We Like — Hats Off

Stephen Jones, the legendary British milliner is the subject of a major retrospective exhibition that opened yesterday at one of the world’s most prestigious fashion museums, namely the Fashion Museum Antwerp, better known as the MoMu.

Stephen Jones with one of his creations

Stephen Jones with one of his creations

Signaling the museum’s opening statement to the cultural season that kicks off across Europe this week, the exhibition curated by the museum’s director Kaat Debo, sees the MoMu bringing its particular vision to another retrospective marking a key anniversary for an internationally significant designer. The last such anniversary retrospective was devoted to Maison Martin Margiela, marking twenty years of the house’s innovative work in a stunning exhibition that subsequently travelled to Munich and London. But, if the local connections to the design house of Margiela are perhaps more evident, it may come as a surprise that this exhibition – marking thirty years of Stephen Jones’ unique millinery- also reveals that the MoMu houses the largest collection of works by Jones outside of the UK – in excess of 120 items- thanks to the long-term loan of two devoted collectors Geert Bruloot and Eddy Michiels.

As with any exhibition developed at the MoMu, the presentation goes beyond any mere discussion of the collection itself. In keeping with Stephen Jones’ continued excellence and contribution to design, this is an exhibition that aims to capture an essence of the designer’s world and approach as much as any historical review of the work.

Stephen Jones is, of course, synonymous with a particular moment in London’s fashion history in the 1980’s when a new hunger for reviving traditional craft coincided with a bold avant-garde approach to design and found synergy with the boisterous energy and DIY ethos of the city’s music and clubbing scenes. As the exhibition shows, Jones was at the forefront of movements like the New Romatics, designing hats fit for clubbing legends or rising pop stars to show off in the burgeoning pop video culture.

But, like very few others, Stephen Jones is not one of the one-hit wonders or I-used-to-be-in-a-band brigade. Sure, he was one of the ‘faces’ about town in the 1980’s, immaculately dressed and sporting a jaunty crown after dark, but during the day he honed the skills he had initially gained studying at St Martins and turned his talent into long-term achievement. In the subsequent decades, what had started as a passion and found a place in a particular new creative scene made the transition to the international world of fashion. Jones’ collaborations in making hats for top designers is an almost endless list that ranges from Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler to Comme des Garçons and Marc Jacobs. His list of famous clients for one-off couture pieces or the odd royal personage wanting to sport the best of British design for an important occasion is equally exhaustive.

Taking all of this history into account, the exhibition ‘Stephen Jones & the Accent of Fashion’ walks a typically deft line, examining the craft and the achievements in a context of Jones’ personal world that has played a key part in inspiring him or, such as in the case of his unique relationship with fashion icon Anna Piaggi, bringing his particular design talents to the attention of a wider international audience.

The exhibition at the MoMu runs until February 2011. But, even if you don’t manage to make it to Antwerp by then, one gets the distinct feeling that this is an exhibition that will travel.

Stephen Jones - hats from the SS10 collection

Stephen Jones - hats from the SS10 collection