And there, in alley 3 of the covered marché Serpette, one of the many submarkets of Saint-Ouen, I met Helen.
For a good ten minutes I stood sheepishly a few feet away, eavesdropping on her conversation in English with a couple who seemed to be interested in a trunk. They asked her where the trunks came from but Helen was reluctant to give away her secrets. This was the moment that I knew I had to interview her.
Helen is friendly, familiar and British and one-half of Le Monde du Voyage, which she runs with her French husband Alain, who inherited the business from his parents. I wish I could climb into one of their trunks and follow them around, learn everything about their trade and treasure hunt with them. Helen was kind enough to do the next best thing and answer all my nosy questions.
Since taking over the family business, what is the rarest piece you’ve come across?
I remember a Louis Vuitton collection of six trunks including a very rare Lily Pons shoe trunk. Lily Pons was a famous opera singer and she had a shoe trunk designed for her by Vuitton. It had the number 123 written on the side. This means that they had at least 122 OTHER trunks which they used. The lady who sold us the trunks said that her mother-in-law would take the Normandie or the Queen Mary across the Atlantic to New York and would take 30 trunks with her. She would then stay at the Waldorf Astoria where she would already have 30 other trunks of clothes and accessories waiting for her. You must remember that this was in the days when ladies still changed their clothes several times a day so for a long stay abroad you needed to take a lot of luggage!