“I didn’t want to do just another picture book, I wanted to have a good story,” says Stephen Jones of the latest monograph of his work. “If you’re a photographer or a painter, you produce images – but when you put a hat on your head, you are telling a story.” And, aside from charting the renowned milliner’s ascent from London club kid to fashion darling, that is precisely what this new publication offers: a touchingly intimate biography told through an abundant assortment of personal keepsakes, or the eponymous Souvenirs.
Contained within the book’s pages are all of the enchanting ephemera and sartorial paraphernalia that one would expect Jones to have accumulated during his illustrious career – letters from Downing Street and Grace Coddington (who also writes the introduction to the tome), sketches for the likes of John Galliano and Comme des Garçons – but equally important are the mementoes of his life outside high fashion. There are papers and photographs from his Liverpool childhood: school reports and homework diaries (“FREEDOM” is scrawled over the pages of July 1975 in one particularly good notebook), matchbooks from the infamous Blitz club where he debuted his early creations, the invitation to his graduate show at Saint Martins (a slightly battered Smarties box filled with photographs of his classmates, although he discarded those he didn’t like). Then, scraps of fabric samples embellished with sequinned tophats gifted by L’Wren Scott; an ominous portrait of Jones scrawled by his closest collaborator, Kim Bowen, on a Kettner’s tablecloth in 1988; dye tests for a dreadlocked hat for Tina Turner.
“People will buy the book because I’m a hatmaker,” explains Jones. “But it links to everybody. Everybody has a sister, a mother, a birth certificate, a school report.” That’s precisely what makes the book, written by Susannah Frankel with Jones and published this autumn by Rizzoli, so ceaselessly charming: it is a strangely relatable immersion into the life of a boy from Liverpool who happened to end up with an office at Dior. Short of rummaging through someone’s attic, you won’t get such a revealing portrait of a life well lived anywhere else.
Souvenirs, written by Susannah Frankel and with a foreword by Grace Coddington is available from Rizzoli. This article first appeared in AnOther Magazine A/W16.