Fashion has it shares of “one size fits all” items: a classic white shirt, a tailored jacket, crisp denim, and, of course, a great fitting tee. Accessories have them, too and, when it comes to hats, British milliner Stephen Jones says, hands down, it’s the beret that’s best.
However common, it was the style Jones made for a British newlywed named Princess Diana of Wales in the early ’80s. He was introduced to Lady Di by Jasper Conran, designer and son of Sir Terrence Conran. “Jasper invited me to his showroom to meet ‘an important client’ but I had no idea it was her,” Jones tells CR. Their long-working relationship would begin with a beige beret. “I would meet her at Jasper’s or Kensington’s Palace. She was sweet, charming, lovely and very excited to be a new bride, quite aware of her position,” he recalls. “Very shortly, though, she became Diana, the international figure of humanitarianism after being one of the first people photographed with an AIDs victim.” Jones would go on to create several Royal-approved styles for the Princess. “The last hat I made for Diana was a navy-blue boater with a tweed drape.”
A client like Diana was fitting for Jones, whose career beginnings read like a fairy tale to today’s crop of young designers trying to make it in fashion. Practically identical to the lyrics of Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat’s “Small Town Boy,” the Liverpool native left home and landed at the popular St. Martins School of Art (as it was known then) in 1976 for fashion design. However, lacking the sewing skills, he made a short detour in tailoring, which led to the millinery studio where he found a vivacious group of women who worked and played with equal aplomb.
Hats were definitely not having a moment then, and were “slightly ridiculous” according to Jones, but the musical idols emerging at the time—Johnny Rotten and Siouxsie Sioux—donned hats as part of their identity and image. “London was always about the merging of fashion and music; you could say I was in the right place at the right time,” Jones says, who also cites Karl Lagerfeld as an early inspirer.
The club music scene would too fuel Jones’ career and designs. He was part of the infamous Club Blitz scene that was frequented by the likes of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Stewart Copeland, Sting, and a young Boy George, who manned the coat check. “We were called the Blitz Kids. We were all creative types supporting one another’s craft,” Jones says. “My earliest customers were people I knew at the club, who wore my designs while out dancing.” For that reason, the hat-maker says the pieces were usually on the small side—think fascinators—so not to impede the dancing, but also so wearers could easily fit them in a bag as to “not get beaten up on the night bus home.”
Upon graduation, Club Blitz manager Steve Strange offered Jones a space in the basement of a retail shop he managed. There, Jones created his own special world based on the Historicism movement which creatives favored at the time. “I never had seen anything like that outside of Ludwig II’s castle in Bavaria,” says Jones. “Beige cotton draped walls, gilding, Rococo details, faux marble, and cherubs—it was unique in the 1980s.” With Billie Holiday or Aretha Franklin playing on vinyl, Jones soon greeted fashion A-listers including Manolo Blahnik, Anna Piaggi, and a young Andre Leon Talley along with a fresh batch of young royals interested in larger party-style hats.
Just as profound as meeting Lady Di, was designer John Galliano, who Jones knew since college. “He asked me to do hats for his own line and it led to working together at Givenchy and then Dior starting in 1996,” says the designer. “With John, it was—and still is—an adventure. He is a storyteller and the direction is never that simplistic; like ‘I’m thinking Egyptian schoolgirl cocktail.’”
With such an extensive body of work, it’s not surprising Jones’ take on hats has been the subject of several exhibitions. He curated Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones at the V&A in 2009. This November, his hats will be on display at the Denver Art Museum along with 70 years’ worth of Dior archives as part of the Dior: From Paris to the World show.
But perhaps most exciting for the designer these days is the upcoming solo exhibit in Brighton this February, entitled Stephen Jones at the Royal Pavilion and featuring only his work. “We been chatting about this for expo for five to six years now,” he explains. “Since I grew up in Liverpool, I based a collection on the sea and seaside making this an ideal venue.”
Royals, music, and the seaside are just the tip of the iceberg of Jones’ many inspirations. With newly appointed Kim Jones at Dior Homme, the hat designer looked to popular sports teams and hip hop to create uber-chic baseball caps—crocodile anyone?—for the men’s collection this past June. Stephen Jones affectionately calls them “the tiaras of America.”
But those “tiaras” aren’t for everyone, and through his work with Dior women’s artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri, Jones has returned to his beloved beret over the past few years. Having served as the French house’s main milliner for two decades, Jones said the idea for the berets that debuted in Chiuri’s Fall/Winter 2017 collection came about when she showed Jones her own personal stash of berets. She asked Jones what he liked best about the style. He beamed, replying back with examples like Marlene Dietrich and Johnny. “I love a beret. I wear one often, but it suits everyone; it crosses boundaries with its universality; chic, funky, classic,” he explains. Four seasons later, the beret is still a favorite for Chiuri, as models sported a knit-style pulled down like a cap during her Spring/Summer 2019 runway show along with dance-inspired satin headbands.
His most recent namesake collection for Spring 2019 referenced all the different fragrances and subsequent bottles that he has loved. Jones admits after launching his the line 38 years ago, he still wonders if people will like them. “You have to reinvent yourself each season.” he explains. Hats off Stephen. You got this.END
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