Stephen Jones

Millinery has had a rough time over the past 50 years. Dealt a near-fatal blow by the invention of hairspray – not to mention fashion’s love affair with informality – for decades, hats were rarely seen anywhere other than religious events, weddings and race meetings. Yet they are still with us. Indeed, they are becoming more accepted each season, and the industry is increasingly attracting young designers. There are a lot more milliners around today than anyone would have predicted a few years ago.
One who really counts is Stephen Jones, in the business for nearly thirty years. Jones is universally accepted by fashion cognoscenti as one of the most original, inventive and witty hat men working today. In an unusual tribute, one of his designs was modelled by Erin O’Connor for a Royal Mail stamp. In February 2009, Jones presented a major exhibition of hats at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Each of his creations stands out like a good deed in a naughty world – a world where ugly, attention-grabbing hats, whose designers clearly had no interest in flattering a woman or complementing her clothes, are praised in the name of new millinery.
What makes Jones special? He is not only an artist but also a true designer, one who could easily have been a great couturier had he wished. As it is, he has worked with some of the greatest names in fashion, from Claude Montana and Jean-Paul Gaultier to Comme des Garçons and, most productively of all, John Galliano, in combined and mutually intensive creativity – an approach he continues with Basso & Brooke.
But it has all been done against the odds. When Jones graduated from St Martins in 1979, not even the most optimistic of his supporters thought he could ever earn a living from making hats. Not only has he survived, he has made himself millinery’s world superstar. No matter how different – and he is endlessly inventive and original – a Jones hat is instantly recognisable for its humour and creative flair, whether from his own collection or created in conjunction with another designer. In fact, what Manolo Blahnik is to feet, Stephen Jones is to heads. Neither man could want higher praise.
(First published July 2006)

John Galliano spring/summer 2007 collection; millinery design by Stephen Jones Photo: STEPHEN LOCK