The power of being virtuous – Premiere Boutique Trade show

Photography by Andrew Maccoll
There are few boutiques that take my breath away, probably some that I can count on a handful really, and certainly very few which combine manufacturing excellence, along with new and limited edition pieces like Madam Virtue & Co does.
To call Madam Virtue a shop is a mere insult. Emporium or boutique doesn’t really even begin to touch what the owners Jc Lloyd-Southwell d’Anvers & Dean Hewitt have created in the heart of the CBD in Melbourne.
My first encounter with Hewitt, was when he leapt to my defence on my Facebook page when I announced I was very excited about going to the Zara opening night and one retailer suggested I was being hypocritical for attending the launch. What struck me about him, was the generosity of character of understanding that I was merely excited about dressing up to go on a night out.
He even has the good grace to support ZARA and praises it and doesn’t see it as a threat to his business, but welcomes the employment opportunities this may bring to Australian workers. I met up with him for coffee in Sydney and he recalls how he and JC just like to “keep it real”.
There is simply no pretention or snobbishness from these two.
With retailers needing to create a point of difference, Madame Virtue & Co has provided that and more. They have created a world, which can transport you back to several seasons with amazing designer runway pieces, which have been sourced from all over the world. These pieces are rare and extremely sort after. Think limited edition pieces from Chanel, Gucci, Lanvin, Commes de Garcons, and many other overseas designers. There are some new pieces as well from Prada & Miu-Miu and others. Aside from these labels, they also design and create an array of Haute Couture & Pret-a-porter pieces to order and they have been honoured by being the only Australian designers to be featured in the forthcoming book “The Milan Book” by Robyn Lea. The Milan Book focuses on fashion, the arts and high cuisine, and is due to be released later this year.
Madam Virtue has also been involved in a number of fashion and arts projects in Australia and overseas, they were one of the judges for “The spirit of the Black Dress” and recently participated in Mission 65 hosted by Phillip Boon and the iconic fashion designer Jenny Bannister. They have also been known to dress celebrities and their Haute Couture pieces in hot demand. Recalling three brides fighting over bids of one breathtaking dress, the ever-modest JC, simply said “ I sold it to the one that was the nicest to me”.
I had the pleasure of speaking with owners Jc Lloyd-Southwell d’Anvers & his partner Dean Hewitt about the amazing world they have created for their customers.
How long have you both owned the business?
Almost as soon as we had arrived back in Australia after almost 5 years residing abroad, we opened originally on High Street, Armadale back in 1998. It was originally an interiors, homewares and antiques store which got featured in all the interiors magazines. We do a lot of travelling and started to bring some womenswear for private clients and incorporate fashion accessories and a limited number of garments. Before long the fashion side had taken over the interiors and antiques. As clothes sell on a daily basis unlike antiques, this made us rethink our business model and after a year of preparatory work, we opened MV under her new persona on Crossley Street, right next door to Mari Funaki. We have been in this location since 2005.
With your Haute Couture pieces & Pret-a-porter pieces do you make these to order or do a few pieces for Madam Virtue & Co?
MV stocks the very latest collections of international labels, the likes of Lanvin, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, and many more. This is stocked in limited numbers (a maximum of 5 pieces per label or collection, sometimes in single colours, other times, a max of 2 per colour choice, quite often one per size).
In addition, we design and make haute couture pieces by our seamstresses in Paris and some pieces require the work of embroiderers in Paris and Bangkok. All pieces are hand made, we work almost exclusively in pure silk but our signature pieces are our silk organza creations, which are very labour intensive.
However, we also have started to incorporate other materials such as hides, vinyls and metal mesh to create more left-of-centre pieces, either commissioned by clients or simply to present at or as part of a fashion show or fashion week. MV has slowly built a list of bridal gowns to our collection repertoire and these pieces are again, made to order.
What other designer garments do you stock in terms of new?
We bring a vast array of labels, from the very established houses such as Lanvin and Balenciaga, to other highly coveted brands of a less wide distribution, such as Gaetano Navarra, Antonio Marras, 8½, FlyNow, Joel Escobar, all masters of design and exquisite workmanship.
From BCBG Max Azria to Commes de Garçons, and a number of other Japanese masters (Y. Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, etc), to Dutch designers, the stock is quite impressive, although some labels may only be represented by a single garment at any particular time, we do have store size limitations!
What sort of archival labels do you carry? Do you carry vintage?
We don’t do vintage, we do archival couture. This includes, it is said, the biggest collection of limited edition and archival Chanel and Hermès garments, handbags, jewellery and other accessories.
The pieces we stock are ‘archival’ couture, pieces that were presented (or not) at runway shows or that never made it to production. Or some were haute couture (made to measure as a one-off and have always remained in private hands where the client commissioned the designer to make an exclusive garment).
What we do is acquire runway or limited edition pieces, brand new, directly from a fashion show or a designer. We like to pick limited pieces, which are maybe one, two or even more seasons behind the European fashion show (which may be 2-3 seasons ahead Australia, if they ever make it here).
Some of the labels we bring are not represented or available in the Australian market, which gives us that unique point of difference.
Are the archival pieces garments or accessories or both?
We stock both garments and accessories alike. Some pieces are even completely new and current season, others are more contemporary but rather time-classic pieces.
Since it is a question of availability, a client could walk in and find a brand-new 2.55 quilted in black patent leather (retail price at Chanel over 4.500 AUD) but sold significantly lower at MV (we just brought a brand new bag, never used, bought as a present for someone who already owned the same in their extensive Chanel handbag collection) and we are selling it at only $2,975 AUD)!
But we do not stock in mass quantities, and currently this is the only brand new, contemporary 2.55 in stock.
Thank you Jc & Dean, what an insight!
It’s not often that I write about individual boutiques, however the more I learned about Madam Virtue & Co, the more I felt the need for the public to know about this hidden gem.
Madam Virtue & Co is a world in which the consumer is lavished upon with a wide array of not only amazing product knowledge, but is treated with incredible infectious love from the owners JC Lloyd-Southwell d’Anvers, Dean Hewitt & their pet dog Maude.
And it’s an addictive experience.
As a consumer you know you will be back for more. Customers can walk away smug with their unique purchases knowing that no matter how many Zara’s, Topshop’s, and other mass online shops and chains open in the near future, you cannot replace with a unique boutique experience like this one offers.
Madam Virtue & Co can be found at 5 Crossley Street Melbourne Vic 3000. Tel: (03) 9663 8669 or
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