Modern Milliners Find A Mentor In Stephen Jones
I’m a history buff, so I get a kick out of being able to date the moments when things change. It’s easy in fashion, which is already glued to a calendar. Five years ago, Stephen Jones curated an exhibition devoted to hats, at the Victoria & Albert Museum. “Without that exhibition, I don’t know what the hat industry in the UK would be,” said milliner William Chambers the other day at Somerset House, where he was one of the designers in the Jones-curated Headonism initiative, a joint effort by the British Fashion Council and Royal Ascot to support the art and craft of millinery. The Royal Ascot—the most famous racing event in the equestrian calendar—is just as famous for its batty hats as it is for its horses. And the Headonists get to show their work not just during London fashion week but also to a captive audience at Ascot itself.
For a millinery master like Stephen Jones, Ascot is a major payday. He’ll make one thousand hats for race-goers. And it’s typical of the sweetest soul in fashion that he would want to share the wealth by curating something like Headonism. “There was no one to show me,” he says, “So it’s great to choose people who are really good and give them a little bit of help.”
This year, the chosen five included Piers Atkinson, already famous for ADR’s cherry headpiece. Though business has been booming for him, especially in the Far East, Atkinson is worried about the effect success might have on his creative freedom. He needn’t bother just yet. What he showed at Headonism mixed Alphonse Mucha’s art nouveau, the Manchu dynasty, a 2-D jigsaw-puzzle headdress inspired by Russian royalty, and a floor-length extravagance of ripped tulle, feathers, and fringing (above) that had Gaga written all over it.
Emma Yeo, in her first season as a hatter, laser-cut and molded wood to replicate the ethereal structure of moths’ wings (above). The technology defied comprehension. Defiance was also key to Aurora Ozma’s headgear. “Plan what you’re wearing around my hats,” said the rock ’n’ roll moll, whose quiff embodied the architectural essence of her designs. Eloise Moody’s work, the most traditional, carried a torch for her hat-wearing granddad.
“I don’t want people to turn out some old stuff I did,” said Jones as he looked around a roomful of his spiritual children. “They’re doing things I would never have thought about.” And yet they wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for him. It was a rare and generous fashion moment when Piers Atkinson said, “Stephen Jones is everything.” It truly couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.