Saint-Ouen, beyond the Puces

Château de Saint-Ouen © T.Joly
For tourists a visit to Saint-Ouen is often limited to a stroll around the Puces, the world’s largest flea market. But this city next to Paris has much more to offer including a castle, a museum dedicated to haute couture designer Pierre Cardin, and many craftsmen.

[ Practical ]

- Getting there
Métro Ligne 13, station Mairie de Saint-Ouen, to go to Musée Pierre Cardin and castle.
Métro Ligne 4, station Porte de Clignancourt to go to the Puces
- Musée Pierre Cardin
33 boulevard Victor Hugo, 93400 Saint Ouen
Tel : 0149210820
Open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 14.00 to 17.00
Entrance : 15 €
- Château de Saint Ouen
12 rue Albert Dhalenne
Open Monday to Saturday from 12.00 to 18.00
Closed during school holidays
- Puces
Open Saturday, 9.00 to 18.00, Sunday, 10.00 to 18.00, Monday, 11.00 to 17.00.
- Tourism Office
30 Avenue Gabriel Péri, 93400 Saint-Ouen
Tel : 0140117636
Information Point in the Puces on week ends, 7 impasse Simon, tel : 0158612290
Guided tours
Puces self guided tours to load on MP3 available through the website.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Saint-Ouen was not yet as urbanized as it is today. Beautiful paintings adorning the city hall council room are there to remind you of this. The room can be visited on request when it is not in use, or more easily by joining one of the tours organised by the Tourist Office.

Paul Gervais paintings © T.Joly
 Royal castle
These paintings were done in 1917 by Paul Gervais, who is also known for paintings adorning the Ministry of Agriculture and the ceiling of the Casino in Nice. The painter depicted scenes showing daily life in Saint-Ouen at the time: workers unloading a boat, washerwomen walking along the Seine, market day on the village square. He also painted horse racing in a hippodrome, lost nowadays, which used to be located next to the city hall and had been set up in a 19th century royal castle park. Built in 1823 by Louis XVIII for one of his mistresses, it’s one of the rare Restauration style monuments still visible and it stands today in the middle of a tiny park spotted with modern sculptures.

Musée Pierre Cardin © T.Joly
 200 haute couture models
It’s also close to the city hall that the fashion designer Pierre Cardin decided to set up a museum tracing his career. Opened in November 2006, it hosts 200 haute couture models made for the fashion catwalks between 1951 and 2000. “Pierre Cardin is still working, but as this is a museum we have to wait for a while before exhibiting his creations”, says Renée Taponier, the museum’s director. Still working in the fashion house she joined at the age of 14 and where she had several functions, she’s the one who found and selected all the clothes on display. “We even have 800 more in reserve because till the 70’s – 80’s we had 5-6 models ready to parade on any day if a customer asked for it”.

Musée Pierre Cardin © T.Joly
 Invaluable collection
With the exception of one room dedicated to evening dress, presentation is mostly chronological and allows you to follow fashion and the evolution of Pierre Cardin’s style. “His work shows his passions, his impulses and his researcher spirit which led him to use so many different materials”. Thus, the very classical dresses from his beginnings are later followed by psychedelic or space-conquest inspired clothes, suits designed for the Munich 1972 Olympics games athletes, coats with geometrical shapes, vinyl skirts, metallic necklines looking like cars bumpers,…
An invaluable collection perfectly set of to advantage. Indeed, dummies wearing the clothes are not just lined up along the walls. Some of them are also set out around pieces of furniture created by Pierre Cardin in the 70’s and 80’s. Finally, two smaller rooms present a selected number of shoes, hats, gloves, belts and other accessories. One curiosity is a range of home products bearing his name made for the Japanese market including a thermos flask and a rice cooker !!!

Puces © T.Joly
 2 500 stalls and shops
Located in another part of the town, next to Porte de Clignancourt, the Puces also bring their share of surprises. Dating back to the 19th century, considered to be the world’s largest flea markets, it’s in fact a group of 16 markets. Some very old ones, like Vernaison and Malik, were founded in 1920 and 1921. Others are more recent, like Malassis and Dauphine opened in 1989 and 1991. Moreover each one has its own specificities and specialities. High class furniture, tapestries, chandeliers, and art de la table for Biron. Clothing for Malik. Ancient and modern paintings as well as 19 and 20th century furniture for Serpette. Reasonably prices books and second hand goods of any kind for Vernaison and Jules Vallès….. The maze of narrow alleys shelters 2,500 stalls and shops open from Saturday to Monday as well as lively bars and restaurants. Chez Louisette, where you can have lunch while listening to an accordion and traditional French songs. Theatre Café Picolo, maybe the oldest one, which hosts theatre performances on weekdays. La Chope des Puces and the One Way which offer jazz concerts on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
In addition, the Puces neighbourhood is also home to numerous craftsmen who keep alive skills linked to the care and safe keeping of ancient artefacts. Tapestry-making, painting, phonographs, gilt on wood, ancient watch restorers, varnishing, painting on items of furniture... The Tourist Office has at your disposal a full list of them and time to time organize visits to one or another.

February 20, 2009
Thierry Joly 

[ To be seen ]

Being fond of music and mechanics, Marie-Claude Steger found a way to fulfill both her passions by becoming a phonograph restorer, the only one in France and one of very few in Europe. “No books exist teaching this subject and I had to learn everything by myself, on the spot and over time, by researching past leaflets and catalogs”. An arduous task because there exist hundreds of different models. Invented by Edison in 1877, this MP3 ancestor was indeed manufactured by companies from all over the world during its time of glory. From 1890 to 1930. Edison and Columbia in the States. Gramophone in England. Pathé in France…. The first machines had a horn, the most attractive ones for collectors, then came the box shaped ones and at the end the suitcase shape ones you could carry around. There was a similar diversity for the records made on wax cylinders and disks of various diameters. “The only common point is that all are mechanical and spring powered with a crank to wind them up. For the rest the components are different from a model to another. Therefore I had to buy many spare parts when I began to work in 1971”. That’s why Marie Claude Steger’s shop seems out of time and looks like an Ali Baba’s cavern. But it’s the best place to have your old phonograph fixed, to buy one, or to find wax cylinders and disks.
Marie-Claude Steger, 76 avenue Michelet, 93400 Saint-Ouen
Tel : 0140125378