• France's news in English

Philippe Starck: why I feel the draw of Paris flea market

AFP · 18 Oct 2012, 10:48

Published: 18 Oct 2012 10:48 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

France's best known designer – and one of the world's most prolific, having put his name to projects ranging from trains to hotels, furniture and foodstuffs – Starck cites the market on Paris's northern rim, "Les Puces", as a kind of anchor.

Visits with his father to the sprawling network of antique stalls are among his clearest childhood memories, the 63-year-old told AFP.

"For me Les Puces has always been deeply ingrained," Starck said, as workers put the finishing touches to the eatery "Ma Cocotte", his latest project, which opened last week in an industrial-style building at the market entrance.

Though born in the French capital, Starck says he never really knew the city until recently, having lived much of his life abroad.

"All that time I spent away, when I thought of Paris, I thought of Les Puces," said the designer, who with his wife Jasmine often heads straight there when they land in Paris, "even at six in the morning."

"I feel comfortable here, it's a model of the way I would like to live," said Starck, who sees the market and its boisterous community of traders as a kind of "successful Utopian society".

"There is an architecture on a human scale, streets on a human scale, people full of humanity, culture, intelligence, who have their own language – both eloquent and sharp, street-wise Parisian.

"These people have known each other forever, they all know each other's qualities and failings. They have all traded with one another, they have all fallen out and made up again – that's what I love about this place."

'French, but not "beret and baguette"'

But one thing kept nagging at him.

"From noon to 1:00 pm, the traders all pull out a table, their saucisson and bottle of red, and have a laugh and a game of cards," Starck said. "My dream has always been to be around that table with them – and sometimes I was invited – but I never really felt like one of the gang.

"I always found it terribly frustrating, so one day my wife said, 'Why don't we buy a booth, with a big table in the middle for our friends, and we can make it our base.'"

The couple duly hunted down and acquired a booth in the heart of the market, which they plan to open to the public late this year, although what exactly will be on offer -- food or antiques – remains a "surprise".

But from that idea grew another, that of a full-fledged restaurant in a neighbourhood that sorely lacks dining options.

For the project he approached Philippe and Fabienne Amzalak, owners of the Starck-designed restaurant "Bon" in Paris's swanky 16th district, who agreed to put up the cash – €5.5 million, as it turned out – for the project.

Starck designed the exterior of the 250-seat eatery, built on a patch of wasteland, to look like "an industrial ruin from the future", with an ivy-covered red-brick ground level beneath a grey zinc first floor.

Roll-back garage-style windows open in summer to let the air flow through the space, while chimneys dot the space to warm up the winter evenings.

Story continues below…

"I wanted something French, but not 'beret and baguette'," he said, "so we went for a kind of workers' canteen feel."

For the interior – with the exception of wooden bistro chairs ordered from the historic Austrian firm Thonet – Starck furnished it almost entirely with objects he and Jasmine ferreted out at Les Puces over the course of two years.

Old books and chunky glass vases line the shelves, mismatched armchairs are clustered around 1950s coffee tables, while multicoloured ceramic plates are embedded into the moulded concrete walls leading up the stairs.

A line of vintage chandeliers runs down a giant communal table, with bar stools, before the open-plan kitchen – which Starck insisted must turn out food that is "real, friendly, as organic as possible – and absolutely healthy."

In practice, that means a lowish-priced selection of classic French – egg mayonnaise or whole artichoke for starters, spit-roasted chicken or croque monsieur sandwich for mains, before a tarte tatin to round off the meal, followed by an after-lunch stroll through the market.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France takes baby steps to make life simpler
Photo: AFP

... including extending the ridiculously short time limit for registering a new baby.

IN PICTURES: Calais Jungle camp goes up in flames
All Photos: AFP

Migrants leave behind a scorched camp as they are moved to locations across France.

French expats in UK suffer Brexit abuse
French ambassador to the UK Sylvie Bermann with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Photo: AFP

French nationals no longer feel at home in the UK, ambassador says. But Brits in France have been greeted with sympathy since the referendum.

Six to go on trial in France over topless Kate photos
Photo: AFP

The topless pics sparked fury among the royals.

France sees biggest drop in jobless rate for 20 years
Photo: AFP

Good news at last. But it's unlikely to keep President François Hollande in his job.

Calais migrants given mixed reception in French towns
Photo: AFP

Some in France have shown solidarity with their new guests, while others have made it clear they are not welcome.

Lonely Planet says Bordeaux is world's best city to visit
The fantastic new Bordeaux wine museum. Photo: AFP

After The Local France, the Lonely Planet has followed suit by urging everyone to head to Bordeaux in 2017.

Jungle shacks set ablaze and torn down as camp razed
All photos: AFP

IN PICTURES: The razing of the Jungle has finally begun.

Frenchwoman finds WW1 grenade among her spuds
Photo: AFP

It could have been a very explosive family dinner.

Refugee crisis
What rights to a future in France for Calais migrants?
Photo: AFP

What does the future hold for the migrants of the Jungle? Can they work or claim social benefits or travel freely inside Europe?

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available