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Comme des Garçons - Autumn/Winter 2006-2007 (c) Ph
Comme des Gar├žons - Autumn/Winter 2006-2007 (c) Photography: Etienne Tordoir/Catwalkpictures.com

Heads Up for Stephen Jones in Antwerp

The new retrospective exhibition in one of the world's only fashion museums focuses on the British milliner's influential hats

From the 8th of September, the Mode Museum in Antwerp will be the new home of one of the largest collections of the delectable creations by British hatmaker, Stephen Jones. The retrospective will be celebrating his work spanning the last 30 years for the likes of fashion heavyweights from Dior to Commes des Garcons, along with a new collaboration with chocolate genius Dominique Persoone based on four of Jones' hats. The exhibition will also be looking closely at his work in film, music and photography, and his early years in the London of the New Romantics. We speak to the curator of the Dutch museum and also Mr Jones himself about the highly anticipated exhibition...   

Dazed Digital: What is the concept behind the exhibition?

Geert Bruloot: As Eddy Michiels and myself have been collecting Stephen Jones’s hats since 1988 and have given them on loan to the Antwerp Fashion Museum, Kaat Debo, its director proposed me to built an exhibition around our collection. My idea was to bring more than that, to bring the visitor more “ into the world of....” Stephen Jones. So after 18 Months of research and collaboration with Stephen on this project, we succeeded to bring together a lot of Stephen’s history in this exhibition and the book, by means of all the hats of our collection, another big amount of hats from Stephen’s archives, a lot of complete outfits with S.J. Hats from various designers as Montana, Thierry Mugler, Alaïa, Comme des Garçons, Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Dior, Giles Deacon, Vivienne Westwood, Marc Jacobs and of course Walter Van Beirendonck and a fantastic selection of new and vintage fashion shoots by various well-known photographers.

DD: How did you select the pieces?
Geert Bruloot: The only difficulty for making a selection in both the hat archives and Stephen’s image archive, was that we had enough material to put together a few more exhibitions and books. So the selection needed an exact theme, wich for us became the unique situation of Stephen as a contemporary fashion designer, working very closely together with various completely different fashion houses, music icons and great movie productions. Stephen helped us a lot and was very much involved in all parts of the project, not as an intruder but as a true helping hand, to make it much easier for us to find our way in his very rich history, make us discover how his own creative process is working and who is Stephen Jones!

DD: What was Stephen’s early work like?
Geert Bruloot: I knew Stephen since very long we had met during the first years I became his customer. Since then we kept on bumping into each other here and there, during fashion shows, or on one of our trips to London or his to Antwerp. But then the moment we started working on this project, the incredible fact was that during our first work session, Stephen started by explaining us his complete background, his youth, his discovery of London, his first steps in fashion, his awesome knowledge of the millinery and fashion history, his tastes, his inspirations, and much more. It proved to me that he is a personality with a very large creative freedom, one can touch his work and he loves to take you with him in his own adventure!

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Dazed Digital: So you have a new exhibition in Antwerp, why Antwerp?
Stephen Jones: For a start, there are very few fashion museums in the world, as far s i know there's Antwerp, Chile, Kyoto. and i think that's about it. They sort of don't exist. Antwerp is probably the best one. The main reason is that - bizarrely enough it was actually through Vicki (Sarge of Erickson Beamon). She knew these people Geert Bruloot, and he was a PR who was getting together the Antwerp Six - Ann Demeulemeester, Walter van Beirendonck, etc. Vicki had met up with him and invited him to come by my collection, and Leslie who I work with now, also knew him so they started to buy my hats- selling them in his boutique in Antwerp. They didn't sell very well, because Belgian people don't really wear hats say like the Japanese, people in the US or Britain do.

But he just loved buying hats and bought them himself, and every season he came back and bought 200-250 over the years, he's quite a big collector, and so he decided to give them to the exhibition in Antwerp- so it's about his collection. The quality is extraordinary, as ours would be lent out to press or fittings but his are in perfect condition, including the one I did for Comme des Garcons, and one for Galliano from when I first started.

DD: Do you feel very much like a London label or international brand having lines like Jonesgirl exclusive in Japan etc?
Stephen Jones: When I was younger, I always felt as though I was European. To me it seemed to be crazy just to say oh yes I'm British, which is really limiting. We'd just joined the EU, and I was always looking towards Europe - and fashion is very international. Later, I was more like yes I'm a British designer.

DD: Yeah, considering you were deemed part of the punk thing at the time?
Stephen Jones: Yeah which is really English, so in a way- I know I'm not making sense here, but when I'm a fashion world I look to Europe -  French, Italian, Russian, but why would you want to limit yourself to one area.

DD: Has music been a big influence say, from your partner who DJs?
Stephen Jones: Yeah he did the music for a show at Ascot this summer, music people I work with a lot. Funnily enough someone asked if I could do like a playlist - a CD, it didn't quite pan out... But my link with music is from the beginning, when I made hats with popstars. I'm actually going to Brazil for a day for a fitting with this singer called Ivete - she's like Latin America's biggest pop sensation, I'm making her hat before she plays Madison Square Garden.

DD: Do musicians have a lot of input or do you come to them with ideas?
Stephen Jones: If they're younger, often they come in with a stylist, as they don't know what they're supposed to look like. but certainly with some of the older popstars they really bring a lot to the table, they have so much experience, like if I'm working with Kylie - she's worn hats performing for 20 years or whatever. If it doesn't feel comfortable or it's not doing the right thing for her... no singer is just standing there with a mic, they'll always be dancing, moving. It needs to function in lots of different ways.

DD: Do you see hats as a practical element then?
Stephen Jones: Every hat has a practical element. Maybe it's practical element is look decorative and gorgeous, maybe tis to keep the rain off your head.

DD: As hat making is a particularly niche area in fashion, do you feel that there's a lot of competition or that it's exciting that everyone helps each other out?
Stephen Jones: A bit of both. You're aware of what other people are doing, Noel Stewert, Nasir Mazhar or Philip Treacy - and if they're doing something fantastic I think oops gotta pull my socks up. In all that group of the milliners in London, I'm 53 so older than most of them, so if they're coming up through the ranks if I can help them, I can. What, am I gonna say - they're better than me, and I can't help them? We're all into the same thing, and it is a small enough world that you can think like that. In fashion, dressmaking - you can't. It's very competitive.

DD: (Apart from the Antwerp retrospective), what have you got planned?
Stephen Jones: Doing the next collection is actually always a big achievement! Antwerp, a new fragrance with CdG. Other exhibitions like Hats: An anthology in New York next September, and a range of hats and scarves and umbrellas and gloves for Galliano is out in the shops next year.

The exhibition will run from 8 September 2010 until 13 February 2011, at the MoMu–Fashion Museum in Antwerp