I know nothing of good virtue. The Madam, however…

On one Friday afternoon (24 February 2012), for no particular reason other than the call of haute couture in sweet old Melbourne town, Meagan Harding from Style Farm and I paid a visit to our virtuous Madam in the city.

No, she does not divvy out services to the highest-paying gentleman; she is not actually a woman per se at all. She is not a figure, nor a deity, nor a restaurant, cafe or bar. Nay, she is about three metres wide by ten deep and the love child of two men, funnily enough.

The understated facade of Madam Virtue

These two men; Dean Hewitt and JC Lloyd-Southwell d’Anvers are partners in crime and share a passion for their city, their clothes, their Parisian and Japanese quirky couture and a love for retail.

The Madam I speak of is Madam Virtue, a vintage couture store in a quiet Melburnian back alley that fills a void in Melbourne’s fashion and couture offerings in more ways than one.

We arrived after a very warm walk from the QV complex and were greeted by the always beaming, forever immaculate and all ’round generally delightful Dean Hewitt, dressed to impress on a close-to-forty degree day in a suit and button-up shirt.

Mr. Dean Hewitt

Walking into the store, admittedly you are stunned at how compact the wares are. With racks upon racks of gowns, dresses, jackets and accessories both of the Madam Virtue label itself – designed by JC and created in both Paris and Bangkok – and vintage Parisian, Japanese, American and other labels, one doesn’t know where to begin.

After a brief chat to Dean and a general introduction to the store and its history, Meagan and I began our trawling through the hard work these two men have exerted.

JC hails from Europe, speaks ten languages and works for the UN as an interpreter. He’s a ‘no rubbish’ kind of guy and says things how they are in the world of fashion. He’s away for up to seven months of the year, which leaves Dean all the time in the world to run the business and play the face of Madam Virtue – not that he’s complaining. Dean is a student of menswear from way back and a visual artist.

“It’s about combining a love of fashion, design and a bit of everything into something that also combines the old with the new and caters to a need in Melbourne,” said Dean.

The store is in the process of being catalogued, so thankfully most of the pieces were in perfect order, enshrouded in their protective plastic bags and very easy to flick through.

Dean in all his ominous wisdom and passion for what he knows and has to sell, whizzed us around the space, hand-picking for us jackets, dresses, gowns and other pieces to admire, photograph and gag for ownership over.

Most of what the Madam has to sell is handmade couture. Pieces that bear the Chanel, McQueen, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons and many other labels including Madam Virtue’s itself, are all on offer, all negotiable in price – as Dean says, “the nicer you are, the cheaper I become” – and all a piece Dean and JC have fallen in love with, hand-picked and brought back to Australia for the enjoyment of any and everybody.

Madam Virtue reaks of Chanel

Thankfully for the two, because of JC’s employment with the UN as an interpreter, travel is a very easy option and has opened them up to living years abroad in some of the world’s most exotic locations and shop on behalf of their loving clientelle base.

“I’m very open about where we get our pieces from,” said Dean. “Mostly Paris and Tokyo, but there’s a little from here and there, too.”

The clientelle of Madam Virtue is remarkably diverse and open to those with an open mind and passion for couture. Men however, while welcome, are not terribly thick on the floor in-store.

“Men are more than welcome and while we don’t have much menswear, we do offer some,” said Dean.

One of my few menswear finds

“We don’t discriminate,” said Dean. “We’re open to anyone that is friendly, open minded and has a love for what we have here.”

“We find that many people who do buy here either have their own design businesses, are collectors, or simply love the pieces as art,” explained Dean.

Some of the Madam’s best and most well known clients are the biggest in the world, unfortunately, when it came to getting names out of him, Dean kept his lips very tightly sealed.

The likes of Lady GaGa, however, was mentioned, and revealed she bought a bag from the illustrious retailer; albeit unfortunately not in person, rather through her stylist in Sydney. Close, but no cigar.

Madam Virtue has however, dressed paying celebrities in pieces for major events such as the SAGs, Golden Globes and the Academy Awards in MV pieces.

When it comes to the pieces on offer in the store, Dean and JC do like to have a few years on everything – usually ten – so they can date back and discover the history of the piece; they’re more than happy to fess-up to where they’re sourced from and why.

“There’s no criteria to what we buy or bring back, we’ve just got to love it,” said Dean.

Dean loves his job, loves those who love what Madam Virtue has to offer and loves spending time with everyone.

“I can stand here for an hour chatting away and I’m really interested in showing some things,” explained Dean.

This year in 2012, Madam Virtue is undertaking some quirky art projects, which Dean gets his thrills from. He’s also working with some unique musicians and their film clips. “It can’t be just frocks and shops and the like, it’s good to expand and try new things,” said Dean.

Madam Virtue’s own label

Delores models a headpiece

Maude – Madam Virtue’s mascot – gets comfy amongst the Chanel

Thank you, thank you, thank you to my dear Meagan Harding  of Style Farm for her purely awesome photography skills.

Madam Virtue’s pieces prices can range and vary quite wildly. They use an international pricing scale for their Chanel and other pieces, but still, they do not come cheaply. With pieces ranging from the mid hundreds to low thousands and higher, the Madam certainly caters to a particular market.

The store can be found on Facebook here or in person at 5 Crossley Street, Melbourne VIC 3000.

Phone Dean on (+61) 03 9663 8669.

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