The Inventory: Stephen Jones, milliner

‘I used to think life was about places but it’s about people,’ says the milliner

What was your earliest ambition?

To be an astronaut.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Public school, the same school as my father, Liverpool College, then High Wycombe College of Art to do a foundation course, then Central Saint Martins. At Saint Martins I learnt about hats and when I left I started to make them for friends. Steve Strange, who ran the Blitz nightclub, had a day job in a shop called PX in Endell Street: the basement was free, so within a year I had my own little hat shop in Covent Garden.

Who was or still is your mentor?

A lady called Shirley Hex. I did a work placement and she was head of the millinery workroom. She really took me under her wing.

How physically fit are you?

Next!

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Both – but I think you’ve got to be lucky. Talent is ultimately the thing, because if you can’t come up with the idea, you can’t build a career around it.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

Birkbeck College did a test in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an IQ test everybody in my school had to do, to see what career you should go into. It came up with computer programmer for me, which was very esoteric in those days.

How politically committed are you?

Politics runs in my life like religion. It’s there, a background to everything.

Other home: the Eurostar lounge

Totally, but being in the fashion business, I’m not a good representative. I do travel a lot – but I take the train whenever I can.

Do you have more than one home?

No. Apart from the Eurostar lounge.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

An eight-day week.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Being a milliner. There are many other things that would be easier and more lucrative.

In what place are you happiest?

Wherever I see my friends. I used to think life was about places but it’s about people.

What ambitions do you still have?

To live until tomorrow. There are so many things to do.

What drives you on?

Life’s so exciting!

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Surviving as a milliner, a very difficult thing to do. It has been made possible by good friends who became clients or clients who became good friends.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Sometimes when I really give of myself to somebody, to a client, and they don’t respect that. That’s my life force, my energy – don’t trash it.

Early ambition: to be an astronaut

He wouldn’t believe it.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

One never knows but I think I’d dust myself down and start all over again. I’m not going to start flipping burgers. I’d make a hat.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Yes. To me it seems very weird that it’s illegal. Why would you want somebody to suffer more than they have to?

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Yes, I do – I think. I haven’t really worked that one out yet.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

11.


The work of Stephen Jones is on show in the V&A’s summer 2013 fashion exhibition, ‘Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s’, which runs until February 16 2014, www.vam.ac.uk

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