The Antiques Diva Guide to Paris Flea Markets

Like all the greatest divas, from Marlene Dietrich to Beyonce, Toma Clark Haines knows what she wants and how to get it. Known around the world as “The Antiques Diva,” Toma has become an international diva in a new way; she collects antiques and leads buyers on antique shopping tours of fleas markets, antique warehouses and boutiques around the world in Europe, Asia and America.

For those unaware, a diva, according to the web, is a “woman who exudes great style and personality with confidence and expresses herself without letting others influence who they are.” Having begun her design blog, The Antiques Diva, over a decade ago at the crux of the blogging era, Clark Haines did not have a model to follow. She lived her life the way she wanted; wandering Paris streets and posting her treasures online. Soon, others wanted to join, and she began leading buyers across Europe, from Amsterdam to Belgium, Berlin and further afield. Joining Toma on a buying tour is not your typical experience. First of all – everything she does is customized. When you contact her team she assesses your needs, your budget, your timeline and your style and then her company choreographs an antique buying tour specifically to meet your needs. The tour may be 1 day or it may be a week. It could be in 1 country or multiple. On your buying tour, her job is to save you time and save you money.

Toma is smart, she’s sassy and she’s savvy. And she knows business – an American CEO living in Europe for nearly 20 years she has build the largest and only business of its kind, creating a new model for sourcing antiques internationally. This year in addition to offering antique buying tours, The Antiques Diva & Co has launched a school for antique dealers, a mentoring program teaching new and nearly new dealers how to become antique dealers. And she does it all, with Diva Style – fabulous jewelry and a signature red lipstick. As she walks along the Seine in stilettos, she says the words, “I wear stilettos, I walk fast. You better keep up.” Originally from Oklahoma, she’s not afraid of hard work and understands that it takes dedication and perseverance to build a business. She’s an expert on international buying and has the experience and relics to prove it. She is glamour personified. She can quote Marilyn Monroe verbatim and has a knack for French cooking. She designs haute couture jewelry in her spare time for her eponymously named brand the TCH Collection and has a licensed furniture line – The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray. Net net – she’s a revered name in design, a force to be reckoned with and bar none the queen of antiquing artfully.

Her business has grown from a 1 woman firm – to 31 people in 15 countries. Her undeniable charm and dedication to design have brought her a team of junior divas, one might say, Diva Guides who assist her in finding exactly what buyers are looking for. Annually, worlds collide at Toma’s Paris Flea Market Champagne Brunch, amidst the glitz and high-voltage of Paris Design Week. In partnership with ASPIRE, Toma will be hosting the sixth annual catered celebration on January 20, uniting the international design committee at Le Marche Dauphine within the Paris Flea Market.

Before the big day, polish up on your antique buying skills with tips from the diva herself. To join ASPIRE and Toma in Paris, click here.


Say it with a smile
Be friendly when approaching vendors. Don’t let a language barrier or crowds intimidate you. If you want the best, show the vendor how much you appreciate their work. Showing a lack of interest is a common ploy among buyers, but it isn’t always the best. According to Toma, “more interest in one vendor always gets you a bigger discount.” A smile is worth a thousand words!

Know its worth!
If an item catches your eye but is steeply priced, don’t blow the bank. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a purchase. And… when you walk away, if you’re still thinking about it – return later in the day to talk to the vendor. The price might get additional discounts the more times you turn up in a day.

“The Right Price” is the price you paid
If you want it, if you love it, if you’re going to regret not buying it, and if its the price you’re willing to pay… then it’s the right price for you. In international antiquing, you learn that price can be subjective and it can vary not only by the country or city where it’s being sold, the local trends in design, but also where the vendor is in the food chain – an established dealer sells pieces at high prices than a picker. So one object can have a variety of price points associated with it.

Fake is everywhere
Imitations and replicas are not unheard off, especially in the bustling Paris markets. According to the diva herself, mistakes happen: but if you buy what you love, and love what you buy- genuine or not – you will be happy with the purchase in the end.

Do your research
Sometimes a fake is not a fake. Many antiques were created throughout the centuries – so you can find the same item from various centuries. For example, a Rococo Chest of Drawers that was originally built in the 18th C as a Period Piece was recreated again as a Style piece in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Being a 19th or 20th Century copy does not make the piece a fake… but rather makes it a Style Piece vs Period Piece. Always ask the vendor if the piece is from the period or from a later date. And make sure it’s priced accordingly.

Don’t jump ship
Don’t be afraid to buy big in Paris. Chest of drawers, commodes, and other large items will be for sale, and size shouldn’t stop you. You can always ship purchases home! The Paris Flea Market has a slew of on-site shippers. Toma’s advice – Get Multiple Shipping Quotes? Don’t go with the first shipping quote you hear. Take some time to ask around and find the best deal for you and your purchase.

Fall in love
Last but not least, don’t be afraid to fall in love. The French have an expression called Coup de Foudre – it’s when you’re struck unexpectedly by love at first site. You may go to Paris Design Week with a list of items you want to buy… but just like you can’t make a list of a perfect man and expect to find him on Tinder, you need to allow the flexibility for buying something unexpected. Sometimes – like in love – the unexpected things, bring you the most joy.

Photography Courtesy of Alison Engstrom.

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