by Stephen Jones for Gibo
With its Hortaesque/Van der Velde-ish whiplash lines and the leather 'curls' that poke onto the face, the helmet almost supplants hair, becoming a sort of hairstyle itself.
More than one designer had a hand in this extraordinary helmet. Fabricated by the milliner Stephen Jones to the brief set by fashion designer and illustrator Julie Verhoeven for her Autumn/Winter 2004 collection for the Italian production company Gibo, the piece is an excellent example of the complexity of global fashion design production. Though as consumers, we are encouraged to understand garments as created by the vision of a single, visionary author, in fact the most progressive fashion designers are careful to credit the virtuoso artists and craftsmen whose work underpins their 'singular' vision. Far from even-handedness or generosity, this spirit of collaboration is the lifeline of the modern designer, from couture to ready-to-wear.
It is not only the hallmark qualities of these two London-based designers that the leather hat reveals, however. The mark of Verhoeven and Jones' design sophistication is in making their historical sources evident without being explicit. Both are assiduous researchers and it is in Jones' material implementation of Verhoeven's sources - effectively, he 'draws' her thoughts in leather - that we see the many other designers 'involved' in the helmet.
As its title attests, the headpiece is firmly entrenched in the Art Nouveau period. Its supple leather hugs the head, as flapper's cloches did in the 1920s, to emphasise shorter, bobbed hair. With its Hortaesque/Van der Velde-ish whiplash lines and the leather 'curls' that poke onto the face, the helmet almost supplants hair, becoming a sort of hairstyle itself. Its curvaceous edge, coupled with the Lalique/Tiffany-inspired, vacuum-formed resin discs, is a perfect foil to the geometricity created by the strips of lizard skin lined up around the helmet and the elegant copper chain that drapes down the neck, linking the head with the silhouette of the garment below.
As with the best examples of Nouveau design, sinuous, organic line is reigned in by rigorous form. Here, a tension and almost punk aggression is created that returns us not only to the purpose of a gladiator helmet, but the origins of Jones and Verhoeven themselves, whose aesthetics grew out of maverick design culture in the early 1980s. Rooted in the past, yet so very modern in execution. Of the helmet's many histories, perhaps the most important is that of Verhoeven and Jones' longstanding working relationship: a fusion of two of the most erudite and creative minds London boasts.
Leather Art Nouveau gladiator helmet by Stephen Jones for Gibo by Julie Verhoeven, to order at Stephen Jones +4420 7242 0770