An Anthology of Hats by Stephen Jones - Part 4

January 1, 2009

Stephen Jones is one of England's famed milliners. He was also curator of an exhibit of the rarest and most appealing headgear that appeared at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London earlier this year. His personal story is as fascinating as his collection of the ultimate in millinary arts. As the final part in this series about the Hat Anthology, I thought it would be fun to share some of Stephen Jones' favorite hats. The articles shared here were published in London's The Independent on February, 2009.

"The V&A's significant hat collection is a revealing and exciting record of the changes in headgear over the past 17 centuries. While the hats in thecollection are usually displayed as part of an ensemble or within an accessories display, this exhibition opens up the archive in much greater depth. Taking the expert viewpoint of a milliner, Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones uncovers the rich seam of fashion, style, inspiration, craft and technique inherent in every hat.

Jones began researching at the V&A's archives on 2 April 2007. He would spend the next year going through cupboards, stores and other museum collections, looking at what amounted to thousands of hats, and as the hats emerged the narrative became apparent. Jones says: "The criteria for selecting hats were surprisingly straightforward: a delicious brim line, spectacular detailing, an intriguing provenance, designs that somehow linked past, present and future".

The exhibition follows the life of a hat through the stages of inspiration and creation, to the salon and finally to the client who gives the hat its ultimate purpose and flourish."

"For me, hats aren't an accessory, they are the raison d'etre of an outfit."

-Stephen Jones

Marlene Dietrich's Spanish comb

The great thing about this hat is the placement on Dietrich's head. One thing I learnt from working with John Galliano is that hats are all about making a frame for the face. And this is one of the best frames I've seen. The harmony between hair, make-up and clothing is perfect, yet somehow you are still drawn to her face.

Simone Mirman's Langoustine Fantasia

Simone Mirman was the Queen's milliner in the 1960s. I just love the fact that this hat is based on langoustine. Philip Treacy summed it up when he said, "Wearing a hat is like having a party on your head." That's exactly what this is. It's eye candy, it means nothing, it's just fun.

Straw policeman's helmets
The navy-blue policeman's hat is such a great British icon and I just love the fact that someone has thought to remake it using straw. The only two places where they wore them were Luton, which is the centre of the straw-hat business in the UK, and Singapore.
Stephen Jones' Rose Royce
This is the only one of my own designs I've chosen. It's basically a top hat and everybody – man, woman or animal – looks sexy in a top hat. I was trying to find a new way to represent flowers and ended up with this – a rolled-up piece of satin. It pulls together so many things that I love about millinery – it's simple, lyrical and easygoing.
Mrs Gertrude Shilling's 1973 Europe hat
This is Mrs Shilling, mother of the milliner David Shilling. She was a wonderful eccentric and every year her hats were the talking point of Ascot. Here she is in her EEC hat (the designs were often vaguely topical). She always had to get dressed around the corner because she couldn't fit into the car, and one year her hat was so big that she couldn't even get through the gates.

Dior bicorn, 1949
The great thing about Dior is that even though he did incredibly extravagant work, when you see the originals they are very disciplined and this hat is much smaller than it looks. It's a shape I've revisited quite a lot because, if you have width to the side of your face, it gives a gorgeous jawline and cheekbones.
1940s day hat
This was made in the 1940s, back when everybody wore hats, by an American company called Braggard. I love the fact that it's a real expression of frivolity yet it's made in green and brown, not fuchsia pink. It would have been worn by a woman in a tweed suit on her way to lunch.
Seventeenth-century leather bonnet
This is the one I found in the drawer at the V&A. It's a boiled leather cap with the most simple stitching. The leather is about 5mm thick and absolutely rock-hard. This is something I would have loved to have made for Comme des Garçons but there it was, done... 400 years ago.

Schiaparelli shoe hat
I've been inspired throughout my career by this 1940s hat by Schiaparelli, which just happens to look like a shoe. Surrealism and millinery are a perfect match. There are only three in existence, so they are incredibly expensive. The V&A has purchased one for the show, so I am very excited.
Marlene Dietrich's Schiaparelli beret
What could be more elegant than a black beret? It's the T-shirt of hats. It can be worn in so many different ways then rolled up and put in your pocket. There's something universal about it – adults and children wear them and so do the rich and poor. When we contacted the Film Museum in Berlin to ask for one of Dietrich's berets they said, "Yes, we have 85 of them. Do you want Schiaparelli or Kangol?"
Queen Elizabeth II's headscarf
I do love a headscarf and the Queen has worn one all her life; even while driving a tank. It's a fabulous design as it's a simple square of fabric, practical, disposable, yet individual. In the 1950s every housewife wore one.
Darth Vader
Exactly the same shape as a Japanese samurai helmet, denoting power and strength. I went to see Star Wars when it came out in 1977, my second year of college, the second year of punk. It was an exciting time for me.
Dancer's hat from My Fair Lady by Cecil Beaton
This is the hat from My Fair Lady that we discovered flattened in a cardboard box in a costume cupboard in LA. It is one of my favourite hats of all time. It's a velvet, asymmetric pointed hat, which is quite a simple thing in itself, yet its proportions are very extravagant and beautiful. I'm going to restore it myself.
Eighteenth-century straw hat with straw flowers
This is so British and so pretty. It's also well preserved – whoever dyed those flowers certainly knew what they were doing. Hats can be wild and wacky, formed out of plastic and flashing lights, but sometimes it's quite nice to make things which are familiar and reassuring.

I so regret that I wasn't able to make it back to London earlier this year
to enjoy this historical exhibit in person. . .
I hope those of you who are interested in millinery arts found these postings of some interest.



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