies – all words for flea markets. For someone with a passion for vintage and antiques it couldn’t get much better. Mainly held at weekends and national holidays, you will often find professional dealers at the bigger markets whilst the smaller flea markets are the domain of the locals. Vide grenier literally means “empty attic”, when people go through old belongings, perhaps hidden away for centuries and offer them for sale and it is these venues that Marmen says that she loves best. At these off the beaten track, very local and small markets is where she can usually find items that are little bit more unusual and unique. She tells us that one of her favourite recent finds was a folder full of 1930 French political caricatures, all ink drawn, by artist Raoul Guérin, famous for his newspaper illustrations in France.
“Just this weekend, I bought a bowl which was found in someone’s garden, and is probably several hundred years old.” Marmen loves to hear about the history of a piece, the tale of the eccentric uncle whom all those gorgeous 1970’s designer ties belonged to, or the great grandparents who were so poor they lived in a hut with earth floors, but had the most amazing, rustic pottery collection. “I am drawn to the imperfect object, the rustic piece that has been patched up through the years, or the everyday tool worn smooth by so many hands. Those are the pieces that sing to me. “
Marmen’s clients love the stories that come with the pieces and always ask about the provenance and the history of what she is buying. She and her clients share anecdotes on her Facebook page and in fact Marmen hunts out specific items that she knows they will love.
As Marmen says “My father always said: we aren’t merely selling objects, we are selling stories. And I believe he was right…!