Stephen Jones in Conversation with Iain R Webb

‘You can make a hat out of anything’, Stephen Jones pointed out as he casually lifted his water glass and held it briefly on top of his head as an example. This statement made me think; in the liberating world of high fashion, where form isn’t obliged to follow function, creative possibilities are endless.  Place almost any object or material on your head and it has the potential to be a hat.

Stephen Jones for Dior
Last week I was fortunate to visit the beautiful Bowes Museum in County Durham to attend an inspiring talk between milliner Stephen Jones and fashion writer Iain R Webb. Jones and Webb were perfectly at ease as they discussed their long-standing friendship and life-long love of fashion, history and hats. The intimate conversation based on a series of insightful images was so absorbing, I almost forgot I was part of an audience at all. Now that's a sign of an interesting talk.

The Bowes Museum

Jones and Webb met as students at Central St Martin’s and have been firm friends ever since.  Both extremely friendly and likeable characters, both have gone on to establish themselves as leaders in their professional fields. It was a pleasure to listen to such engaging speakers, and as I approached them enthusiastically at the end of the discussion both were kind enough to talk to me in person. I wasn’t going to miss a chance to speak to them!

Stephen Jones and myself

I am fascinated by talented, creative individuals; keen to explore what influences and inspires them. Like many iconic personalities at the pinnacle of their professions, Stephen Jones did not grow up with a predetermined plan to establish himself as a world-class milliner. He explained that he never planned to go into fashion, but that it was his desire to experience the buzz of living in London that led him to study fashion design at Central St Martin’s.

Living where nightlife seemed like a day job, Jones explained that he thought everyone lived like that at the time. They didn’t, of course, but for a curious young creative rushing to make their mark on the world, London in the late1970s and early 80s must have been the perfect milieu in which to cultivate creativity and instigate individuality.

Jones and Webb fondly reminisced about their attendances at Blitz nightclub in Covent Garden, a place where they regularly competed to wear the most outrageous outfits, and where many of the ‘Blitz Kids’ became Jones’ friends and first clients. They talked of mingling with the likes of Spandau Ballet and Isabella Blow and sharing a house with Boy George and Grayson Perry. Fame and success was in the air.

Jones at Blitz
Jones’ radical designs first took centre stage at Blitz, yet his experimental hats soon became notorious for pushing the boundaries of millinery at the very height of fashion around the world. From lampshades and saucepans for Jean-Paul Gaultier, to extravagant swans for Giles Deacon and modernistic veiling for Raf Simmons at Dior, Jones likes doing new things every season and continues to make hats for some of the most acclaimed fashion designers in the industry as well as designing his own collections.  Never without a notebook in hand, Jones finds a theme and crafts hats to tell a particular story.

Swan Headpieces at Giles Deacon

Veiling at Dior
Creating spectacular works of art for music videos, runway shows, fashion editorials and even an Olympic closing ceremony, it is the variety of millinery that Jones finds fantastic. It became clear throughout the talk that one of the reasons he has achieved such astonishing success is because he knows what his clients want. A milliner must not only be an exceptional hat maker, they must also be good listeners Jones explained, as there is always compromise when designing a hat for a client. Clearly Jones is an incredible listener.

Jourdan Dunn wearing Stephen Jones for British Vogue
Hearing Jones talk about what inspires him as a designer, I discovered that one of the most important factors he takes into consideration is who the client wants to be, because essentially, they don’t want to be themselves. Collections are about the wearer, and whether the commission is for a member of the Royal Family, or high-profile musician, a hat has the power to come alive on someone’s head, giving them the poise to be whoever they want to be. ‘The purpose of fashion’, he said, ‘is to make people dream.’

Exquisite millinery by Stephen Jones

Jones is constantly inspired by the different people he meets. When asked who he would like to design a hat for given the choice, Jones praised Michelle Obama’s sense of style, but commented that she doesn’t often wear a hat, therefore he’d be keen to design a hat for her. I don’t often wear a hat either, I wonder if Stephen Jones would like to make a hat for me? Oh well, I can dream...

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