Born: West Kirby, Cheshire, England, 31 May 1957. Education: Studied at High Wycombe School of Art, 1975-76; B.A. (with honors) in fashion from St. Martin's School of Art, London, 1979. Military Service: Served as chief petty officer in the Royal Navy, 1974-76. Career: Chairman/designer, Stephen Jones Millinery, from 1981; S.J. Scarves and Miss Jones lines introduced, from 1988; color creator, Shiseido Cosmetics, 1988; Jonesboy and S.J. Handkerchiefs, from 1990; S.J. Kimonos, from 1991; handbag line introduced, 1993; Jonesgirl, Stephen Jones Japan; license for gloves, scarves, and eyewear; opened shop in Covent Garden, 1995; hat featured on British postage stamp, 2001. Exhibitions: Headspace by Stephen Jones, Isetan Museum, Tokyo, 1984; Fashion and Surrealism, Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1988; Mad Hatter, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Sydney, 1992; Hats: Status, Style, Glamour, The Collection, London, 1993; Rococo Futura, Ginza Artspace, Tokyo, 1994; Blah, Blah, Blah, London Fashion Week, 2000. Address: 36 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5AA, England.
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Hats for me are an expression of the spirit. They can parallel the whole range of human emotions and may exaggerate them to dramatic effect. The expression of an eye can be enhanced by the particular line of a brim, a Roman profile concealed or enhanced by twists of fabric, or the wearer can be veiled with mystery. Whatever effect my hats achieve, they must have, as Diana Vreeland would have said, "Pizazz." Therefore the balance between them and the wearer is all-important; too much emotion in the curl of a feather or the glint of a paillette is vulgar and dominating, too little and the exercise is pointless.
Unlike clothing, novelty is the raison d'être of millinery. I must rewrite the score in every hat I make. Making a hat should be like dancing; as one's body follows the beat, so must one's hands be in rhythm with the tempo of the particular hat. Hats make themselves, I merely help them along.
When Stephen Jones left St. Martin's School of Art in London in 1979, hats were yet to become high fashion news for the young. Ethnic styles had spread from the mid-1970s onward, drably cloaking the fashion-buying public with serious good taste and leaving little room for wit or fantasy.
The late 1970s, however, brought a glimmer of change. Waists, hips, and padded shoulders were beginning to emerge from shapeless chemises and sloppy knits. What better to complete this new silhouette than an amusing and frivolous piece of headgear? Many of London's young clubgoers had first appeared on the scene wearing the spikely aggressive trappings of punk. They were new to this glamour born of Hollywood retro-kitsch and embraced it wholeheartedly, and Jones entered right on cue.
Jones was a champion of the eccentric, the stylish, and the innovative. He could be seen emerging from the morning train at Paddington, dressed like the other commuters in smart pinstriped suiting but with black patent stilettos emerging from his immaculate turnups. He was a great ornament to the clubs and parties of the era, usually wearing one of his own asymmetric and intriguing hats perched on his bald head. An enthusiastic self-publicist, his charm and good humor endeared him to many.
Jones' salons—the first in Covent Garden's P.X.—were unique environments, swathed in lush fabric and dripping with gilt cupids, where one might gaze leisurely at his always astonishing and delightful creations. He reinterpreted the chic and quirky styles of the past, cleverly draping, molding, and trimming his hats in a way so personal as to be entirely of its own time. Moreover, Jones' hats are well crafted—a reflection of early work at the traditional couture house of Lachasse.
Jones was soon a fast-rising star in the heady London galaxy of the early 1980s. His talent and that of his peers—Bodymap, Stephen Linard—burst on the scene like a vivid fireworks display, drawing the world's fashion buyers and press as moths to the British flame. During the following decades, Jones' esoterically titled collections— Sunset on Suburbia, Ole' Steamy, Passport to Pleasure—continued to delight and inspire, and he must take due credit for the current popularity of hats among the young. His designs have even attracted the attention and heads of such musical stars as Madonna and U2, and were featured in multiple films including Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993) and Disney's 101 Dalmations (1996). Further proof of his influence and fame came in 2001 when one of his hats was featured on a British postage stamp.
Millinery remains a popular subject on fashion course timetables, whereas two decades ago it was fast becoming an endangered species. Jones himself, in fact, admits to hardly keeping up with demand during the show season. He begins meeting with designers in early winter, when he collects ideas and forms a general impression of the designers' moods. The process continues through the next two months as designers choose from sketches, view prototypes, and make a final selection mere days before a show is to begin. The grueling routine is repeated through spring and summer, only to begin again in the fall. Yet Jones thrives on the excitement and stress, using it to draw out his creative energies. More recent work was from the school of maximalism: three-foot plastic Stetsons, Christmas trees, full body-length Indian headdresses, even hats made from painted macaroni noodles and cardboard.
Jones' talents have naturally taken him abroad; he continuously designs for top French fashion houses—Gaultier, Montana, Mugler, Christian Dior—and enjoys much success in Japan with a line called Jonesgirls, in which genuinely innovative design skills allied with Western charisma are justly lauded. American designer Jeremy Scott has also called upon Jones to complete his "king of kitsch" look. Other young milliners have arisen, some to stay and some to go, but Stephen Jones was the first of this new breed, and has remained one of its most influential and quixotic practitioners.
—Alan J. Flux;
updated by Carrie Snyder