Stephen Jones and I met in the post-punk days of the New Romantic era. In 1979, Stephen was studying fashion at Central St Martins, while I was leading a life that revolved around clubs and dressing up to the hilt — caking myself in make-up and striking out with a “look”. Along with Steve Strange and Jay Strongman, I was working part-time in the Covent Garden shop PX, a former grocery shop on then-derelict James Street, which designers Helen Robinson and Stephane Raynor (Boy) had revamped and given a futuristic ambiance. Covent Garden itself was in the midst of a reinvention: disused spaces on its periphery were slowly being revamped, making way for the new Covent Garden Piazza.
The class of 1979 brought together an array of creativity – Stephen Jones was part of the Warren Street collective, named after the address of the seminal squat they inhabited, whose members included stylist Kim Bowen, filmmaker John Maybury, designer and illustrator Lee Sheldrick, David Holah (who would go on to create the fashion label Bodymap with Stevie Stewart), make-up artist Lesley Chilkes, and DJ and producer Jeremy Healy. The squat attracted the bold and the beautiful of the day. It was its own nucleus of self-expression.
By 1980, the Warren Street squat had been abandoned to developers, and its members rehoused in “undesirable” council flats in the Camden Town area. Stephen Jones, Lee Sheldrick and I received the keys to 70 Godwin Court, Crowndale Road, and the three-bedroom apartment quickly became a bolthole of activity. By then, the Blitz had moved on, and clubs Hell and Club for Heroes had risen in its wake.
The squat attracted the bold and the beautiful of the day. It was its own nucleus of self-expression
I remember Stephen being incredibly focused. Although he had graduated with a fashion degree, it was always apparent that millinery was his true forte, and even at the time of Warren Street he was creating exquisite and fantastical hats. He set up an atelier in Wardour Street, a tiny two-roomed headquarters from which he began to produce a prolific amount of the most wonderful hats.
I became a “house” model for Stephen’s Soireés from the off. Kim Bowen and I would parade up and down in the latest season’s collections for a select clientele. Classical and easy listening music was playing, cups of tea were served — and yes, these occasions were as camp as they sound. I still have some of the original hats Stephen made for me in those early days. I just can’t let go of them! Stephen was, and still is, incredibly generous with his genius. Numerous times he would appear with giant bows, flirty taffeta escapades and pretty adornments to complement and complete the various “looks” I’d envisaged.
Later on in the 80s, Stephen acquired a larger salon in Heddon Street, W1 — an occasion to be celebrated, since it meant he could now display his collections to their full advantage: sheaths of chiffon, wide brimmed felts, saucy and jaunty, feathers, flowers and hatpins, all balanced on the long necked mannequins Stephen preferred. The atelier itself was painted in a soft lilac, pools of light accentuated each creation… and I continued to model for him, along with Louise Prey.
As with every lasting friendship it’s not about how often you meet, but the way you instantly click back into the fundamental basis of a mutual admiration, however long it’s been. Although my world and Stephen’s may seem far apart, in reality our paths do frequently cross. In 2009 he collaborated with the Victoria & Albert Museum for Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones, an exhibition which displayed over 300 hats of note, exploring an archive of inspiring work. The following year, Stephen marked 30 years of millinery with an extensive exhibition of his work at Antwerp’s fashion museum Momu, Stephen Jones & The Accent of Fashion. Once again Stephen invited me to DJ at the opening event. The exhibition displayed his now classic takes on traditional shapes, enlarged and imposing, surrounded by his extensive archive, which charted his long and prolific career, all the way back to his beginnings in film and photographic reportage.
Nowadays Stephen Jones’s salon is situated in Great Queen Street, WC2, a few doors away from the original Blitz club, the home of our mutual New Romantic beginnings
As he had for the launch of his V&A show, Stephen invited me to DJ at the launch party for the Momu exhibition. I was honoured and very proud! And really, that is the thing about Stephen: he always remembers the importance of friendship, and seizes opportunities to involve old and new friends in the bigger picture of his creative world.
Nowadays Stephen Jones’s salon is situated in Great Queen Street, WC2, a few doors away from the original Blitz club, the home of our mutual New Romantic beginnings. There really is something about London that people gravitate towards. Is it a certain kind of creative energy that its very pavements seem to exude? Whatever it is, we always celebrate the eccentricities of style; here is where we flourish and invite the world to be part of an amazing journey that is peculiar and particular to the sensibilities of the UK. Stephen Jones, the man, the name, the designer, has become intrinsic to the fabric of creativity that abounds within the sphere of fashion history. His name is linked to designers Westwood, Giles Deacon and Galliano, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler and Rei Kawakubo. Furthermore he has adorned the heads of celebrities from Kylie Minogue and Boy George to Princess Diana. Fully deserving of his OBE, Stephen hasn’t an ounce of conceit: when I opened a “pop-up” shop with friends one London Fashion Week, Stephen came to Maiden on Shoreditch High Street to cut the ribbon. That’s a friend if there ever was one!
