Stephen Jones. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Desperate to be accepted into a millinery workshop, an
18-year-old Stephen Jones made his first hat using a cardboard
cereal box and spray-painted plastic flowers.
Long regarded as one of the world's best, Jones (55) divulged
secrets and details of his 33-year career to a rapt audience
of about 300 in Dunedin yesterday.
The British milliner, based in London, was once described by
Italian Vogue as the maker of the most beautiful hats in the
world, and yesterday was introduced by iD committee
chairwoman Susie Staley as a ''rock star of the millinery
Designing for Boy George, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Kylie Minogue,
Madonna and various other global musicians has confirmed
He has also made hats for royalty, including Princess Diana,
and for film stars, famous models and top fashion designers.
Wearing a simple flat cap - his personal hat of choice -
Jones explained how a teenager with no sewing ability
established a millinery workroom and shop in London's Covent
''I got into millinery completely by chance.''
In his first year of fashion school, Jones was encouraged to
get extra tuition as an intern at a couture house, where he
''picked up pins and made cups of tea'' before persuading the
millinery workers to teach him their craft.
''The ladies who worked in the millinery workroom worked hard
and played hard; they had a lust for life that was amazing.
If they had been making hamburgers or going down mines, I
probably would have followed them. Their attitude to life was
so great it didn't really matter what they were doing.''
An unsuccessful attempt to get intern work in a Paris fashion
house saw Jones return penniless to London, where he became a
truck driver to pay off debts and buy some basic millinery
While at his favourite nightclub, Jones was asked to make a
hat for the owner and, soon after, with the help of some
friends, he rented a small basement and started a business.
''It was a very strange set of experiences ... the shop was
successful from day one. It was about the size of a postage
stamp and we invited about 500 people to the opening, for
which I had a case of cheap white wine provided by my
''We didn't have a business plan or a proper workroom but we
had some nice hats and a get-up-and-go attitude. We were a
happy little band of hat wearers.''
Although many of Jones' creations could conservatively be
described as avant-garde, he said simple hats were often the
''A plain black beret is the most extraordinarily elegant
He advised those choosing a career to do what they loved.
''That's the most important thing whatever you do. At 4am
when you're unpicking something because you've made a mess of
it, you still have to love it.''
Working with people and designing headwear was an extremely
personal, challenging and rewarding experience.
Clients had to trust designers and ''let you into their
being'', which was a privilege.
''The hat's all about the person who's wearing it, not the
hat itself. Even though I've been doing it for more than 30
years, it never gets any easier.
''When you're young, you have that arrogance of youth but
don't know how to do it, and when you're older, you know how
to do it but you also know what can go wrong.''