Stephen Jones: Millinery Magician

Do models accidentally take your hats from backstage?

Yes, sadly. Quite a few disappear from backstage and you think, How on earth did they sneak it out? But it's okay as long as they end up in a good home.

Do you ever see the hats out and about?

I'd rather see them walking around than sitting in a PR office somewhere. I do remember one model in particular who went off with a very expensive tiara, but she looked so fabulous in it that I forgave her. I know how much time it would take me to get it back and I think life's too short. People are very possessive about hats in the way they are about shoes.

It's a fetish.

Exactly. It's very personal thing, like a toothbrush.

Except that hats don't get…well, I won't go there.

(Laughs.) But hats do get really mucky. I love it when hats have lived a bit and come back a little caked and smelling of perfume. They were having a good time.

Can you think of one that came back really sweaty, brown and smelling of bathroom stall?

I can't think of one that bad. But with Anna Piaggi, she absolutely lives in her hats and wears them all day everyday. I love the way hers gradually get softer and really seem to become part of her, and how they always smell of her perfume when they come back for a steam and a brush. She'll say they need to be refreshed, which means they'll just have little holes in the veil or whatever. However, Diana the Princess of Wales always sent hers back for refreshing in a golden carriage—no, just joking!

Have you ever made a hat from a live object, like a plant or a goldfish?

Well, I've made a hat for a parakeet once, and quite a few dogs. I made a miniature bowler for my friend's Boston terrier. And I definitely use organic objects all the time, whether straw or fish bones, but never real flowers. Brides will ask for fresh flowers for their hair, and I say absolutely not. It's the worst mistake ever. First, flowers weigh a ton, and they have more green in them than people imagine. And they wilt after thirty minutes. Brides think it'll look sweet, but then they've got this thing on their head that looks like a compost heap.

Live flowers just seem like a tropical thing to do.

Right. If you're in Hawaii and you're Hawaiian and you're beautiful and you're 15, then yeah, put one behind your ear. Or if you're Billie Holiday or a woman of color, a gardenia is fabulous. But if you're British? Eh! Except if you're Simon Doonan or the Queen Mum, bless her.

Stephen Jones

What craziness does Stephen Jones get up to when he's not making a hat?

I'm traveling and seeing friends. I travel a lot to America, in particular to L.A., where I have a lot of expat British friends. Often it's tied to my research for the next collection. For summer '07, I toiled the entire collection myself in the middle of nowhere in Utah, in a little log cabin that belongs to Henry and Anna Pincus. I wanted to get away from everything. So my hats are a reflection of wherever I am. So my hobby is traveling, but do I paraglide? No.

Eek, you don't?!

I know gay paragliders are really hot, but I've never tried it. And I draw. I fill notebooks with sketches of people, objects, a cartoon, my lunch, a tree outside—not always hats. I do them very fast. I tend to think if they've taken me more than a minute, then I've failed. I'm quite good at it when I'm drunk, too. That always adds an interesting twist.

But don't try writing when you're drunk. It doesn't work.

I can imagine. Like you think it's fabulous and the very meaning of life, then you look at it the next day and you think whatever.

I'm told you were quite the club kid many moons ago.

Oh, yeah! I was a real club bunny. I wasn't out every night, but almost every night.

Where did you go?

So many places, but my first love would have to be The Blitz. There were all these people absolutely dressed to the nines. I really got into it. I found all these kindred spirits, all these misfits like me. A lot of them are still my friends, like Princess Julia, Boy George, Jean Paul Gaultier and Leigh Bowery until he passed away, R.I.P.

That must have been incredible. What kind of trouble did you get into?

Oh, just being disorderly and terrorizing everyone. We were very cliquey, very exclusive, very fabulous—a real pain in the ass. You know, the hallmark of a good party in those days was if we crashed it.

I can totally see you gatecrashing in a huge hat and a face full of make-up.

I remember gatecrashing this one fabulous, amazing, swanky party given by Hugh Hefner. It was this huge London townhouse and it was completely by invitation only. Twenty of us turned up dressed to the nines and literally pushed the security guards out of the way. We took over the party.

Did Hugh go along with it?

Sure, he was charming. He was wearing his trademark velvet dinner jacket and slippers. And there were there lots of Bunnies around.

Did it inspire the bunny-ear collection for Comme des Garçons last year?

Mmm, no.

Anything else from the wild side of Stephen Jones?

There's such a freaky, eccentric side to every milliner on the planet. It goes with the territory. We drive people nuts. You have to be manic obsessive to do it.

It's like a cult.

Yes, there's a real cult aspect to making and wearing hats.

I think to wear a hat now is a statement all its own, so why not go for an extreme version?

Absolutely. The real hat-wearers out there do just that, whether they're male or female or in between. Sure, they have days when they might wear a baseball cap or a beret, but there's a freaky hat-wearer in there just waiting to jump out.

I love the quote you gave me a long time ago about wearing a hat in the States versus the UK.

Yes, if a T-shirt is the ball gown of America, a baseball cap is its tiara.

I love that!

It's so true, too.

It makes us Americans seem a little less offensive.

No, Americans make great clients. I have an American businesswoman client who's in her forties and on her third husband. She's very successful and wears Armani every day, but always with Alaïa heels. She said she wanted something for her wedding, so I showed her the sort of hats she would normally buy from me, and she said, "Oh, Stephen, but I want to look pretty on my wedding day." It's like, apart from weddings, women think wearing a hat is a time to be all those crazy things that normally they're not allowed to be.

Your point is there's always an occasion to wear a hat.

And there's always the right hat to wear for that occasion.

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Stephen Jones, 36 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5AA, +44 (0) 20 7242 0770