I’m obsessed with finding things that I can only get in a single solitary place. It makes me angry when I go all the way to a boutique in another country and they tell me at the register (after paying) that they ship to US. I’m not necessarily looking for superior quality, or something beautiful. I just want to be awarded for the effort with exclusivity and authenticism.
So I started my Spanish shopping investigations at the very beginning with El Rastro, the main flea market in Madrid. It’s cheap, democratic, unrefined, and it’s likely to have artisan designs that I hoped reflected something of what’s going on in the city.
After walking up the old hill through a hailstorm (come on, Madrid!), and passing standard flea market merchandise (army surplus, polyester flamenco costumes, kitchen supplies, leather goods, deadhead fashions), I found my first forjador de metal. Señor Manuel Manceras creates cool, one-of-a-kind hair thingies and doodads. So I got two. He doesn’t have a website and he’s not on Etsy. You gotta go through a hailstorm to see him.
Like most flea markets, haggling is part of the process. (NO. PLEASE LORD, DON’T MAKE THE AMERICAN LADY TALK TO PEOPLE WHEN SHE SHOPS.) I was bracing myself for this, but instead I heard and saw very little haggling (and therefore relinquished myself from the task.) What I did hear a lot of was vendors shouting their hottest deal. In particular this lady:
As awful as it is, I was charmed to see the “Curlz” typeface represented. In a sea of white tents, most had no signage or distinguishing visual expression. I thought a lot about Margaret Kilgallen and how she said, “Always see the line waver. That’s where the beauty is.” I want to see more ad hoc marketing. I’ll have to go back and look closer.
Another place that stood out to me was “Vintage.” There were two booths and all they sold were second hand librarian blouses from the seventies. I thought it was really peculiar that their entire merchandising assortment consisted of such a specific and not-so-classic item and that they had so damn many of them. This spoke to my exclusivity and authenticism needs so I bought a black and white one. I wonder if this was the unofficial uniform of Spanish working women in the seventies? I’m also wondering if older Spanish ladies will look at me and think they’re seeing a ghost? Will their daughters and sons say I look like their 3rd grade teacher? Is this something that no one will be caught dead in except an ironically dressed hipster?
At first I was turned off by the messy piles of clothing but then I remembered what the second week of January in H & M in Paris looks like. Just a different customer.
I saw an African-made leather bag that I wanted and would have easily just paid for. In a cringeworthy moment, I acted like a hard sell and walked away after the vendor told me the price. When I sheepishly came back to get it half an hour later, he either didn’t remember or didn’t care (didn’t care) and I gave him the 28 euros and now I have a bag. There’s some fashion communication for you.
It’s refreshing to go to a normal flea market especially after the authoritarian style Les Puces has adopted. Here, you can actually take pictures, get a silly, 10 euro shirt with dogs on it, smell the incense and recreational aromas, and not make such a big fuss out of everything. Sounds very Spanish to me.