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.

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