Stephen Jones OBE (Order of the British Empire) is a leading British milliner based in London, who is considered one of the world’s most radical and important milliners of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Stephen Jones was born in 1957 on the Wirral Peninsula in Cheshire and educated at Liverpool College. From an early age, his mother instilled in him an appreciation of art.
He studied art at foundation level at the High Wycombe College of Art. In 1975 he travelled to London to see the exhibition Fashion from 1900-1939 at the V&A, which inspired him to pursue a career in the fashion industry.
He applied to study fashion design under Bobby Hillson, at the Saint Martin’s School of Art, London, where he was the sole male student in his year. Although he enjoyed being taught by Peter Lewis Crown, the designer-owner of the London couture house Lachasse, he had little prior sewing experience, and so in order to develop his skills Crown secured Jones a summer placement in Lachasse’s tailoring workroom. Jones soon requested a transfer to the next-door millinery department presided over by Shirley Hex, but was told he had to make a hat from scratch first. The hat he eventually submitted, his first original millinery creation, was a cardboard pillbox covered in blue crêpe de Chine and trimmed with a plastic iris, sprayed silver that his mother had received as a free gift from a petrol station in the 1960s. In his innocence, Jones had not realised that millinery flowers were traditionally made of silk, but Hex approved the hat, commenting on the flower’s modernity. Between 1976 and 1979 Jones spent his summer breaks working for Hex and learning about millinery methods and techniques. Through hats he developed a keen interest in fashion history, particularly the drama and exaggerated glamour of the 1950s.
Rare footage of Stephen Jones in his first salon
Jones left Saint Martin’s in 1979, the same year that he became a regular attendee of London’s Blitz nightclub in Covent Garden for New Romantics and fans of new wave music. Jones had been a Punk while at St Martins, but keenly embraced the New Romantic movement. As one of the “Blitz Kids”, he hung out with the likes of Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Isabella Blow, and Jean Paul Gaultier; and shared a house with Boy George and Grayson Perry, competing with them to wear the most outrageous outfits to Blitz, including a pinstripe suit with stiletto heels. Many of the Blitz Kids became his first clients, with Jones creating outlandish hats for them to wear to the club.
Hats for the Catwalk
Jones designed a line of hats for Fiorucci in 1979. In 1980, Blitz’s owner Steve Strange provided financial backing for Jones’ first millinery salon, which opened nearby in the basement of the trendy store PX, Endell Street, Covent Garden on 1 October. It was an instant success, with Jones commenting in 2008: “Overnight, I had a business”. On New Year’s Eve 1980, Jones had his head shaved by drunk friends, leading him to discover that without hair, his head was a perfect woman’s stock size, and that he could become his own fit model, developing all his ideas and designs upon himself.
1982 saw Jones’ first Paris fashion show and his first televised show. By this point, he was able to count Diana, Princess of Wales as a regular customer, in addition to his clients from Blitz, and had a hat commissioned by the Victoria & Albert Museum for their newly refurbished Costume Court.
Feathers in the Leading Role
Jones relocated his studio to Lexington Street in 1984. That year, Jean Paul Gaultier invited him to Paris to make hats for his show, his first designs for a Paris couturier, and he also made hats for Thierry Mugler. After their second show together, Gaultier ensured that Jones received full credit for his hats, therefore ensuring that the Paris fashion world was made aware of his work. In 1984 he also sold his first designs to a department store, Bloomingdale’s in New York.
Stephen Jones was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours.
official website: http://www.stephenjonesmillinery.com/
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