Insiders | Adele Mildred, head of atelier at Stephen Jones
— January 17, 2011 —
The Insiders is a column written by Kin Woo, presenting integral, but often hidden figures within the fashion industry
Adele Mildred Photography by David EdwardsAt 5ft 6in in dainty heels, vintage furs, a vivid smudge of red lipstick across her alabaster complexion and hair upswept into a silk scarf; Stephen Jones’ head of atelier, Adele Mildred is a vision that harks back to a more glamorous era. “I’m obsessed with vintage films and glamour so I try to live it,” agrees Mildred over tea in the appropriately genteel surroundings of the Covent Garden Hotel, “I like the silent films from the 1920s and 1940s. I think everything started going downhill in the '60s — those damn miniskirts and go-go boots! I feel people don’t dress as carefully as they should be and I make sure I set time aside.” It will come as no surprise then that whilst working in Los Angeles (“I was an on-set tailor, costumier, painter, anything creative!”) she would meet and become friends with another like-minded soul, the famed burlesque performer Dita Von Teese, herself the very definition of retro beauty. Says Mildred admiringly, “That’s the ideal. Her life is dedicated to herself. She gets to do it everyday.” It was Von Teese who introduced Mildred to the work of Stephen Jones whom she later met while he was in Los Angeles preparing for his Victoria & Albert retrospective in 2008. Bonding over a shared love for the Hollywood costume designer Adrian, Jones asked Mildred to join his atelier. “I didn’t know anything when I met him,” recalls Mildred who at the time was transitioning from designing her own clothing label towards more traditional homecrafts. “I knew I liked hats but I didn’t know basic techniques. Through him I learnt millinery could be like art.”
Today Mildred presides over a workroom of twenty-five milliners whom she lovingly describes as “a bunch of old ladies sitting around a table gossiping and making hats!” all busily executing his mad vision not just for his own label, but the host of fashion visionaries who rely on Jones each season – from creating floating Pacman hats for Giles Deacon, Parisian style cloches for Marc Jacobs, architectural marvels for Gareth Pugh, not to mention his enduring collaborations with Comme des Garçons and John Galliano at Christian Dior. Muses Mildred, “Every week we’re working with new materials and new things I never thought we’d do. Stephen does completely different things with every designer he works with and uses the most brilliant techniques. He's never, ever wrong!”
For the perfectly put-together Mildred, hats represent escapism and fantasy and working with Jones has proved a revelatory experience. For her, “the most inspirational thing is seeing how hard he works. He really never stops.” An artist in her own right, who has exhibited quietly macabre paintings back in Los Angeles, it won’t be long before Mildred branches out on her own again but insists for the moment, she is creatively satisfied. “I’m working with Stephen Jones and you can’t trade that for anything.”
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