Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Crowning Glories: The Millinery Confections of Stephen Jones


"Women think of high heels as sexy; they think of lace as being alluring; what people will think of is a hat is about having a party."

John Galliano ~ Autumn/Winter 1994

For the better part of the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, no well-dressed woman left her front door without a proper hat perched atop of her head. In its golden era, the hat was the exclamation mark at the end of a fashion statement; it acted as a sort of finishing touch. So fundamental was the hat to a woman's wardrobe that in a scene from the 1942 film Mrs. Miniver, the lead character contentedly falls asleep while admiring her newly-bought hat, which she had just excitedly modelled for her husband. But as social strictures relaxed so, too, did the lexicon of fashion, and one of the first casualties of the times was the hat: women ceased wearing them and the hat fell  by the wayside. It is interesting to note, however, that in relation to the demise of the hat as a fashion accessory, women's hairstyles became increasingly bouffant as if in an attempt to fill the vacancy left behind by the once mandatory headpiece. And so, hat-wearing lay dormant, seen as something démodé, worn largely by pompous aristocrats at stuffy society weddings or Ascot. It seemed that the epoch of great millinery had unquestionably come to an ignoble end.

All that changed with the arrival on the fashion landscape of two, notable milliners: the Irishman, Philip Treacy, and the Englishman, Stephen Jones. It is no exaggeration to assert that largely due to their efforts in the last two decades, Treacy and Jones were almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of the hat as a viable accessory once more. But even great milliners need staunch supporters and both Jones and Treacy had theirs in the persons of two legendary fashion editors, Isabella Blow and Anna Piaggi. During her lifetime, Isabella Blow was never seen without a headpiece created for her by Treacy and Anna Piaggi was and is an avid wearer of Jones's creations.

Image courtesy of:

Parallely, Stephen Jones's and Philip Treacy's names are both associated with those of their long-standing collaborators  - John Galliano works closely with Jones (and has done so for more than sixteen years) while the late Alexander McQueen did likewise with Treacy. Indeed, the careers of both milliners are so inextricably woven into the fabric of  those of the two designers' (and their reputations so integrated), that it is hardly possible to think of the one designer without thinking of his corresponding milliner - and vice versa. Galliano has even gone on record to say, "What really makes Stephen's millinery so unique is his personality - his elegance and refinement. Everything he does looks simply blown together. That is really the art of millinery and he is the best at it." (Quote:, undated)

Milliner & Designer
The collaborators: Stephen Jones & John Galliano
Image courtesy of:

It is probably fair to say that London's most exhilarating club-scene period was in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, a veritable fertile ground of creativity, and where cliques of misfits and kindred spirits congregated. In that time, personalities such as Malcolm McLaren and his accomplice, designer Vivienne Westwood; the Australian performance artist, Leigh Bowery and his friend, a clubber who went by the name of 'Trojan' (Guy Barnes); and a young, then-unknown fellow with a penchant for androgynous fashions and make-up, Boy George, were all just beginning to make names for themselves around London with the big world beyond, yet to be conquered. And personal style - the more extravagant, the more avant-garde, the better - made a person noticed. Fashion, style and individuality were a vernacular by which a nightclubber set him- or herself apart from the rest of the pack. A  form of (friendly) competition developed among one's peers, compelling creative types to concoct wild and unique ensembles for their nightly forays into the clubs. It was in such an atmosphere that Stephen Jones, like many of his famous contemporaries who would eventually burst onto the international scene - the reverberations of the memories of those long-gone London days would eventually surface and influence contemporary fashion - found himself frequenting nightclubs such as the legendary Blitz, usually in a hat of his own design.

