By  on April 18, 2005

LYON, France — With the craze for all things vintage reaching a populist crescendo, France’s retro enthusiasts are fleeing overpriced city markets in search of hidden treasures in the provinces. To wit: Last week’s Marche de la Mode sale here attracted many Parisians, who pored over the offerings of the 200 local collectors and merchants hawking accessories, clothes and trimmings from the Fifties through the Eighties.

While the hunt for the bargain-priced Hermes Kelly remains an eternal mission, discerning bag hunters were also seeking distinctive, more affordable varieties. “Even though we’ve been overloaded with monogram designs, Celine’s Seventies buckle bag is highly sought after,” said one-named French vintage collector Anoushka, gleeful after bagging a Sixties Hermes Evelyn bag for a mere 160 euros ($205). “Certain Christian Dior monogram bags from the Seventies also have exceptional fabrics and finishes,” she added.

Also on the prowl were French design duo Michele Mariot and Olivier Chatenet of E2. The pair, who customize vintage pieces, were searching for Charles Jourdan bags and shoes, Bonnie Cashin bags designed for Coach in the Seventies and Italian designer Roberta Di Camarino’s velvet designs from the Fifties. “Di Camarino designed a stunning velvet bag in the shape of a small doctor bag that is supposed to have inspired Miuccia Prada,” said Chatenet. “But beautiful models, particularly those produced in France and Italy, are becoming rarer and rarer.”

While handbags were the main attraction, young clients also pounced on Panama hats customized with lace, Thirties-inspired bell hats in modern prints, Seventies shoes and elaborate Sixties plastic jewelry. The DIY trend for customized vintage meant that stands selling old ribbons, embroidered flowers, lace and buttons also did a booming business.

The regions of France, of course, offer not only local wines and cheeses, but specific traditional fabrics, too. These were sought by such shoppers as Nadege Cezette, a French knitwear designer. “We trawl the markets in France, as each region has its fabric specialty, like Vichy for its gingham or Chantilly for lace,” she explained. “Young women like to be in charge of all of the elements, to mix the old and the new — to create their own styles.” Anoushka praised the Lyon market for the bargains and the unexpected mix. “You get this sense that they’ve been jovially preparing for it all year,” she said.Mark Ellis, owner of the London vintage boutique Palette, didn’t make it to Lyon, but he confirmed that there’s a growing demand for unusual Sixties and Seventies styles such as Margaret Smith’s Sixties floral designs and jeweled fabric bags in muted shades. He predicted that glam Halston styles would be the must-have for this fall.

“Women are looking for something that is absolutely unique,” said Ellis, recalling a pink knitted Crown Craft-style bag from the Fifties that recently sparked a duel between two customers. “They literally stood in the store and bid against each other until it had doubled in price from 200 to 400 pounds [$378 to $757],” he said.

Meanwhile, trendsetting stylist Katie Grand said that a “classy” used Hermès horsehair number would be her bag of choice. “A Kelly is a very particular bag to carry around,” she said. “And, let’s face it, you can buy a great car for the same price.” Mid-Nineties nylon Prada bags also figure high on Grand’s wish list, and a Sixties’ Celine monogram bag is her notion of the zenith of vintage cool. “I love that idea of the Sixties’ sporty look, but I don’t actually own one yet,” she said.

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