And to top it all, a hat from Mr Jones

Lucy Ferry tours the Paris ateliers with Stephen Jones, Blitz kid turned milliner to the design lite. A triumphant week, but a few ruffled feathers along the way. Photographs by Gavin Bond

One of the more curious entourages chunnelling to Paris last week was the hatter Stephen Jones's. Studio assistants, dozens of huge hat boxes spilling with tissue paper, plus a survival kit of mesh, tulle, felt, needles, pins and the wherewithal to construct anything from a pillbox to a ruby red bridal veil at short notice took the train. Mr Jones himself had gone ahead by plane.

It is Friday and the hats for John Galliano's show are ready, following passionate discussions back in January about the suitability of putting an ocelot on one's head and the precise tilt of a brim. The designer at Balenciaga wants hats of human hair, and hair that exactly matches the tresses of models who will take part has been Fed-Exed to Jones's workrooms in Heddon Street, London. For Rochas, designed by the Irishman Peter O'Brien, there are diddyman stovepipe hats to top off the tailoring. Claude Montana has not made up his mind what he wants.

The atmosphere at John Galliano's studio is electric. The show will take place out in the 18th arrondissement, where a team of cleaners have been called in to strip years of oily grease off the walls, floors and high ceilings of what was an old factory, designed by Gustave Eiffel. Road salt is to cover the floor; sets for card-playing sailors to lounge in are yet to be built. Four pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes have been stolen, so four models must go barefoot. But at least the hats are ready. Or are they?

"This one has withered in the chunnel," says Jones of a huge feather curlicue. He ruffles its feathers. "Please, treat it gently," Jones instructs Helena Christensen as he tries to fit her with an exotic mask of lam, lace and satin called The Devil is Woman.

It isn't easy to secure a piece of elastic over Christensen's immaculately coiled Spanish dancer coiffure, particularly when she is being interviewed, in French, Danish and English, by three television crews and dipping incessantly into her Herms bag to grab her mobile phone. But Stephen Jones, Blitz kid of the mid-Eighties, creator of hats for Boy George's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" video and for a decade one of the premier hatters to Paris fashion, is famous for his patience.

"You have to be all sorts of things in this job. You have to be a furrier, a florist, and you even have to be skilled at operating a icing bag full of not confectionery sugar, but glue. We make use of all sorts of things," Jones tells me as he bobby-pins a sweet peachbloom toque on to Debbie Deitering (one of the models who must go without shoes).

"But there is no reason to add a hat if it doesn't have a point. It is easy to turn beautiful clothes into costume," he says, as he adds hand- painted porcupine quills to the black locks of Michelle Hicks.

"John (Galliano) knows what he wants. He starts with an overall vision, so he has ideas about the hats very early - which is more than I can say for other designers. Back in January, John and Stephen [Robinson, Galliano's right-hand man] showed me a picture of Elsa Schiaparelli with an ocelot trophy balanced on her head. I said it was right, yet not quite right. John is very generous about letting you go your own way. He has very little ego."

Neither has Stephen Jones. He admits that one of the star hats, a snow leopard (wandered far off course to turn up in Galliano's North African/Southern Spanish fantasy) was executed by a deuxime in Jones's workroom.

"I like to give them complete projects. She grew up in Kenya and remembered a leopard coming into the garden when she was playing and how frightened she was. I told her to capture that fear in a hat."

But tonight, fear is calmed by a hat. A nervous supermodel, Karen Mulder, protests that she doesn't like her make-up, despite the fact that she looks devastating in her matt black square-shouldered toreador dress. A cap of cock feathers convinces her that she is beautiful enough to face the audience.

The show is rapturously received. The predominantly British team who pulled it together are, to use the British vernacular, "knackered" but it is not over for Mr Jones. He had half an hour's sleep last night and is preparing for an all-nighter tonight. Claude Montana is still not sure what millinery will go with the angular clothes he is to reveal the following day. Jones stays up all night to make hats that few will see.

Then there is work for Balenciaga, including huge hoops of human hair, lacquered on to net and pinned on to models' heads with the bobby pins that Mr Jones is never without.

How does he switch from one designer's vision to another with no sleep in between? "My team set up in the atelier of whichever designer we are working for and send out instructions for what we need - `pink thread, now' ... `an ironing board, now' ... `lunch, now'. Complete concentration and no distractions is the only way to get things on time."

Jones shares the pinnacle of Paris fashion millinery with another London- based hatter, Philip Treacy. "Our styles are different," says Jones of his former pupil-cum-assistant. "I remember telling Philip not to do such big hats because designers would not want their clothes to be overshadowed. It appears sometimes they do! And it is great to pass the craft on." Jones's most illustrious former pupil is now hatter to Chanel, Mugler and Helmut Lang.

The Rochas show, where the flash of Stephen Jones's bobby pins is once more visible, is his last this season. The hats he and his team have created will be left in Paris, the property of whoever commissioned them. But that will not be their final resting place. After Paris, they will be couriered to fashion shoots across the globe as part of the next stage in the fashion cycle, when photographers and stylists put their spin on outfits that have just made their debuts on the catwalk. Then the Jones hats will appear in glossy magazines across the world.

An exhausted Jones flies home with nothing but a small carrier bag. Now there are hats for the New York shows to plan. And 15 Japanese licensees who control Jones's hat shops across Japan will soon arrive in town to see sketches for hats for spring/summer 1996 ...

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