Think­ing sea­sons a ‘head’.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Stephen Crafti


A WHO’S WHO OF THE FASH­ION WORLD Pin­ning down a time to speak with Stephen Jones isn’t easy. As soon as he re­turns from Fash­ion Week in Paris, he sets off for Ja­pan, lit­er­ally with no time in be­tween. But when you start to com­pile a list of the world’s lead­ing fash­ion de­sign­ers he col­lab­o­rates with, pa­tience is ob­vi­ously re­quired. Raf Si­mons, Wal­ter Van Beirendonck, Marc Ja­cobs, Donna Karan, Jean Paul Gaultier and Rei Kawakubo are just a few of his friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors. He has also worked with Thierry Mu­gler, Claude Mon­tana and ex­ten­sively with John Gal­liano, the lat­ter who grad­u­ated from Cen­tral Saint Martins School in Lon­don a few years later than Jones. “I still re­mem­ber John (Gal­liano) ask­ing me if I’d make hats for him, soon af­ter he grad­u­ated. From mem­ory, I think I said, ‘I don’t think that’s likely dear’.”

When Jones counts up the num­ber of hats on ‘board’, needed for the var­i­ous de­sign­ers, it’s stag­ger­ing, get­ting close to four hun­dred a sea­son, and that’s just for the cat­walks. “The ar­ro­gance of youth is re­placed with the neu­ro­sis of age. With age (now 57), you’re much more aware of what can go wrong,” says Jones, who is not only pro­lific, but is as cre­atively charged as the day he started. His pas­sion for his craft is beau­ti­fully ex­pressed in the book Hats an An­thol­ogy, pub­lished by the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum.

“It is the mo­men­tary glimpse in which the cus­tomer is hooked and driven to pur­sue their hat. It lies in cap­tur­ing the imag­i­na­tion and fan­tasies of the cus­tomer, while also as­sur­ing them that their choice will in­spire ad­mi­ra­tion on the on­looker”(page 78, 2009).

BLITZ CLUB – NEW RO­MAN­TICS Like many cre­ative peo­ple start­ing out in the 1980s, the ad­mi­ra­tion for the­atri­cal dress started at the Blitz Club in Lon­don, a draw­card for the ‘New Ro­man­tics’, and Jones’ stomp­ing ground. Steve Strange, leader singer of Vis­age and owner of the club, was a client of Jones’, as were mem­bers of Span­dau Bal­let and an­drog­y­nous per­former Boy Ge­orge. “My first hat for Steve was a skull cap in black and gold, with an eye patch at­tached,” says Jones, who from the start of his ca­reer com­manded im­pres­sive prices. “I think it was 70 pounds, quite a lot at the time.” Jones’ de­signs are sculp­tural mas­ter­pieces. Every piece is lit­er­ally a work of art, even those pieces de­signed as sim­ple day hats.

PUSH­ING BOUND­ARIES Jones’ ‘Crown’ for Comme des Garçons Spring/sum­mer 2006 col­lec­tion pre­sented the ‘Crown’ as a skele­tal form rather than the be­jew­eled and heavy de­signs worn by roy­alty. His ‘Ar­row’ hat for Chris­tian Dior’s Haute Cou­ture Au­tumn/win­ter col­lec­tion a year later, in­spired by an orig­i­nal Dior de­sign from the late 1940s, is as com­mand­ing. Jones’ hat is cheek­ily ‘pierced’ by a mar­quisate ar­row rest­ing on the model’s bare shoul­der. As whim­si­cal is his ‘blan­ket hat’, de­signed for John Gal­liano’s Au­tumn/win­ter 2002 col­lec­tion. Who else but Stephen Jones could con­ceive a felt blan­ket fash­ioned into a hat and bound with an an­i­mal skin? Jones also con­tin­u­ally ex­plores ma­te­ri­als, like an ar­chi­tect who dis­cov­ers the pos­si­bil­i­ties us­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. Even in the early 90s, he was find­ing new ways to work with bul­rushes, beau­ti­fully ex­pressed in his ‘Kon-tiki’ hat, where each bul­rush is curled not dis­sim­i­lar to a Doris Day hair­style from the late 1950s.

