Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Every weekend until 21st November the lovely V&A is displaying the results of their ‘Inspired By’ season, and with it, they’re holding various talks and events that the public can take part in. Last weekend there was a discussion with the legendary milliner Stephen Jones (SJ). The marvellous hat maker was being interviewed by Dolly Jones (DJ), editor of, and the audience were included too by being able to pose their own questions to him.

It soon became clear that SJ had led a fabulously exciting life and certainly has some stories to tell. Friends with John Galliano and Boy George, part of the Blitz Kids crowd, so named after a Covent Garden nightclub in the 1980s and credited with inventing the New Romantic movement, his flair for the theatrical was obviously a lifelong passion. Jones’ conversation was eloquent and engaging, with DJ merely having to guide the topics with her questions.

SJ was full of stories about his amazing career working with fashion designers like Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier as well as with film directors. I didn’t realise that he was responsible for the beautiful headwear in Coco avant Chanel, and it was great to hear about his latest project on Madonna’s Wallis Simpson film. Of course, DJ probed him about Madonna (who wouldn’t?) and he was very complimentary, praising her drive and ‘clear vision’ for the film.

His relationship and work with John Galliano was discussed at length: describing the atmosphere backstage, his hats usually being the last thing to be finished, getting those final stitches in last minute. DJ seemed keen to find out if there was any resentment on SJ’s part about the recognition received by fashion designers, particularly in Galliano’s case, with his penchant for appearing in outrageous outfits at the end of his shows. However, SJ seemed pleasingly modest, really demonstrating his passion for millinery rather than glory.

It was great to see his excitement when talking about the exhibition of hats he curated for the V&A a few years ago, particularly his stories about the huge archives that apparently anyone can request to see. Discussing its popularity, he revealed that it had received more visitors than an exhibition of Impressionist paintings. Why did he think that was the case? “Because there’s nothing more fun than putting something on your head!”

His love of hats was inspiring and his knowledge is clearly huge. An interesting question from a lady in the audience about headwear and politics resulted in discussion of crowns, Stetsons and top hats and could have provided another hour’s worth of conversation. Unfortunately it had to come to an end too soon, and we were left to ponder the question for ourselves. What does your hat say about you?

Siobhan Morrin

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