Born in Cheshire and schooled in Liverpool, Stephen Jones attended London's Central Saint Martin's where his intention was to learn fashion design. But destiny had  planned  otherwise. When he arrived at Saint Martin's, he had no sewing experience; and so, at the suggestion of his tailoring tutor, he went to apprentice at an exclusive couture establishment, the House of Lachasse, in London, where he worked in the tailoring workshop. Next to Lachasse there was a millinery workroom and Jones asked for a transfer. In his own words, "After the first day I knew it's what I wanted to do." He began designing hats in 1979 while still in college and has never looked back since.
(Sources and quote:, 2009;, undated;, 2008)

John Galliano ~ Spring/Summer 1997

By 1980, Jones had opened his own millinery shop in London's Covent Garden district. The salon soon became popular with celebrities and private customers alike (and he still attracts patrons from the worlds of entertainment and fashion); among them, Boy George and Diana, Princess of Wales, who flocked to Jones to create unique hats for them, hats that made a statement and helped launch the wearer onto the front covers of newspapers and magazines (Jones himself  made a brief cameo appearance in Culture Club's first video hit, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me). What attracted Jones's clientele to his shop was his use of unconventional materials as well as his whimsically surreal designs - essentially, Jones's creations  have an air of romance  about them, making hat-wearing fashionable again. 

Over the past thirty years, Stephen Jones has established for himself a reputation as a milliner of exceptional talent. Along with that reputation came a bevy of designers - a list of 'who's who' of 1980s fashion - all of whom collaborated with Jones for their collections: Azzedine Alaïa, Vivienne Westwood, Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Rei Kawakubo and, more recently, Marc Jacobs and Giles Deacon. In fact, Jones's collaborations with  some of fashion's greatest designers have resulted in hats and headpieces for some of the most memorable runway presentations - both in London and Paris - of the past twenty-five years. (Source:, undated)

Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Autumn/Winter 2008
Image courtesy of:

But Jones's closest collaboration - and one he is most known for - is that with another Central Saint Martin's graduate and former London clubber, John Galliano. Jones has spoken of his working relationship with Galliano in these terms: "We really understand each other on that level, so when I arrange a romantic tulle hat, we both know exactly what it's saying and what it represents. John knows a lot about hats. We could communicate in hats without talking." (Hats designed by Jones for Dior are created in Paris while those for the John Galliano line are made in the Stephen Jones Millinery workshop in London.) (Source & quote:, 2008)

Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Autumn/Winter 2007

Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Autumn/Winter 2008
Photos by Sun Jun
(L'Officiel China ~ September, 2010)
The two images above are courtesy of:

Today, while Stephen Jones still works in collaboration with other designers he maintains separate millinery collections under his own label in an establishment not far from his first millinery shop; his own collections are his first love. The Stephen Jones retail boutique is housed in an old Georgian townhouse which is also the location of  his workrooms and design studio. Presently and in addition to his exclusive hand-made, haute couture line, Model Millinery, the Stephen Jones studio is also responsible for creating the more affordable ready-to-wear diffusion line, Miss Jones, and a capsule collection of street caps and trilbys, JonesBoy, for men. There is also an  accessory line, JonesGirl, which is marketed exclusively for Japan. (Source:, undated)

Wash and Go ~ 2009
Image courtesy of:

In 2009, the Victoria & Albert Museum was the scene of an exhibition curated by Jones, Hats: An Anthology by Stphen Jones. Set in a box-hedged Baroque garden setting, it was the first exhibition devoted solely to hats by the V&A. Comprising of over three-hundred and fifty hats - an assortment of hats chosen from the V&A's extensive archives by Stephen Jones along with those from his own collections formed the core of the exhibition but it also included additional  items on loan from other museums, archives and private collections, many of which were displayed for the first time - the exhibition traced the social history and cultural significance of hats from an Ancient Egyptian mask dating back to 600 B.C.E. right up to contemporary headpieces created by Jones and his fellow colleagues. It took the better part of two years for Jones and Oriole Cullen, the V&A's resident fashion and textile curator, to explore, locate, identify and retrieve the hats assembled for this exhibition. In their search, Cullen and Jones made some wonderful discoveries, including Dame Margot Fonteyn's Dior arrow cloche from 1949 (found in Bath) and  Eliza Doolittle's straw hat, Audrey Hepburn's character in My Fair Lady, which they came upon in a box at the Warner Bros. Hollywood archives. (Source:, 2009)

Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Autumn/Winter 2007-2008
(Photo by Chris Moore/Catwalking)
Image courtesy of:

"I was honoured when the V&A invited me to curate an exhibition about hats," Stephen Jones was quoted as saying. "Since my college days, the V&A has been a treasure trove of inspiration, but to study their archive was a dream come true. This exhibition draws on millinery collections world-wide, and is truly an eclectic and exciting anthology of hats from B.C. to the present day." But the exhibition had a precedent and followed in the footsteps of another, earlier exhibition which was the result of a collaboration  between the V&A and Cecil Beaton, the famous illustrator and photographer. In 1971, Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton was the pioneer, sartorial exhibition that initially placed fashion on the V&A's agenda. The exhibition later toured Australia and was installed at The Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane in 2010; it will eventually make its way to New York City and debut at The Gallery at the Bard Graduate Center from September the 14th, 2011, till April the 8th, 2012. (Source & quote:, 2009)

Image courtesy of:

Video courtesy of: penylanetv ~ YouTube

Aftermath 1946

High Fashion Log For Girls

Little Fishes

New Horizons

The Living Tree 1939

Spirits Drifting




Social X-ray




The Roxy



Jack O'Green



Still Life

May Queen




Tit Tat


Je Ne Sais Quoi


Laissez Faire


Soixante Neuf


Goddess Mother of the World




Snow Plume








Her Elegance



Royal Crescent


Buenos Aires





Double Entendre


Monte Carlo





Northern Lights

Snow Strobe




Blithe Spirit


Marquise D'Orsay


Secret Place







The Cabin


Anna P

Le Dix




Cherry Flip






(Photographs by Peter Ashworth)
The above ninety-one images are all courtesy of:


Rose of Paris


(Photographs by Peter Ashworth)
The above four images are courtesy of:

(Video is courtesy of the V&A Museum, source:

The millinery workroom or atelier is the creative laboratory where hat designs are transformed from ideas into reality. Watch as  one of  Stephen Jones's creations comes to life. In Jones's words, a milliner’s workroom is "...half Aladdin’s cave and half artist’s studio," a place where each hat is carefully coaxed into being. This video was made for the Victoria & Albert Museum's exhibition, Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones. (Source & quote:

Stephen Jones for Christian Dior



Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Autumn/Winter 2005
The above eleven images are courtesy of:

Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Autumn/Winter 2006
The above seven images are courtesy of:

(The  above left image is courtesy of:

(The above image is courtesy of:



(The above right image is courtesy of:

(The above image is courtesy of:

(The above left image is courtesy of:

Christian Dior HauteCouture ~ Spring/Summer 2007
The above twenty-eight images are courtesy of:
(Unless otherwise, individually indicated)

(Photo by Christopher Moore/Catwalking)
(The image above is courtesy of:

Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Autumn/Winter 2007
The above ten images are courtesy of:

(The above right image is courtesy of:

(The above image is courtesy of:

(The above image is courtesy of:

(The above right image is courtesy of:

(The above right image is courtesy of:

(The above image is courtesy of:

(The above right image is courtesy of:

(The above image is courtesy of:

(The above right image is courtesy of:

(The above right image is courtesy of:
Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Spring/Summer 2009
The above six images are courtesy of:
(Unless otherwise, individually indicated)

(The above two images are courtesy of:

(The above right image is courtesy of:

(The above right image is courtesy of:


(The above right image is courtesy of:

(The above right image is courtesy of:
Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Autumn/Winter 2009
The above twenty images are courtesy of:
(Unless otherwise, individually indicated)

(The above left image is courtesy of:

(The above left image is courtesy of:

Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Spring/Summer 2010
The above five images are courtesy of:
(Unless otherwise, individually indicated)

Image above is courtesy of:

Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Spring/Summer 2011
Image above is courtesy of:

(Video is courtesy of the V&A Museum, source:

Milliner Stephen Jones talks about his life, work and style. Produced for the exhibition,
Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones
Image courtesy of:
For additional information or enquiries, please visit Stephen Jones's website:

Suggested readings:

Hats: An Anthology (2009), by Stephen Jones & Cullen Jones: V&A Publications

Stephen Jones & the Accent of Fashion (2010), by Hamish Bowles, Andrew Bolton & Suzy Menkes: Antique Collectors Club Ltd.

No comments:

Post a Comment