HATS AN AN­THOL­OGY When Jones’ Hats an An­thol­ogy ex­hi­bi­tion was show­cased at the Queens­land Art Gallery in 2010, al­most three decades af­ter his ca­reer be­gun, it was easy to see why this mas­ter milliner, re­cently knighted by the Queen, is in such de­mand. His own hats, along with other de­sign­ers from Vic­to­ria & Al­bert’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion at­tracted record crowds. Even in Aus­tralia, where hats don’t re­ceive the same al­le­giance as in Europe, the power of this col­lec­tion of de­signer hats was un­prece­dented, with the ex­hi­bi­tion at­tract­ing an im­pres­sive au­di­ence of 9,500 peo­ple per day.

In the ex­hi­bi­tion was a Ba­len­ci­aga straw beret from 1950, as well as the fa­mous shoe hat by Schi­a­par­elli from 1937, the lat­ter pur­chased by the V&A for 40,000 pounds. De­signed by Dali, it was an as­tute pur­chase. “You wouldn’t get a Dali sketch for that price,” says Jones, who sees this de­sign as an amaz­ing form in the first in­stance, as well as an in­ge­nious way to ex­press a shoe. The ex­hi­bi­tion also brought back mem­o­ries of the Blitz Club, with Leigh Bow­ery’s ruf­fled or­ange ‘tutu’ hat in­cluded in Hats an An­thol­ogy. One can al­most see this larger than life char­ac­ter on the dance floor just by look­ing at this hat. “It wasn’t just about fol­low­ing fash­ion. As im­por­tant was how you put things to­gether,” says Jones.

Un­like the 250 hats in the Hats an An­thol­ogy ex­hi­bi­tion, cu­rated by Jones and Ori­ole Cullen, Cu­ra­tor of Mod­ern Tex­tiles and Fash­ion at the V&A, Jones’ per­sonal col­lec­tion of hats is rel­a­tively mod­est by com­par­i­son. “My col­lec­tion is pri­mar­ily of ‘work­ing’ hats,” says Jones, pick­ing up a neat black cloche style hat from the 1920s. “I’m just as likely to reach for a great beach hat from the 1960s or even some­thing quite sim­ple, such as a base­ball cap.”

THERE WOULD BE NO HATS WITH­OUT HAIR Jones’ Rox­ette plas­tic wig hat (circa 2002), plas­tic hues in vary­ing shades of red and pinks, beau­ti­fully cap­tures the fash­ion trend of hair high­lights of that time. In the ex­hi­bi­tion, Rox­ette was thought­fully placed next to a wig made from an un­known de­signer from the early 1920s. Made from metal­lic thread, the bob-style, with its gen­tle curls ‘speaks’ to Jones’ de­sign. As men­tioned by Jones in his book, re­leased for the Queens­land ex­hi­bi­tion, ‘there would be no hats with­out hair’ in­stantly con­ced­ing ex­cep­tions while run­ning a hand

over his own smooth and hair­less crown. “The milliner needs to work with, rather than against, the client’s hair­style” (page 105, 2009).

MUSES –DJ’S PRINCESS JU­LIA AND SUZANNE BARTSCH Base­ball caps might be flipped around on rap dancers, but rarely form part of a cou­ture col­lec­tion. Jones, al­though a grad­u­ate of the Cen­tral Saint Martins School of Fash­ion, has al­ways iden­ti­fied more with Lon­don’s club scene. In the 1980s, it was the Roxy or the Blitz Club where Jones grav­i­tated. Not sur­pris­ing, decades later, his two muses are Princess Ju­lia, a well-known DJ in Lon­don and Suzanne Bartsch, a DJ in New York, who con­tin­ues to ‘set the rhythm’. “Both have an in­cred­i­ble sense of style, even af­ter all these years,” says Jones. Base­ball-style hats have ap­peared in a num­ber of Jones’ col­lec­tions, both his own, and for other de­sign­ers. How­ever, rather than the rudi­men­tary sport­ing hat, Jones’ ver­sion, like Rei Kawakubo’s Win­ter col­lec­tion for 2007, fea­tured over­sized bunny ears made from black satin.

