Be it Princess Diana’s delicate fascinators or the towering feather crowns seen in Jean Paul Gaultier’s runway shows, many of the most fantastic hats created over the last several decades have one thing in common: they were made by a bald-headed man with a slanted grin, most often seen sporting a curiously askew hat and always with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
This month, British milliner Stephen Jones celebrates the launch of a 240-page book, Dior Hats: From Stephen Jones to Christian Dior, published by Rizzoli, which documents his work for the house of Christian Dior alongside designs by Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré and Christian Dior himself. With photographs by Sølve Sundsbø and text from fashion critics and historians, the book is a testament to Jones’s legacy and his ability to modernise an age-old accessory over the decades.
“When I was growing up in the Sixties, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” says the 63-year-old designer. “I wanted to be an astronaut—that was every little boy’s dream back then. I just didn’t want to be an engineer like my father. In the end, I realised: I am an engineer.”
Indeed, Jones’s hats can’t always strictly be called hats. Some are feats of dexterity, serving more as sculptures that sit atop heads, or frames for faces, as they often do in the case of the couture collections of Christian Dior, where Jones has worked as a collaborator since 1996. And while his dream to be surrounded by stars did not necessarily come true, Jones found his inventions worn by Princess Diana, Rihanna, Madonna and Kylie Minogue, and even Queen Elizabeth II, who gave Jones an Officer of the Order of the British Empire award in 2010. It’s clear Jones never set out to be a conventional milliner. “Fashion looks right when it’s appropriate for the occasion for which it should be worn, but also fabulous and scandalous when it’s not right for the occasion and it shouldn’t be worn,” he says. “That’s maybe the part I enjoy most.”
Jones has collaborated with designers from Vivienne Westwood to Rei Kawakubo to Marc Jacobs to emerging talents like Grace Wales Bonner. Thanks to his background in ready-to-wear with a womenswear design degree from Central Saint Martins in London, Jones always worked easily with creative directors of fashion houses, and has even been known to draw the line of a woman’s back and face first when crafting a new design, treating it like a finishing flourish at the end of a sentence.