I love shopping in Paris, and some of my favorite places to shop are the local auction houses. Attending a local auction is a unique, culturally rich experience where collectors and art lovers can still find a bargain.
Until very recently, there was something of a monopoly on the French auction scene, and it was only in the 1990s that the international houses, like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, were allowed to join the market.
Hôtel Drouot has existed since 1852, making it the oldest public auction house in the world. It boasts 3,000 sales per year, spread among 21 halls found at four different addresses. The house I know is in the 2nd Arrondissement, near the stock exchange and the Richelieu-Drouot metro station.
Arriving is an adventure. You pass art galleries as well as stamp collectors and coin collectors, who all work closely with the auction house. They make their purchases at the sales and then sell their treasures to connoisseurs who are hunting for bargains of their own.
Drouot is open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. On the day before the sale, you can visit the house and see what will go on the block. (The morning on the day itself works too, since the sales always begin after lunch.) Some of the sales offer an assorted collection from a particular estate, while others are well advertised events specializing in something specific, such as vintage Chanel fashions or movie posters. To find out which sales are coming up, check La Gazette Drouot, a large magazine available at newsstands throughout the city. Or check out the catalogs posted on their website.
The auctions are fun to attend even if you’re not shopping. Held exclusively in French, they are calmer than the auctions I’ve known at home and impressively serious. If you’d like to start bidding, you need to speak to the folks at the front desk before the show begins.
I often attend sales at the other exclusively French auction house, Artcurial, which is located in the sumptuous Hôtel Marcel Dassault at the rond-point des Champs Elysées. This house has some very specific specialties, with annual sales featuring African art, antique books, watches, comic books, Hermès bags and art deco furniture. They also have a fantastic art-book store and a lovely café.
It may seem intimidating to visit these exclusive addresses, but they are open to all. The auctions have become so popular in this culturally alive city that Drouot is now open Thursday evenings until 9 p.m. so that even working folk can enjoy an exciting peek into a passionate world. This is the perfect place to head for a unique experience shopping in Paris, full of souvenirs you won’t find at home.
Editor’s note: Isn’t it time you buy a Girls’ Guide market bag for your best friend? You know, the one who loves Paris and hasn’t been there in way too long?