British milliner Stephen Jones has indulged his fantasies — creating a banquet where all the guests are hats, and knitting hats shaped like fried eggs — for a new exhibition at the Royal Pavilion, in Brighton, England.
Set at the former royal residence in the coastal town, the show illustrates the scope of Jones’ fantastical work and aims to celebrate the transformative power of the hat.
The grand interiors of the pavilion and its history — it was built 200 years ago by King George IV — have always been a source of inspiration for Jones, who had previously created a collection dubbed Chinoiserie-on-Sea. In it, he referenced Brighton’s seafront and its famous pavilion, which he describes as “a giant hat on your head,” because of the domes capping the building.
“I come from the north of England, which is so different. I always thought of Brighton and the Brighton Pavilion like Monte Carlo — to me it was always glamorous. It represented freedom, it’s the most extraordinary of places,” Jones said in an interview. “It’s about exoticism. Back in the day, they thought it was a Chinese building, but it was a mixture of Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Turkish influences. We didn’t understand really what Asia was then.”
Jones let the grand interior — boasting painted ceilings, giant chandeliers and brightly painted walls — dictate the mood of the exhibition, which is all about opulence, fun and pleasure. “Stephen Jones Hats” runs from Feb. 7 until June 9.
The Chinoiserie-on-Sea collection opens the show in the entrance hall. Further in, there is a kitchen area that encompasses three different themes: The area that looks to the sky features hats inspired by clouds hanging from the ceiling. Another area offers a view of the sea and showcases hats shaped like sharks, lobsters and myriad other marine creatures, while elsewhere Jones has created his fantasy breakfast with those knitted eggs.
The storytelling continues in the banquet room, where Jones has invited the hats of his dream guests, friends and clients, to express his version of a banquet. “It is such a strong interior, what you have to do is absolutely go with the building. If you have a banqueting room, what do you do? You can’t really go against it, it’s not like a plain white gallery, so I did a hypothetical banquet,” said Jones.
The designer anointed King George IV as guest of honor and re-created the felt hat he wears in a painting at the National Portrait Gallery. The British King sits next to Princess Margaret and Amal Clooney, who loaned the hat that Jones created for her to wear at the Royal Wedding last May. “I sent her an e-mail and she said: ‘Of course, my hat would be honored to attend your banquet, Mr. Jones,'” said the designer.
The music room showcases some of the hats Jones created for Dior and Giles Deacon, alongside the clothes they were originally worn with, including archival Giles dresses and Dior gowns designed both by John Galliano and Maria Grazia Chiuri.
“I’m very much a fashion milliner, so I always think of hats in combination with clothes. They are an extension of the clothes — I don’t see them apart,” said the designer, adding that for this section, he used mannequins given to him by one of his longtime muses, Pat Cleveland. “This mannequin dates to the Seventies, when Pat had it done of herself. To have that mannequin of her is almost as good as having the real person.”
While Jones’ hats are most often seen on the catwalks of Dior, Thom Browne, Marc Jacobs and others, the exhibition allowed him to showcase real hats he made for real people.
“It’s not about just the runway, where the scale of things is very different,” he said, adding that he hopes to communicate the transformative power of a hat. “A hat makes people what they want to become, not necessarily who they are — and that is a wonderful thing. It helps them tell a story and even if they don’t have huge confidence to wear a hat, a hat can do the talking for them, so in a way they can relax underneath it.”
Jones has also created an exclusive collection for Harvey Nichols, one of the partners of the exhibition, and he plans to work on more solo projects, including a fashion show and lecture to be held next July, as part of Cunard’s fashion cruise.