Designer hatmaker Stephen Jones recalls a 1985 party in Paris that kick-started his career across the Channel
Milliner Stephen Jones on the party in Paris that kick-started his career across the Channel
This picture was Taken at a party thrown for me in paris in 1985. i’m with sibyl le de saint phalle, who was my assistant and muse. she was my friend’ s girlfriend who had come from paris to england looking for work. i thought she was fabulous soi offered her a job. id idn’ t have a clue at the time but she was fashion royalty, the niece of both artist niki de saint phalle and the fashion designer Madame Grès. i loved her pa r isia n-ness. To somebody like me who’d come from Liverpool, she was as exotic as it got.
Back then, and this was before the channel Tunnel, paris seemed very far from London – philosophically, mentally, socially. i’d already had a shop in London for five years by the time this photo was taken, but the party marked my entry into paris, which was, and still is, the centre of the fashion world.
i’d just started designing for Jean paul Gaultier. he’d seen me a few years earlier in the video for culture club’s Do You Really Want
To Hurt Me? wearing a threepiece suit and afezt hat i’ db ought from Flip in Long acre, co vent Garden. he asked me to model in his first menswear show – he was doing a 1940s Casablanca look – but i’d broken my ankle soi couldn’t. we met the next timei was in paris and he asked if i was interested in working with him. Of course i said yes, and he said, ‘i’m going out for lunch for an hour. Do some sketches around the fez idea and i’ll see them w he ni come back .’ soi went to a bookshop and bought some Basildon Bond note pa- per, the kind you used to write your thank-you letters on at christmastime, and sketched on that. and he went through them all saying, ‘Yes, no, yes, no…’ and then he said, ‘My assistants will be in touch in a week’s time and tell you the quantities.’
with hindsight, the party was the beginning of something– Gaul tier was there and Thierry Mugler, but at the time i was just thinking, this is an exciting new world and i don’t speak French well enough! id idn’ t have two pennies to rub together, either. id idn’ t have a credit card soi didn’t know if i’d be able to pay my hotel bill. There were no cashpoints, only five bureaux de change in the whole of paris, where they stamped your passport to say how much money you’d withdrawn because of the exchange controls.
But i think the interesting thing about this picture is that it was taken by the paparazzi. i was a 27-year-old milliner from england having a small fashion party in paris and all these photographers turned up. in the early 1980s there had been this sudden explosion of visual media–the new MTV channel, style magazines like i-d and The Face. until then, Tatler had par ty pages but they were filled with photographs of the aristocracy, not fashion people. suddenly people were interested in us. and how we looked was just as important as what we did. —
I didn’t have two pennies to rub together. I didn’t know if I could pay my hotel bill