Stephen Jones OBE is one of fashion’s most enduring and influential designers. The milliner cut his teeth at London’s Central Saint Martins where he gained work experience at British haute couture house, Lachasse. According to Jones, it was here that he made his first hat “out of an old blouse of [his] sister’s, stuck onto a Corn Flakes box. And it was trimmed with some plastic irises, sprayed silver and blue with Christmas paint.”
Revered for his inventiveness and high level of technical expertise, Jones was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s 2010 New Year Honours list. His illustrious 40-year career has seen him collaborate with Vivienne Westwood, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Thom Brown and Christian Dior.
Jones recently appeared as one of the judges for iD Fashion Week in New Zealand. This was his second inclusion in the event, the first being in 2013 where he called the experience “really magical.”
Here, Jones talks to The Last Fashion Bible about his endurance in the fast-moving world of fashion, his ultimate muse, and offers wise words to budding milliners.
Your designs have transcended generations, decorating heads from Boy George in the Eighties to Rihanna today. What do you see as the reason behind your longevity?
I’m always fascinated by the new, and fashion is updated every six months, so there is always something new, something fresh, a different point of view, a different generation. I’m fascinated about that process.
What is it about the art of millinery that has kept you fascinated for forty years?
Because its effects are immediately obvious. In millinery, you can be very creative and it’s about communication.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I live my life and put it into a hat. Things come to my head on a Sunday morning when I am parked on my sofa with a cup of coffee and a big pad of white paper and a pencil and I just sketch without thinking.
You produce two collections a year for your own label, design for private clients, and for some of the world’s top couturiers. How do you switch between the aesthetics of your different collaborators?
It’s like going into a cocktail party you have different conversations with every different person. So I have a different conversation with each client, whether a designer or private, and then that conversation becomes a hat.
From the thousands you’ve created, which hats have had the biggest impact on your life?
Two hats probably: The first hat was making a beret for Diana, Princess of Wales, which was hugely important. I think also making a mask for Jean Paul Gaultier, which was my entrée to Paris.
In three words, how would you define your work?
Fun, elevating and transformative.
You have the prestigious appellation of being the first British designer to have control of a Parisian atelier de la modiste. Can you tell us about that journey?
I am the Creative Director of hats at Christian Dior, and I was invited to be there in 1996, by John Galliano. In the workrooms there we produce hats for the Haute Couture, the prêt-à-porter, the men’s collections and the baby collections. There seems to be a new collection every year.
From Grace Jones to Diana, Princess of Wales, you’ve decorated the heads of some of the world’s most iconic and stylish women. Who is your ultimate muse?
I would have to say the late fashion editor Anna Piaggi, with whom I had a 30-year relationship until she sadly passed away eight years ago.
Is there anyone you haven’t designed for that you would like to work with?
Oh, lots of people, and there’s always lots of new people coming I would like to work with.
In your opinion, what is one of the greatest fashion collections ever created?
I would have to say John Galliano’s show at Sao Schlumberger’s house in 1994, there were 16 outfits in black and pink. When the term ‘fashion moment’ was coined, it was for that particular fashion show.
How did you first come to be involved with iD Fashion Week in New Zealand?
They gave me a ring.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Shirley Hex, who taught me how to make hats. When I asked if I could continue lessons, she said, “No I have taught you enough, you have to go and find your own way now.” So, she pushed me out of the nest.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to start a career in millinery?
It’s very exacting but you must go out and be sociable too, because otherwise no matter how beautiful the hat is, nobody’s going to see it, there’s no point.
Where can we follow you?
Facebook: Stephen Jones Millinery
What don’t you leave the house without?
A hat that takes you along with its travels.
Stay with The Last Fashion Bible for more designer interviews.