Ada Perlman, Contributing Photographer

Walking into the recently opened Noir Vintage & Company in downtown New Haven feels like walking into your grandmother’s living room. With its vintage decor, clothes and music, owner Evelyn Massey is recreating multiple eras in time with grace and warmth.

Massey opened up her business in June of this year. She has been sourcing and buying clothes for years and storing them before finally purchasing a storefront last March. 

The store is organized according to time period — the front is centered around the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, and the back is centered around the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. For Massey, opening Noir Vintage & Company is a milestone that for her feels like a dream come true.

“It’s so surreal, it’s like a dream. It catches me like ‘Oh my god, I’m really here.’ I’m still taking it all in,” Massey said.

Massey described her love of history as a main motivation for opening her store. Growing up, she always admired the way her grandmothers and “aunties” dressed for church and the thought that they put into their style. 

According to Massey, her store is not just another building with clothes for sale. Each piece tells a story. 

“I never just take a piece and hang it on the hanger. It has to mean something, it has to have history and a story behind it. Vintage pieces always have a story,” she said. 

Before opening the store, Massey was a professional makeup artist for 34 years. Yet, she’s always loved vintage.

Since high school, she has taken pride in her fashion sense. Growing up, Massey bought second-hand clothes out of necessity, shopping most of the time at local Goodwills and Salvation Army stores, unable to afford other clothes. 

“I wanted there to be something for everyone,” she said. “Not only do I have vintage clothes, I have vintage decor. I even wanted to bring in vintage children’s toys – the toys I played with when I grew up.”

Massey reflected that there were not very many Black-owned businesses in the New Haven she grew up in, and she never imagined she would own her own storefront. According to Massey, the current downtown location of her store is ideal for business, and Massey has benefitted from many Yalies who have frequented the store, including first years who participated in FOCUS – Yale’s community service pre-orientation program – during Camp Yale. At the time, Massey was looking for artists to design a mural in her store and she found two first years, Katelyn Wang ’27 and Johan Zongo ’27 to complete the task. 

Wang and Zongo met through social media after being accepted to Yale last spring. They quickly bonded over their shared love of art, each admiring the other’s artistic talent. Though Wang was in California and Zongo in Ghana, they knew that once they both arrived in New Haven, they would want to collaborate.

After participating in FOCUS, Wang, who calls herself an activist artist, was eager to begin painting a mural for Massey’s store. She quickly recruited Zongo to join her after showing Massey samples of their past artwork and received funding from Dwight Hall to buy the materials for the mural. 

Before beginning the mural, Wang spent time talking to Massey about her vision for the mural and researching African American art and culture.

“As a public artist, one thing I focus on is making art for the community,” said Wang. “It’s really weird to use someone else’s space as your own canvas. There’s a keen awareness of making sure you’re creating for someone else. … You want to make sure that [the community] remains at the core of your creation.”

While Wang has painted murals in her hometown of San Diego in the past, this was Zongo’s first experience with mural painting.

He was surprised by Massey’s willingness to trust in him and Wang, which he said is indicative of Massey’s overall inviting character.

“I felt very welcome. It felt like I had known her my entire life from the very first interaction,” said Zongo. “As I learned more about Evelyn as an individual, I wanted to give her that service [of painting]. She really deserves it.” 

The two student artists spent seven weeks working on the mural, culminating in a reception hosted at Ezra Stiles College to celebrate their work which was followed by a walk to Noir Vintage & Company with fellow Yalies to view their artwork.

Bringing students and faculty to the store was particularly important to both Wang and Zongo. The reception included Ezra Stiles’ Head of College and Wang’s Chinese language professor. 

“I was looking to know New Haven better, beyond the Yale bubble. Connecting with Evelyn really opened me up,” said Wang, “There’s a sense of home and belonging in a small local business that cannot be found in any other store. Her sense of family and how she treats everyone is really inspiring and led me to see the humanity of New Haven.”

Wang hopes to create more art for New Haven organizations in the future and mentioned that she and Zongo are currently talking with the New Haven Climate Movement about a project. They also hope to include New Haven youth in future projects. 

“Man, I just want to make art for a good cause and have fun. I genuinely believe art can change the world,” said Zongo.

Yale students with a valid ID can get 10 percent off at Noir Vintage & Company, which is located at 111 Court St. in downtown New Haven.

Ada Perlman covers religious life at Yale. She is a first year in Pierson College.