Toma Clark Haines
When The Antiques Diva tells you that she will have you shopping until you drop, you had better believe her! Accessories goddess Patty Otis Abel and I spent a day in Paris with the daring Toma Clark Haines, the Diva herself, and were just about to the point of crying uncle when she breezed us right into The Ritz and straight into the Bar Hemingway! After one of head barman Colin Field’s French 75 cocktails, which he claims are the perfect balm for soothing fretful feet after a day of shopping or sightseeing, we were nearly as good as new.
As a design journalist, I had been hearing about the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris’ famed flea market, for years. Some of my favorites among the homes I’ve covered were either filled with or accented with personable finds from the market, and I’d always dreamed of going myself. One of the reasons I had wrangled Patty into accompanying me to Paris (which, I’ll admit, was not a difficult task!) is that I don’t speak French and she does. But even with her language skills, we knew that trying to go it alone with tasks as intricate as price negotiations would be a mistake.
I learned about Toma through Carmen Natschke, The Decorating Diva, when she featured both of us on her kicky site that serves as one of my favorite surveys of what’s hot in design (I’ll be featuring her Look Books in a future post). I knew the minute I read Carmen’s write-up that Toma was a gift from the antique-shopping gods and I was right. We formulated a plan and Toma rang our buzzer at 9 a.m. the morning our adventure was to commence. It was non-stop action from that moment on and I was thrilled to hang on for the ride!
Patty and I were staying in an apartment in the 2nd arrondissement so Toma planned our route to take us to the Porte de Vanves Flea Market first, as it was on the way to the other venues she had planned for us. Toma calls Porte de Vanves the “other Paris flea market,” and Patty and I both nabbed great finds there. She also took us to a Vide Grenier, which literally means “empty-your-attic sale.” These are neighborhood flea markets that dot the city on weekends. After a quick lunch, she guided us to our most magnificent stop: Les Puce de Paris, or Clignancourt as some people call it, referring to its location at the city’s perimeter in the Porte de Clignancourt.
There are so many facets to the hulking market that it would have been impossible for Patty and I to have made sense of it on our own. Two thousand vendors are spread out through thirteen districts and 7 miles of alleyways! Toma had identified three districts that she felt would suit our needs the best, just one of the ways her expertise made the experience manageable. I hit the usual sensory overload that I always reach during such stimulating experiences, but I never once felt lost during the nearly 10 hours we moved through the city and its renowned markets.
The backstory is that we had such a great time thanks to Toma’s bubbly personality and positive attitude that Patty and I both walked away from the experience feeling as if we’d made a new friend (see for yourself here). Once our antiquing adventures were finished, we freshened up at The Ritz before hitting the bar. Thanks to Toma’s urging, I’d packed one of my prettiest scarves, which I tied around my neck, instantly feeling an elegance befitting Paris and our storied locale.
When Colin ornamented our drinks with a fresh flower that he said he chose to compliment how he perceived our personalities, it felt like the icing on the cake. Getting to bring two very special finds home from Paris is the decorative marzipan curlicues! To schedule tours, visit Toma’s web site; to keep up with the latest, she had an informative blog. Happy antiquing all you Divas out there!