'I've got a hat for whoever you are, wherever you are', the milliner maestro Stephen Jones OBE tells me when we get on a call to talk about his latest project; a somewhat surprising collaboration with the renowned international denim brand G-Star RAW. Transforming the universal and democratic fabric of G-Star's Hardcore Denim into something more akin to the world of high-dressmaking, Jones has created five-piece unisex 'Haute Denim' capsule collection, together with two ready-to-wear limited edition designs.
Crafting hats for high fashion runways and private clientele since 1980, having staked his claim to the blooming London creative scene as one of the Blitz Kids, the milliner's influence on fashion today continues to be a remarkable one. Marc Jacobs, Moschino, Maison Margiela, Christian Dior, John Galliano, Claude Montana, Thom Browne and Vivienne Westwood are just a handful of brands and designers who have collaborated with Jones over the years, with everyone from Rihanna and Madonna to Princess Diana wearing his creations. He is a chameleon who moves seamlessly through fantastical fashion worlds.
Now working with G-Star RAW, who have been a pioneering force in streetwear since 1989, the milliner was given free rein to create characters all of his own, no longer tied to the woman or man of a designer's specific season or collection. For G-Star x Stephen Jones, 'I had complete carte blanche', he tells me. After G-Star approached Jones, he got to thinking about who the character may be. 'How am I going to do it? Who are they?' he thought. 'Then I realised it didn't really matter.' Denim is one of the few truly universal and genderless fabrics today, which is why this collection feels so modern, despite being heavily influenced by Jones's own design history. 'To think that fashion is linear is an extremely arrogant, and Western point of view', he emphasises.
Drawing on his training as a womenswear designer at Central Saint Martins, G-Star x Stephen Jones the milliner focused on creating hats which interact with the entire body - indeed, Jones always begins his designs by sketching out the entire body with a focus on the back - and makes subtle references to his millinery oeuvre. Avid fashion followers will remember Jones diving head first into denim during his work for John Galliano at Christian Dior, and the milliner still relishes the challenge of forcing the fabric to do things it doesn't want to do. 'The thing about hats is you're working against gravity', he explains. Light and strong fabrics are therefore preferable, such as felt and straw, 'versus denim which is heavy and doesn't support its own weight.'
Echoes of the circular, architectural work Jones did for Claude Montana in the 1980s can be felt in the Haute Denim circular hat which loops down and round the waist of the body. The drama of another which drapes down into a pool of fabric was a reference to his work at Dior, where Jones experimented with the 'bulking up' of the millinery fabric tulle. 'I wanted that drama of what you see in the haute couture shows', Jones explains. 'I could have made the denim rigid, but I thought, have it softer. I love the fact you can wrap it around your body.' Taking a methodical approach, each piece was treated like haute couture fashion, designed painstakingly through a series of toiles.
Throughout his career, Jones has been rebellious and innovative in his approach to millinery. His first design was crafted from his sister’s old blouse which he stuck onto a Corn Flakes box back in 1976. Over the years, he's of course worked with those more traditional fabrics like felt, but never been afraid to employ innovative techniques in his countless high-fashion collaborations, such as vacuum metallising for Giles Deacon or lollipop sticks at John Galliano. It's thrilling to see this approach continue with G-Star RAW, taking the unassuming fabric of denim and elevating it into the realms of haute couture once more.
In addition, a ready-to-wear cap look features an elegant, sharp protrusion at the back, reaching high into the sky and defying denim's gravitational urge to droop down. A bucket hat style in winged and double layered iterations makes a clear reference to classic streetwear style -Jones's work for the Dior Men's Pre-Fall 2020 Stüssy collaboration springs to mind. The winged baseball hat is artfully stacked in the capsule's accompanying editorial images, but are sold and worn individually - note the top stitching with eco-friendly multi-coloured thread.
Each look is entirely different, and conjours up the image of a wearer who, in Jones's own words, is 'a bit of a number.' There's a clear joy in creating hats that can transform and empower a wearer. Indeed, Jones says, 'A hat is all that you need.'
Working with sustainability at the forefront, the capsule collection G-Star x Stephen Jones is created in a cradle-to-cradle fabric. Circular design has become a key pillar of design for G-STAR, working with Cradle to Cradle Certified® Products since 2018 when they unveiled Our Most Sustainable Jeans Ever made with their Gold Denim Fabric. Cradle to Cradle Certified® Products avoid fabric waste by creating a closed circular design system, using organic cotton and zero harmful chemicals, such as G-STAR's regenerative indigo dyeing concept - a world-first.
The G-Star RAW x Stephen Jones couture pieces will launch on 22 November 2022. The two limited edition ready-to-wear hat pieces will be available from 1 December at g-star.com