LONDON – Stephen Jones admits to having many a cobweb in his head, but not when it comes to the minutiae of his millinery work.
“I can’t remember what happened yesterday, but I can recall the color of the lining in a hat I made in 1984 or a stitch that I didn’t have time to finish,” says Jones from his sunny studio in Covent Garden.
Jones is preparing to revisit those small details – and more – at an exhibition of his work that kicks off this week at Antwerp’s MoMu Fashion Museum.
“Stephen Jones and the Accent of Fashion,” which runs from Wednesday through Feb. 13, will showcase Jones’ designs under the Stephen Jones label and his work over the past 30 years for colleagues including Claude Montana, John Galliano, Christian Dior, Azzedine Alaia and Marc Jacobs.
The show was conceived and curated by longtime Jones fan and collector Geert Bruloot, who first began buying Jones’ hats in 1988 for his legendary store Louis in Antwerp. “He later discovered that Belgians don’t wear hats – so he kept them for decorating the shop,” said Jones with a big laugh.
Of the 200 hats on display, about 80 percent belong to Bruloot, and the rest are on loan from private collectors. Many of them will be shown with the outfits they originally complemented on the designers’ catwalks.
The hats will be displayed by theme, including Adventure, Science, Rococo, and Glamour, and the exhibition highlights the creative process as well as the theory behind the design. Each section of the show is accompanied by soaring hat sculptures so big they have to be transported via container.
Jones said the show – which will be a traveling exhibition – is not, by any means, a retrospective. He said it just happens to coincide with his 30 years in the business, for which he’s planning a decidedly low-key celebration. His anniversary is Oct. 1 – the same day as the Dior show in Paris this year.
“Thirty years ago, it was cheap white wine, so I suppose this time it will be Cristal at the Plaza – which is opposite the workroom at Dior,” he said.
Jones’ breadth of work is unmatched in the industry: He has fashioned heavy, pharaonic headdresses and paint-splodged artists palettes for John Galliano’s runways and woolen, bobbled winter caps for everyday wear. He’s concocted full-length, marabou yeti outfits with matching hats for Giles Deacon, while for Comme des Garcons, he´s had a gentler touch, twisting metal into delicate crowns.
Jones says one of the pleasures in designing hats is that they don’t really go out of style: “A great brim in 1980 is a great brim now,” he said. “But today the possibilities are so much greater – people love the idea of dressing up and they can choose styles from so many decades.”
Next up for Jones is a second fragrance with Comme des Garcons that will launch next summer, which he describes as “Unusual, creative, and what Rei [Kawakubo, the founder of the label] likes.”
He also lifted the veil on his role in Madonna’s upcoming film about Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. Jones has known the film’s costume chief Arianne Phillips since the late Eighties, when she was an assistant at his show at the Palladium in New York.
“I’ve done the hats for Wallis and the Queen Mother, and I’m even in the film, but my role is so tiny,” he said. “It’s definitely not my Rhett Butler moment.”