“It has been a very strange 10 days,” admits Stephen Jones. Within minutes of hearing about the Queen’s death, the milliner – who had been busy preparing for a month of fashion shows – was inundated with calls. “There were regular clients and guests from around the world who were going to the service, but also people who were not invited to Westminster Abbey. They wanted to feel part of it by dressing correctly.”
Jones was one of them. He watched the funeral at home in mourning dress and – from the day of the late Queen’s death – replaced all the hats in his store with black trilbys, cloches, and veiled designs. “I think when one’s not feeling perfect inside, it’s very good to put on tailoring and a hat – it makes you feel more balanced.”
The milliner is a rare breed. Alongside Alexander McQueen and possibly Stella McCartney, Jones is one of vanishingly few designers who regularly dress royalty while also being a darling of the high-fashion world. On Monday, Jones watched the Duchess of Sussex walk into Westminster Abbey wearing one of his wide-brimmed designs; on Thursday, he will wait backstage as his hats go down the catwalk at Moschino and Boss during Milan Fashion Week.
The link between royal and high fashion has always been surprisingly strong for a milliner who made his name on the punk scene and during nights at the Blitz Club with the New Romantics in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of the iconoclastic takes on the late Queen’s style at the time, he explains, came from a place of admiration – and Jones believes hat designers in particular owe their careers to her blend of tradition and opulence.
“None of it would be the same without the Queen,” he says. “People around the world see hats as being very British, and that’s because of her. When I was young I thought of hats as being part of the French high-fashion world; the Queen is why this shift to Britain happened.”
Jones has, of course, made hats for many famous women in the world – British or otherwise. These include Princess Diana (“She was lovely,” says Jones. “I worked with her right at the beginning of my career”), Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Joan Collins, Princess Eugenie and Anya Taylor-Joy. At the Platinum Jubilee thanksgiving service, the Duchess of Sussex’s entire outfit was Dior haute couture, including her Stephen Jones for Dior hat. For the funeral, Meghan turned to Jones independently rather than through the French brand.
Jones is yet to work with the new Princess of Wales, although he speaks of her with real admiration. “Of course I’d like to dress Kate,” he says. “She’s very beautiful and a great hat wearer.” Now that the Queen has sadly gone, he sees her as the next great symbol of British millinery. “If the Princess of Wales keeps wearing those Alexander McQueen coats with hats with real personality then she certainly will be.”
For those of us who aren’t royal, millinery can sometimes feel rather intimidating, but Jones insists it is not. “The ideal hat has a perfect balance,” he says. “It’s neither too large nor too small; it tells a story, but not one that’s too loud. To be flattering, the hat has to make the wearer feel comfortable, so it doesn’t feel like an imposition, and so they feel in control. Hats are timeless.”
Indeed, the same design can be worn by an 18-year-old or an 80-year-old and can be kept and reused for decades. In an era when we obsess about diversity and sustainability, hats embody both.
Jones believes that next year’s Royal Ascot – the first without Queen Elizabeth II in most of our lifetimes – will embody her values. “Ascot will be a celebration of her,” he says. “Her legacy will live on in the tradition she created, and women everywhere will dig out hats in memory of her.”