Suzy With Stephen Jones
"The transformative part of wearing a hat is very well known to Asians — in England they are part of our social structure, but decorating and beautifying your head is an essential part of Korean culture," said Stephen Jones, as I caught him dashing off to dress The Rolling Stones. Or rather, the sculpted heads of those rock stars, led by Mick Jagger, as part of a display of costumes, instruments, diaries, and posters collected over 50 years and exhibited at London's Saatchi Gallery.
The Stones' show is called "Exhibitionism", but that is not how I would describe Stephen Jones, who dressed Princess Diana in youthful, elegant hats; helped John Galliano with some of the extraordinary head gear for his Dior shows; and in between has made sharp and stylish hats for men and women over a period of 30 years.
Stephen Jones’ creation for John Galliano’s Dior "Madame Butterfly" collection, Spring/Summer 2007 Haute Couture
A fashion child of the 1980s, born in the North of England, Stephen explored the club scene and wore crazy hats of his own invention even before music star Boy George did the same. The greatest millinery collaborator of his generation, Stephen has worked with designers as varied as Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons, John Galliano (and later Raf Simons) at Dior, and the incomparable Vivienne Westwood. Famous clients range from royalty to Mick Jagger and Rihanna.
Pop star Boy George, pictured here at the legendary Blitz Club in 1983. The London club scene was his springboard to fame, and both he and Stephen Jones were paparazzi favourites for their flamboyant dress sense
Some of his celebrity creations went on display in "Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones" in 2009 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where visitors were fascinated by a recreation of his workrooms, which are behind his London store near the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
But as so many clients across the world have discovered, you don't have to wear a weirdly wonderful creation on your head to get the Stephen Jones look. Streamlined or saucy, elegant and dashing, here is a milliner who speaks to his customers. And never more so than with the cool guys in Korea, who prove that men, like women, understand that a hat makes all the difference.
Stephen Jones’ elephant headdress for Thom Browne, Autumn/Winter 2014
"Ever since the very beginning of my career, I've had licences across Asia, in Japan and particularly in Korea. I have so many private clients who come to see me in my London shop, but I also sell extremely well in Korea, primarily through Corso Como," Stephen says, referring to the Milanese concept store that has a branch in Seoul.
I asked this milliner of so many different styles whether he felt that attitudes were the same for headwear across the world or whether American, Asian, and European cultures responded differently.
Stephen Jones in conversation with South Korean actress Song Kyu at an artist’s talk at 10 Corso Como, Seoul. The event accompanied the 2014 exhibition on Anna Piaggi, "Hatology"
"I think in England that hats are part of our visual language, and around the world people seem to think that hats are particularly British," said Stephen. "A Korean person is also thinking how to emulate a British ideal - whether it's a ladylike ideal, like someone from the royal family, or whether it's someone like a punk. This idea of transformation is such an essential part of Korean style, whether it is fashion or plastic surgery or hats."
Detail of the August 2015 cover of W Korea, featuring a Stephen Jones hat and veil
Rich stories fill the Stephen Jones career path, from his years at Central Saint Martin's school in London, to his wild club nights with the New Romantics musicians; from his first encounter with the young Princess Diana in the early 1980s, listening to Wham! on her Walkman, to receiving the order of Officer of the British Empire (OBE) at Buckingham Palace in 2010.
"I really educated Diana, Princess of Wales, about what hats could be; about private hats and public hats," Stephen explained. "She knew about hats and understood them since she was a young girl, but this was about being a public person and what was appropriate to being a new young Royal and the future Queen of England."
Dian, Princess of Wales, wears a Stephen Jones beret on an official visit to Twyn in Wales, November 1982
Stephen sees the British Royal family - and particularly the royals' connection with horse racing - as spreading the hat message across the world from the UK to Australia to Hong Kong.
But who could forget Stephen's dramatic hats for the international fashion shows? He regales me with tales of working with Jean Paul Gaultier, Claude Montana (who stamped on a hat in a rage), Rei Kawakubo, Marc Jacobs and Thom Browne.
Stephen Jones for Thom Browne, Spring/Summer 2016
"I think the most crazy hat I made was for John (Galliano) at Christian Dior," Stephen says. "It was a sleigh on a girl's head and there was a fox on top of the sleigh. It was huge and heavy and how she wore it I don't know! But I have made hats filled with dry ice; hats that turn inside out; hats that light up; hats that explode - everything you know in the world can be a hat!"
"Exhibitionism" runs until 4 September 2016 at The Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York's Square, King's Road, London SW3 (Mxonday-Sunday, 0844 453 9020; http://www.saatchigallery.com)
Stephen Jones beside his installation of hats at the new Dover Street Market boutique in Haymarket, London
Comme Des Garcons, Autumn/Winter 2006