❚ ON CENTRAL ST MARTIN’S ALUMNI PAGES, Iain R Webb — later CSM professor and fashion editor of The Times newspaper — recalls the unforgettable instant he arrived there as a student and clapped eyes Stephen Jones, who this month celebrates his 30 years as milliner to the stars…
“I remember vividly the day I visited St Martin’s School of Art (now Central Saint Martin’s) in the autumn of 1976. Before I even entered the building I was convinced this was the place for me. Standing on the pavement outside, plucking up the courage to go in and wondering if I cut the sartorial mustard wearing a liquorice-thin school tie, plastic sandals and sloppy orange mohair sweater (knitted by my Mum). The doors swept open and out sashayed a boy (or at least I guessed it was a boy) who looked like… well, I wasn’t sure what he looked like, only that I had never seen anyone look like that before. Not in the real world, anyway.
“He was wearing a skinny matelot T-shirt with giant shoulder pads, exaggerated peg-top pants and stiletto-heeled boots. Around his neck was a scarf knotted at the side and the finishing touch (it should have been a clue) was a black beret worn at a very jaunty angle. He looked breathtaking and fearless and was ‘traffic-stopping’. Literally. He was Stephen Jones, later to become the celebrated and much-loved milliner to the stars, from Carla Bruni to Marilyn Manson.
“After a spell of work experience at London couture house Lachasse, where his head was turned for ever under the tutelage of Shirley Hex, for his final collection at St Martin’s in 1979 Stephen created silvery draped cocktail suits, accessorised with turbans featuring peacock feathers. The mood was 1950s couture with a punk attitude. ‘The last two looks were white court presentation dresses worn with broken tiaras with dead seagulls in them,’ he remembers, as adamant today as he was then that creativity is often born out of necessity. If you don’t have a lot of money it forces you to think alternatively. You have to be more creative. Like when I left college I bought hats from Oxfam and reworked them’.”