In a tiny sandstone building near the end of a busy street, a vintage-besotted family charms the hearts of visitors with their quirky shop and boutique movie house, providing an unforgettable trip down memory lane.

WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz

Knock on the door of 7 Marsh Street in Mossel Bay, and a soft-spoken woman is most likely to open. Dressed in genuine fur, a little bling and a hat or headband, she’ll invite you into a treasure chest of original vintage clothing and accessories that will pull at your heart strings. And just when you think you’ve taken it all in, Joan Carstens will invite you for a vintage high tea.

Filled to the brim with beautiful items, Déjà Vu Vintage Clothing and Accessories is the culmination of a lifelong passion for all things vintage that retired school teacher Joan shares with her actor daughter Cornelle. “Every item in here has a story – from grandchildren arriving with suitcases filled with their late grandmother’s treasured evening dresses to a 1940s bridesmaid’s dress discarded in a thrift shop box on the sidewalk,” says Joan.

While most items are priced, not everything on display is for sale. “There are some pieces that I am too attached to – like my irreplaceable collection of more than 60 fur coats and a lace wedding dress for which I’ve been offered a lot of money on several occasions. Yes, I could have made some good money, but the value of the garment in my hand and heart is priceless.”

Joan says suggestions to move her shop to a big city, where she could make a lot of money, hold no appeal. “This is my service to my community. I am known to pay good money for worthy pieces and sellers are assured the garments will be loved and cared for. I provide a good home for other people’s memories and ensure those who buy from here have the same appreciation for the clothes and what they represent – they were, after all, worn by other people who may have had some of their most beautiful memories in those garments.”

While she sometimes buys from second hand shops or fetes, Joan believes the treasures find her. “When people bring me clothes and accessories, I love to hear about the stories associated with the different pieces.”

Joan admits to being a “hoarder with a purpose”. Tiny pieces of paper are saved for decoupage and decorations, fabric scraps for kiddies craft projects, and old stuff just in case… She also has a flat where she keeps more clothes, about 400 hats and endless boxes of gloves, scarves and other accessories.

A special guest experience that Joan and Cornelle offer to groups in the shop’s adjoining little theatre is a vintage tea. An elaborately decorated room with a raised platform, the Monroe Theatre hosts a weekly vintage classic movie night as well as on appointment, live cabaret shows, vintage high tea, and the mother of all children’s parties for girls – with dress up, photo shoot, little ladies high tea, children’s theatre and beaded crafts to take home.

A red carpet and a glass of sparkling grape juice welcome me at the door. I get to pick a fur stole for the occasion, with matching gloves, a hat and pearls. Some of the other guests scrounge around the shop, disappear behind a curtain and return in stunning vintage outfits.

The first discussion, of course, is about the furs. “Obviously we don’t condone slaughtering of animals for new furs, but we also believe in preserving heritage and memories… these furs are the loving handiwork of people who lived at least 65 years ago and they represent people who have lovingly worn and preserved them, often for several generations,” says Joan. There is also an option to choose a delicate lace shawl or velvet jacket for those who do not wear fur.

The high tea table is laden with delicious homemade treats – tiny quiches, heart-shaped cucumber sandwiches, date balls, cheese cake in heart shaped cups and Joan’s legendary rainbow cake. And filter coffee or tea from a vintage pot. Guests are seated at tables decorated with vintage crockery and flowers.

As we savour the eats, we wonder aloud how the women of yesteryear ate without soiling their gloves – or kept their fur stoles from slipping off.

When the sun comes out, we sit outside in our elaborate outfits. Passers-by slow down to get a better look. We smile and wave like royalty.

Joan’s husband, Dewaal, is a keen photographer and takes nostalgic photographs of the guests in their regale in a self-styled photo booth behind the stage. The pictures are presented to guests on a CD to take home.

In addition, guests can enjoy a good book in the reading room in the attic.

Those who’ve attended them highly recommend the weekly movie night at the Monroe Theatre. The 35-odd people lucky enough to get their hands on tickets each week are treated to a light meal and a show for R55. Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are among the favourites.

By the time I leave, I feel like family and the jovial sentiment lingers long after my departure – what a unique and extraordinary experience with an exceptional family.

Déjà Vu Clothing and Accessories offers:
Vintage clothing and accessories – including wedding gowns – for hire and sale
Costumes for hire (clothing from the 1920s and onward; theme costumes; children’s costumes)
Vintage photo shoots
A 1964 DKW vintage car for hire
Rare and second-hand books
Vinyl records
Old magazines
Crockery, collectables and crafts.

Monroe Theatre offers:
Vintage classics and art movies
Live cabaret shows
Tea room (traditional English cream tea with hats, gloves and shawls; vintage high tea; tea for two in the attic; special occasions and events; children’s parties; and little ladies high tea with dress-up, photo shoot and activities).

Déjà Vu Vintage Clothing and Monroe Theatre
7 Marsh Street, Mossel Bay
Joan Carstens 082 415 9588
Cornelle Carstens 082 338 4364
Facebook: DéJà Vu Vintage House