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The Paris Flea

Antiques Hunting With BRIC Billionaires and Karl Lagerfeld

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Salma Hayek Pinault and François-Henri Pinault   
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The Biennale des Antiquaires had plenty of cachet to begin with—and then it got Karl Lagerfeld. Reportedly to honor a friendly wager he'd made with the head of France's syndicate of antiques dealers, the multitasking designer served as the creative force behind this year's edition of the Paris event. Put it this way: At last night's gala preview, the chauffeured Bentleys were pulling up before the doors opened.

Their passengers walked into a museum-quality shopping experience straight out of the Belle Époque. Lagerfeld had transformed the Grand Palais with neoclassical vitrines and acres of pavé-patterned carpet. Looming over the center of the Salon d'Honneur was a striped hot air balloon, and there was a throwback feel to the usual promenading and people-watching, even if you had Peter Marino charging through in head-to-toe leather.

With dealers offering an estimated $50 billion worth of Breughels, boiserie, porcelain, rare books, and all the rest, big-spending buyers from around the globe poured in, and the exhibiting galleries and big-name jewelry brands (including Chanel, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels) were more than ready for them. "This one, for example, is good for Russian people," a saleswoman for one of the Swiss luxury brands explained, indicating a watch bristling with diamonds.

Diana Widmaier Picasso was making the rounds, in search of decorating inspiration for her new apartment in Saint-Germain. Dior's Sidney Toledano greeted her as he passed, praised the biennale's new look, then added, in English: "Well done, Mr. Lagerfeld." Salma Hayek Pinault, arriving just before dinner in Bottega Veneta, consulted with photographers to make sure the light was catching her Boucheron necklace just right. Lagerfeld made his entrance moments later, striding in through a ceremonial column of Republican Guards at the exact moment guests started to take their seats. Talk about military precision.

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