MiNDFOOD STYLE editor, Nicole Saunders, caught up with iconic milliner Stephen Jones, whose creations were on display as part of The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture at the National Gallery of Victoria last year.
Fashion is a¬†fickle creature. Trends come and go, designers are here one minute and gone the next. And while Christian Dior has had three creative directors at the helm of the house over the last 21 years, there‚Äôs been one constant on the Christian Dior runway. Throughout John Galliano‚Äôs cacophony of colour and drama, Raf Simons‚Äô structured silhouettes with an obvious nod to the house‚Äôs archives and now Christian Dior‚Äôs first female creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, milliner Stephen Jones has been adorning the heads of Christian Dior models.
As to how one of the world‚Äôs most acclaimed milliners‚Äô love affair began, Jones is frank: hats weren‚Äôt his first choice. Once he was accepted into London‚Äôs prestigious Saint Martin‚Äôs School of Art, Jones became aware that tailoring wasn‚Äôt for him. As he puts it, matter-of-factly, ‚ÄúI¬†was useless at sewing.‚ÄĚ After a moment of realisation, Jones transferred departments. And although millinery wasn‚Äôt love at first sight, he says it opened his eyes to new creative opportunities. ‚ÄúIt just showed me a¬†whole other world, which I¬†followed and it gave a¬†fantastic thing to me.‚ÄĚ
Jones may have come a¬†long way from his first hat ‚Äď a¬†mishmash of his sister‚Äôs old blouse, a¬†cereal box, plastic flowers and tube of glue ‚Äď but his creations are no less creative. Anyone familiar with the fashion house‚Äôs evolution over the last 21¬†years will recall moments when his creations have stolen the show. Take, for example, the larger-than-life daisy headdress (pictured opposite, top) from Christian Dior‚Äôs Spring/Summer 2003 show.
His partnership with Galliano, creative director of Christian Dior from 1996 to 2011, pushed boundaries ‚Äď often blurring the already hazy line between art and fashion.
And while one might consider the relationship between a¬†headpiece and a¬†garment a¬†delicate balancing act, Jones says it‚Äôs very much a¬†collaboration. He recalls the time when he questioned Galliano‚Äôs love of hats. ‚ÄúI¬†said, ‚ÄėJohn why do you like hats so much?‚Äô and he said, ‚ÄėIf you‚Äôre a¬†dress designer, why would your interest stop at the neck? It‚Äôs what‚Äôs above the neck that‚Äôs really interesting, so surely your design would continue all the way up.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
There‚Äôs often a¬†lot of back and forth in the collaborative process, Jones describes. Often a¬†designer will come to him with an idea and the pair will negotiate the final outcome together. He finds that sometimes the mood of the clothes are trying to say something different to what he wants the hat to express, but it‚Äôs about finding a harmony.
The biggest challenge, Jones says, is coming up with new ideas. So where does he go when he‚Äôs stuck? ‚ÄúNot Google images!‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve lived my life pushed into a¬†hat. It‚Äôs 40 years this year since I¬†made my first hat, so 40 years of hats is a¬†lot of things.‚ÄĚ He credits his main assistant, Leslie, for a¬†fantastic memory; they‚Äôve been working together for 30¬†years. ‚ÄúAnd maybe when I‚Äôm running out of time I¬†look at Google images too,‚ÄĚ he jests. But his inspiration doesn‚Äôt come from one particular place, it‚Äôs from anywhere. ‚ÄúTo actually close your mind to anything is a¬†mistake. Anything can be a¬†hat.‚ÄĚ
But, he says, every designer is different, and often there‚Äôs no rhyme or reason. ‚ÄúThe thing to remember is once you think you‚Äôve got a¬†formula, you haven‚Äôt,‚ÄĚ he affirms. ‚ÄúEven Raf [Simons], who didn‚Äôt really use hats, just veils, his design did continue above the neck. But he felt that hats were often sort of too historic, so he wanted to move away from what John did.‚ÄĚ
As for Christian Dior‚Äôs first female creative director, Chiuri, Jones says the Italian native is a¬†great hat wearer herself. He recalls his first meeting with Chiuri: her people offered an appointment but he told them no, he was taking her for lunch. ‚ÄúWhen you first meet, it‚Äôs like going on a¬†blind date, and no less stressful,‚ÄĚ he chuckles. ‚ÄúI¬†thought let‚Äôs go and have a¬†nice time together and then let‚Äôs talk hats because that‚Äôs how hats should be.‚ÄĚ
Jones says that while they had met socially, they‚Äôd never worked together before. ‚ÄúShe said, ‚ÄėI¬†know you‚Äôve been here a¬†long time, would you like to work with me?‚Äô I¬†said, ‚ÄėWell, yes, I‚Äôd love to, but only if you want hats. I‚Äôd¬†love¬†to do something for your collections and runway shows.‚Äô And she said, ‚ÄėWell, actually, I¬†believe that all the collections should be the same as the runway shows.‚Äô‚ÄĚ Jones believes that‚Äôs one of the biggest differences between Chiuri and her predecessors, and also a reason her clothes are so wearable. ‚ÄúEven the haute couture, you know, it‚Äôs real. Sometimes the volumes are quite big, but they‚Äôre comfortable and light.‚ÄĚ
After Chiuri introduced Jones to pieces from her collection, he returned to her workroom with a¬†few prototypes. ‚ÄúNormally you‚Äôd put it on a¬†lovely girl and she walks up and down and the designer will say yay or nay, or try it on back-to-front.‚ÄĚ But Chiuri had other plans. ‚ÄúShe said, ‚ÄėStephen, can I¬†try it on?‚Äô And I¬†said, ‚ÄėYes of course.‚Äô‚ÄĚ As Jones put the hat on Chiuri‚Äôs head, her assistant whispered, ‚ÄúMaria Grazia you look fabulous in that.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúI¬†just thought, yes, I¬†love you! And it worked. She started with the haute couture and used a¬†hat with almost every outfit, and for the winter collection there was a¬†beret for every look.‚ÄĚ
The beret, one of which Jones wears as we chat, seems a¬†low‚ÄĎkey statement for the milliner who has dressed the heads of everyone from the late Princess Diana to pop princess Rihanna. ‚ÄúIt suits everybody, you know,‚ÄĚ he explains. ‚ÄúYou can buy an expensive one or you can buy a¬†cheap one.‚ÄĚ
As for how everyday women will interpret The¬†House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture, Jones says he hopes everyone will take inspiration from it. As inaccessible as haute couture may be to the masses, Jones believes people will enjoy seeing the creations because, ultimately, they love dressing up. ‚ÄúPeople are interested in maybe not being themselves but being somebody else, or getting their best look together. And I¬†think Dior‚Äôs really a¬†part of that. It is about a¬†dream, which can become a¬†reality.‚ÄĚ