COL­LAB­O­RAT­ING WITH REI KAWAKUBO While sat­is­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions for his own col­lec­tions must be daunt­ing for some­one like Jones, work­ing with some of the world’s great­est de­sign­ers is also enor­mously chal­leng­ing. “You have to be a great diplo­mat. It’s im­por­tant to leave your ego at the front door,” says Jones. Try­ing to get in­side the de­sign­ers mind can also prove a mis­take. Rei Kawakubo, founder and de­signer for Comme des Garçons, is a case in point. “I might think a cer­tain hat that I de­sign has a ‘Comme’ feel. It’s those hats that she of­ten doesn’t re­spond to. What she wants from me is the ‘spice’ in her col­lec­tion, cre­at­ing a ‘bumpy’ ride down the cat­walk that al­most sub­verts things, rather than a smooth ride,” says Jones, re­fer­ring to the suc­cess of his bunny eared hats for Win­ter 2007.

A few days be­fore each Comme show, Kawakubo makes a se­lec­tion from the hats she re­sponds to. Those de­signs are then made in mul­ti­ples for the pa­rade. With tech­nol­ogy, the process of col­lab­o­rat­ing with de­sign­ers has also changed. In the early days, even be­fore the use of fax-ma­chines (1980s), there was no way of send­ing sketches to de­sign­ers such as Rei Kawakubo. “If I was send­ing a sketch to Rei, it would take at least eight days by post,” says Jones.

Col­lab­o­ra­tions with other de­sign­ers, such as Wal­ter Van Beirendonck, are con­sid­er­ably eas­ier to pre­dict. “There’s no hold­ing back with Wal­ter. He has these crazy vi­sions, which ex­plore the edges of pure fan­tasy. Maybe it’s be­cause we’re both born in the same year (1957). But we both have a strong al­most car­toon­ish sil­hou­ette in our de­signs,” says Jones. “We both be­lieve that clothes not only pro­tect you, but pro­vide this unique form of self-ex­pres­sion. There’s usu­ally a sense of play in how we present our­selves.”

WORKS OF ART Some hats de­signed by Jones are un­likely to be seen on the streets, or even at­tend­ing so­ci­ety dos. There’s his ‘Myra’ hat, cre­ated in 2003, which fea­tures a doll’s face com­plete with legs sus­pended from the crown. There’s also ‘Thun­der­bird’, de­signed in 1996 for John Gal­liano, made from icy pole sticks. And how could one pos­si­bly de­scribe or even con­ceive the ex­tra­or­di­nary ‘Wash and Go’ hat? De­signed by Jones in 1999, and made from clear acrylic, the de­sign sug­gested splash­ing wa­ter around the wearer’s face. Jones used a clear acrylic to cre­ate this de­sign, with the ‘droplets’ of the wa­ter ap­pear­ing to defy grav­ity. “The Wash and Go hat holds a spe­cial place in my ar­chives,” says Jones.

Ir­re­spec­tive of whether a hat is des­tined for the run­way in Lon­don, New York, or Paris, the de­sign process is never iden­ti­cal. Some de­sign­ers, for ex­am­ple, look at sev­eral of Jones’ hats be­fore a show. Other de­sign­ers, such as Marc Ja­cobs, use ac­ces­sories such as hats and shoes as the start­ing point for each col­lec­tion. “The clothes can then take shape.” Each sea­son Jones takes a new turn, with de­ci­sions need­ing to be re­solved. “This is the time my thoughts are lit­er­ally in con­stant mo­tion. And these ideas lit­er­ally don’t stop un­til the show starts.” When Jones is col­lab­o­rat­ing with the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier or Wal­ter Van Beirendonck, themes and in­spi­ra­tion on the de­signer’s mind are dis­cussed. Jones, fol­lowed by sketches and toiles, then works up these ideas. “A dis­cus­sion pro­ceeds over what needs to be changed, from an ex­tra top stitch to a tighter band or a higher feather,” says Jones.

