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Thom Browne and Stephen Jones on How They Create Those Next-Level Hats

Designer Thom Browne and milliner Stephen Jones discuss their collaborative practice, the power of hats, and their love for Bugs Bunny.

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Oct 18 2017, 4:18pm

Photograph courtesy of Thom Browne.

Though the myth of the single genius designer looms large in fashion, in practice, the art is often far more collaborative. Fashion Together: Fashion's Most Extravagant Duos on the Art of Collaboration, out October 24, celebrates this dynamic, with editor Lou Stoppard interviewing Marc Jacobs and Katie Grand, Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy, and Inez and Vinoodh, among others.

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In an excerpt from the book, Thom Browne and milliner Stephen Jones—who met through Browne's partner, Andrew Bolton, who is curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute and also wrote the book's introduction—discuss how they work together, the purpose of hats, and their shared love for Bugs Bunny.

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Thom, why did you ask Andrew to introduce you to Stephen?
Thom Browne: Usually, I try to stay outside of what's going on in fashion, because sometimes it can contribute to my feeling insecure. But there are icons in the world of fashion—people who are the best at certain things. If you want to do something, you might as well do it with those people. In the world of hats, that person is Stephen. I was very lucky Andrew knew him, because if I'd just picked up the phone without any introduction, maybe we wouldn't have started this.
Jones: When we first met, it was about the big questions: Do we understand each other's design language? Are we going to be able to communicate? We don't live in the same continent, so if we couldn't communicate, it wouldn't work. There was a little bit of chat, but really it was straight to it.
Browne: It immediately became apparent that we would work well together, in part because I have very sophomoric ideas. For the most part I don't come from a very intellectual point of view. I don't like to reference things. I don't like to know what's happened in the past. I just go off of instinct. And it's a perfect collaboration, I think, because you, Stephen, know so much about everything, a bit like Andrew. I always reference the elephant hat we did for Fall/Winter 2014. Andrew has the elephant on his wall in his office. I have the bear and the reindeer in my home, because they're such amazing objects. We both do things that are not just for the world of fashion, but for the world. It transcends fashion.

Is there an element of wanting to make things readable, or even delightful, to someone who's not from a fashion audience?
Jones: That's also the point of hats. They have to communicate to people; they have to be eye candy. I don't know everything about everything at all, believe me! But I do remember on the second day of our first meeting he said, "How is it you know so much about so many different things?" I said, "I don't." And he said, "We're Americans. We know about Freddy Krueger!"
Browne: My references are Bugs Bunny and the Flintstones, and Stephen's are Proust and Sartre.
Jones: I love Bugs Bunny, too.

Are you consciously trying to make things that are playful, maybe a bit naughty?
Jones
: I think fashion, particularly millinery, is there to cheer you up and make you feel good. Hats can put you and other people in a good mood. They're great if they're optimistic.
Browne: I don't want ever to put something in front of somebody that is just jerry-rigged together for shock value. We never do anything just for effect. There has to be something really conceptual and beautiful behind it.
Jones: I could do serious hats, but it would feel phony—not true to myself. I see that seriousness in fashion sometimes as an easy way of making something appear authoritative, when actually it is just a beige skirt.

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