Hats off to the milliner of the moment. Tomorrow, the exhibition Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones opens at the Victoria & Albert Museum, curated by the world’s most celebrated hatter and by Oriole Cullen, the gallery’s head of fashion and textiles. The show has been a long time in the making, and it’s the first of its kind in the museum’s history.
“Why are they [hats] remaindered to the Timbuktu of fashion when they are in fact its Shangri La?” argues Jones in the typically flamboyant introduction to the book published to accompany the show (it’s lovely). “Hats are about point of view, about spirit. Where would Tutankhamen be without his headdress, or Anna Piaggi without her veil?” Indeed.
Jones and Cullen have spent two years scouring the museum’s archives and all corners of the earth for some of the finest examples of millinery in existence. The fruits of their labours include an Egyptian mask of Anubis found in Harrogate, glamorously enough, and dating from 600BC. “It was a local collector,” says Jones of the source of this auspicious antiquity. “They have a nice collection of farm implements, local government records and this Anubis mask.”
Jones is equally proud to have found original designs from Cecil Beaton’s ‘My Fair Lady’ and a Tudor knitted crown. Then there’s Queen Victoria’s bonnet and Prince Albert’s top hat. But of course!
“There’s something very Muffin the Mule about millinery,” Jones told me when I visited him at his bijou Covent Garden showroom recently. (Whoever said milliners were mad?) “The great thing about a hat is that you have a base, you can put anything you like on it, and that’s it, that’s how it looks. It’s very direct.”
One-third of the pieces in the new show are Jones’s own designs. They are quite something. In the past, he has made hats out of dolls’ faces, plastic flowers, lollipop sticks, bottle tops and much, much more. And if that does, in fact, sound very make-do-and-mend, it belies the reputation behind the man responsible for catwalk creations for fashion superpowers John Galliano (for his signature line and for Dior), Comme des Garçons, Marc Jacobs and, way back when, Vivienne Westwood (it was Jones who designed that iconic tweed crown).
And that’s when he’s not turning his hand to film: the white swimcap for Keira Knightley in ‘Atonement’ and the extravagant head-pieces for ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ started life here.
At London Fashion Week, meanwhile, Jones designs hats for Giles Deacon – last season’s oversized Pac-Man hats were an undisputed high point. Deacon’s offering for next autumn/ winter will be unveiled later this evening.
And what’s in store as far as any headwear is concerned this time around? Fashionable lips are sealed, but hat heaven is guaranteed.