Shopping for European Antiques with Alisanne Wonderland

For more than 30 years, Alisanne Frew, owner and creative force behind Alisanne Wonderland, has been an insider in the elite European antiques trade. As the host of 10 professional-level buying trips each year, she shares her hard-won expertise and vast network with a limited number of guests.

“I got my start in the trade as a personal assistant to an avid American collector, who was one of the world’s highest profile collectors at the time. He relocated me to Paris where he also had a Paris-based art consultant; together, we handled the acquisitions,” said Frew, who grew up in America, but attended college in Paris in the 1970s.

The avid collector often purchased paintings and antiques valued at more than a million dollars in the 1990s. He is still collecting.

“Once the object was purchased, I was in charge of its restoration, storage and transport back to the states,” Frew said. “I was in constant contact with the best in the business—and earned a reputation as ‘the young American who got things done.’”

Along the way, she learned the insider’s tricks of the trade. For instance, France doesn’t allow fountains older than 100 years old to be sold, but stone masons very often offer “antique fountains” for sale. How? In France, family burial plots must be renewed in a timely fashion.  If a family doesn’t renew the plot, a stone mason is charged with removing the limestone monument. He is allowed to keep the monument, many of which are converted into not-so “antique fountains.”  The fountains still look fabulous but are not as old as inexperienced buyers might expect.

“In European antiques, authenticity is everything,” Frew said. “Unfortunately, very convincing forgeries are everywhere. A single nail can be off—and tell the tale. I learned from the best and I’m thorough, so my guests can buy with confidence.”

Frew limits her shopping excursions to serious shoppers, those looking to buy at the wholesale level, either to supply their own retail businesses or to completely outfit a house or other large-scale project for themselves or a client.

Alisanne Wonderland in Round Top with chairs and chandeliers“Generally, we are treasure hunting with the goal of filling at least one 40-foot shipping container,” Frew said. “A minimum spend on one of my shopping trips is $50,000; the average is about $80,000—and it’s not uncommon for people to buy $100,000 worth of objects on one of my three-day trips.”

These trips are not casual strolls through well-known retail establishments, but guided entrée into European-style professional wholesale antiquing. Frew’s flat fee covers the cost of the guided shopping excursions and the cost of overseeing the goods shipping back to the United States.

Each month, three professional markets are held on three consecutive days. One day the market will be in one city, the next in another and so on. Every day market day, 700 —1,000 selling dealers arrive with truckload lots of antiques. They are greeted by 3,000 buying dealers and/or designers who are waiting for the opening bell to ring so they can gain entrance to the marketplace—and buy.

No money changes hands on the shopping trips because there is a voucher system in place. It’s possible to buy an entire truckload as soon as the doors open if a buyer likes what is in view. The whole market is over within two hours on each day. Then, the buyers leave and travel to the next day’s destination where there will be another group of sellers generally operating out of the backs of their trucks.  Rain or shine.

“It is shopping on steroids,” Frew said. “But it is the way to appoint your spaces beautifully and much more affordably than shopping “antique retail.”

Because of the scope, scale and uniqueness of the pieces available, Frew encourages people to come shop with her before the architect begins to draw up the plans.  Fireplaces, fountains, flooring, windows and doors can be selected first.

“We tend to find objects that are capable of driving design,” Frew said. “One-of-a-kind pieces deserve to be showcased not shoehorned into existing spaces because beautiful things change your state of being.”

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For more information visit Frew at the Alisanne Wonderland booth in the Peck Barn at The Compound from March 24—April 7, 2018, call her +1 (440) 
665-9408 or email her at alisannefrew@me.com.