SUM­MER 2015 For the last two weeks, Jones has been work­ing on his Sum­mer 2015 col­lec­tion. Ti­tled ‘Hot House’, the theme re­verts to the club scene, clearly with DJ’S Princess Ju­lia and Suzanne Bartsch in the back of his mind. The 1959 film, Sud­denly, Last Sum­mer, based on Ten­nessee Wil­liam’s play and star­ing El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, Kather­ine Hep­burn and Mont­gomery Clift, also play on his mind. Who could for­get El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor wear­ing a wide brimmed straw hat while tak­ing af­ter­noon tea in an idyl­lic set­ting by the wa­ter? “There’s a story there, and it lead to some­thing new (in hats),” says Jones. But whether a hat is deemed part of a col­lec­tion or for a pri­vate client, the de­sign process is sim­i­lar. “You are in­vari­ably look­ing in front of a mir­ror and adapt­ing the idea, whether it’s the client wear­ing your hat or a de­signer sug­gest­ing a few changes for their col­lec­tions,” he adds.

While Sum­mer 2015 is on Jones’ mind, Win­ter 2015 isn’t far away for those lead­ing fash­ion, rather than fol­low­ing. “I al­ways put a dossier to­gether which in­cludes all the things that might in­flu­ence a col­lec­tion. It could be some­thing seen on the street, a film or even a cer­tain book. Then I head to the work­room and start pro­to­typ­ing us­ing dif­fer­ent fab­rics,” says Jones. And al­though many tal­ented milliners in his work­room in Con­vent Gar­den sur­round Jones he still makes many of the pro­to­types him­self. “It’s cru­cial for a milliner to keep us­ing your hands. It’s the best way of hon­ing your skills.”

THE WORK­ROOM IN CON­VENT GAR­DEN The work­room is based be­neath the salon, a nar­row eigh­teenth-cen­tury shop front. The slim en­trance with an­gled steel win­dows art­fully show­cases a few of Jones’ fine hats. Like en­ter­ing a jew­ellery box, the door opens onto a bright red car­pet, ap­pro­pri­ate given the num­ber of celebri­ties that pass through this en­vi­able thresh­old. Jones’ sig­na­ture lilac-wash painted walls add to the re­fined am­bi­ence. And be­hind the shop is the show­room for pri­vate clients. How­ever, be­yond the ‘stage’ to back of house, is where Jones spends most of his time. “A millinery work­room is al­ways in an at­tic or a base­ment,” says Jones, whose own work­room is di­vided into two sec­tions, sep­a­rated by a stair­case. The rear sec­tion is re­ferred to as the ‘soft work­room’, where soft un­struc­tured hats are made and where model hats are blocked. On the other side of the stair­case is the ‘model millinery work­room’, where each and every hat is made en­tirely by hand.

Given his tal­ent and en­vi­ous po­si­tion of be­ing in con­stant de­mand, Jones could eas­ily please him­self and purely de­sign his own hat col­lec­tions. “I re­ally en­joy delv­ing into other de­sign­ers’ minds. It’s an ex­tremely in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship. But it also con­tin­u­ally chal­lenges me,” says Jones, who en­joys cre­at­ing the un­ex­pected. For Raf Si­mons’ first col­lec­tion for Chris­tian Dior in 2011, the mod­els went down the cat­walk with faces void of makeup and noth­ing worn on their heads. It was only at the fi­nale, in the tra­di­tion of the bride, that 30 mod­els ap­peared wear­ing elab­o­rate an­tique veils fash­ioned into hat-like forms.

EN­CORE! While the world has a num­ber of fine milliners, few com­pare with not only the tal­ent, but also the ex­tra­or­di­nary out­put of Jones, as he moves end­lessly across the globe con­vers­ing with the de­sign­ers he col­lab­o­rates with. The ex­tra­or­di­nary ret­ro­spec­tive held at the Queens­land Art Gallery not only show­cased Jones’ bril­liance, but also his great depth of knowl­edge when it comes to the his­tory of the hat, dat­ing back not only to the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, but cen­turies be­fore. To Mr. Stephen Jones, ‘we take our hats off to you!’

Photo: Sølve Sundsbø, Art + Com­merce

Photo: Sølve Sundsbø, Art + Com­merce

Beep, SS14 Carte Blanche. Stephen Jones Millinery. Photo: Peter Ash­worth Mar­i­lyn, SS14 Carte Blanche. Stephen Jones Millinery. Photo: Peter Ash­worth

Photo: Sølve Sundsbø, Art + Com­merce

Photo: Sølve Sundsbø, Art + Com­merce


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