27 jan 2023

Who is Stephen Jones, the favorite hatter of celebrities and fashion houses?

For 40 years, the celebrated English dandy has been making hats for all the great fashion houses, from Dior to Jean Paul Gaultier passing by Schiaparelli and for stars like Rihanna and Lady Diana. Numéro looks back over the career of an iconoclastic milliner with gigantic talent. 

Stephen Jones, the milliner of celebrities and great fashion houses 



Besides their exceptional artistry, what do the designers Jean-Paul Gaultier, Rei Kawakubo, Kim Jones, Raf Simons, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Marc Jacobs have in common? The answer is Stephen Jones. For the past 40 years, this English dandy has excelled at making hats, to the point where all the big fashion houses, not to mention the young designers, seek out the services of this great milliner, who also has his own label. “I’ve known Stephen for a very long time,” confides Kim Jones, artistic director of the menswear collections at Dior. “When I was a teenager [in the 1980s], he was one of my idols. Our collaboration began when I arrived at Dior, and I respect him enormously.” 


A past master at exalting the evocative power of an accessory that is today considered secondary, Stephen Jones will lavish as much care on a simple leather beret, like the one he made for Dior’s autumn/winter 2017–18 runway show, which was afterwards worn by Rihanna, as on a spectacular headdress in black feathers for the spring/summer 2014 Louis Vuitton show, the last under Marc Jacobs.

The hats of Stephen Jones between simplicity and extravaganza 



 “A true visionary, Stephen is able to dream up memorable creations. Even when they’re simple, everyday kind of hats, they’re unique,” explains Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of womenswear at Dior. “I also remember my first Dior haute couture collection [spring/summer 2017], she continues. “After the show we threw a party inspired by the Bal des Têtes [a sumptuous ball put on by Baron Alexis de Redé at the Hôtel Lambert in 1956]. Stephen created extraordinary pill boxes for us. That was when I really understood what that hat is all about.” For Jones, whose enthusiasm for his work is infectious, the style of a hat is of no importance as long as it pushes the boundaries of the milliner’s art, whether through volume, proportion, materials or ornaments. “A hat is a visible accessory that gives character and personality,” says the Cheshire-born designer, an origin he shares with Lewis Carroll, inventor of the famous Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (1869).



In a fashion industry constantly seeking novelty, Jones’s exceptional longevity cannot only be explained by his overflowing imagination and unrivalled knowhow. “His hats are creative, iconoclastic and revolutionary,” explains Adrian Joffre, a long-time friend of Stephen Jones and the co- founder, with Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo, of the concept store Dover Street Market. “He breaks the rules, but at the same time respects the traditions. His work is like him: extravagant, magnificent and very particular.” Jones himself has no problem admitting that he likes to play with contradiction. He first attended High Wycombe College of Art before studying fashion at London’s celebrated Central Saint Martins, from where he graduated in 1979. “When I was a student, I loved leafing through old editions of Vogue. In the 70s, easy-to- wear wardrobes and rustic styles were in fashion. I hated all that. But I loved the photos of gowns by Balenciaga, Dior and Jacques Fath taken by Henry Clarke, so full of elegance and refinement – angular poses and a graphic aesthetic, which for me you also find in Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols singer, with this total desire to be the best and the most energetic. It’s an extreme attitude that I find very glamorous and which contrasted with all the comfortable clothing fashionable at the time.” 

Stephen Jones, from New Romantics to Lady Diana



During this heady period, when London was the epicentre of street style, Jones evolved from a punk student to a key designer for the New Romantics, who shared with glam rock and David Bowie a taste for androgyny, but also went in for extravagant historic references. To jolly up their endless nights out at the celebrated Blitz club, Jones made outrageous hats for his flatmates – the pop star Boy George and the artist Grayson Perry – as well as for his friends, the French designer Jean Paul Gaultier and the band Duran Duran. In 1980, Steve Strange, the club’s owner, offered to finance Stephen Jones’s hat shop in Covent Garden, and just two years later Princess Diana called on his knowhow. After that, all the avant-garde creators swore by his eye and talent, from Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons, and Jean Paul Gaultier, to the equally audacious Thierry Mugler, the very punk Vivienne Westwood and of course the fanciful John Galliano. When the latter was appointed artistic director at Dior, in 1996, Jones became the first British milliner to make hats and head- dresses for the illustrious brand. “Probably the most exceptional piece I ever made was for Dior’s spring-summer 2004 couture show, designed by John Galliano and inspired by ancient Egypt. It was an enormous gilded column, 1 m high, worn by Erin O’Connor,” he recalls. 

Stephen Jones, guardian of Dior’s know-how



While many other artistic directors have come and gone at Dior since Galliano, Stephen Jones remains a faithful Dior collaborator, a sentinel even, who continues its traditions. “Stephen has been the milliner to Christian Dior for 25 years – for me, he is the brand’s oracle. He has absorbed all its facets, and all those of a couturier too,” declares Kim Jones. His words are borne out by the 2020 book Dior brought out on Stephen Jones’s hats, as well as the exhibition on his work the brand organized at its Granville museum in 2022. Rare are the milliners who have achieved such recognition uniquely for their savoir-faire (Chanel, who started out as a milliner, achieved fame as a couturier). In 2009, Jones cocurated the exhibition Hats: An Anthology at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, with a title that referenced Cecil Beaton’s 1971 show Fashion: An Anthology. These past five years have been Jones’s most prolific yet. Besides his two annual collections under his own name and those he does for Dior, he has worked with Schiaparelli, Moschino, Rochas, Thom Browne, Marc Jacobs and the British designer Grace Wales Bonner, as well as on special projects for Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Kylie Jenner – a list that is far from exhaustive. “I’ve worked with many designers over the course of my career, but never so many as right now. Each time, I look at it as a conversation between people who are very different. They nourish me and I nourish them. I have my own per- sonal vision of beauty and ugliness, and they have theirs. Do I necessarily have to defend my point of view? No, with them I want to learn, I find the child in me again,” analyses Jones. Here we have the secret to his exceptional career: a radical vision of fashion coupled with a deep knowledge of its techniques and methods; an insatiable curiosity paired with a sincere and heartfelt modesty.