Has fashion changed over the past three decades? Well I would hope so… and Stephen Jones has certainly instigated and is ever part of an inspirational ongoing change. Wearing one of his confections is always the icing on the cake. Stephen really has changed the attitude to wearing hats over the years, and I get the same sense of a complete look now as I did the first time he ever placed a hat on my head. Put one on, I implore you, and experience his sense of passion, his eye for proportion and his subtle “whimsy” – one of his favourite words.
Stephen Jones: How and why did you come to London?
Princess Julia: I’m actually from London – North East London to be exact. By the time the Blitz started in ’79 I’d already been clubbing since ’76. But even before that, I’d gone to a few local clubs when I was at school – obviously without my parents knowing! I’d met a load of people from my hairdressing junior days at a salon in Knightsbridge called Crimpers, then through the punk scene I met Steve Strange who, after a brief sabbatical, popped up again in late ’78. That’s when we started hanging out a bit more.
How did you start to work in PX? Was it through Helen and Steph or through Steve [Strange]?
Steve got me a couple of days in PX. Before that I’d been working in a dressmaking factory just off Hackney Road for six months, learning stitch-bitching. I got this weird idea that I wanted to work in East London since I’d been born in Hackney! I used to do piecework making up crimplene dresses! I went to work dressed in mini-kilts and Seditionaries bondage tops.
Of all your different looks, which is your fave?
Somehow my initial inspirations have stayed with me. Growing up in front of a TV and watching old films gave me reference points which subconsciously influenced an array of “looks”. The New Romantic look was definitely a turning point, and being around Warren Street and meeting all you lot was really inspirational. I remember how really outrageous we were in the late 70s, putting together some really fantastic outfits and just sauntering around the streets not giving a damn. I love that attitude, and the fact it still exists today. With each decade comes a new twist both in image and music.
Remember that scene in Derek Jarman’s film Jubilee, where the vamp gets burned at the stake? That was Luciana!
What was it like having your portrait painted by Luciana Martinez?
Luciana was part of an older set of artists that included Duggie Fields and Andrew Logan. Remember that scene in Derek Jarman’s film Jubilee, where the vamp gets burned at the stake? That was Luciana! She had a defining style – long black hair, traces of an arty fetish look about the way she dressed. She was a person I looked up to: I’d seen her around and made great friends with her, really through film-maker and artist John Maybury, who I’d met in ’77. Luciana shared a house on Beaufort Street in Chelsea with the artist Kevin Whitney, and I’d often go round there. Luciana had a very specific style – she referenced classic paintings and statues, thus iconising the subject… extremely flattering indeed. She began drawing me around ’79 in pastels, and I actually have the original “Venus” one she did of me. Being painted by someone is a really interesting experience – there’s something very intimate about the process. Luciana eventually went to live in New York and died in 1995.
Does having a fantastic night out now have the same ingredients as it did 30 years ago?
It really does, Stephen. I live very much in the moment and even though I still go out a lot DJing or just socialising, there seems to be more and more exciting things going on! Obviously some things are different – there’re different ways of planning and communicating – but there is still the same essence of anticipation. Clubbing life has never been so busy, and with my writing work I manage to combine clubbing with reviews of bands, music and art. For me it’s all about different ways of expressing yourself, whether you do it by “dressing”, creating beautiful objects like you do with your fantastic hats, or making music, films and art. Ideally, a fantastic night out would incorporate all these elements – on the other hand catching up with friends old and new and just having a banter is equally wonderful!
Did Kim Bowen nick your white Seditionaries shoes?
Stephen, what a memory you have! I actually lent Kim a couple of my Seditionaries toe-cleavage stilettos back in about 1979, to complete a number of looks she was working at the time. I think she just fell in love with them and they never came back. She wore them with great style. Love her. Later on she gave me a pair of 50s cat vases, which I still have and a cat teapot which alas I have lost somewhere along the way.
What’s your ultimate hat?
I really do love wearing hats. Last summer I favoured these wide-brimmed numbers, and at the moment I’m feeling the return of the veil. I love the hat I’ve worn on the shoot to go with this interview, it’s got both those elements. How do you do it, Stephen? Tapping into the style pulse as ever! Memorable hats include a brown taffeta adornment you conjured up for me, which I donated to a charity shoot Katie Grand did a few years ago.
And your fave lippy?
Back in the day, Firebrand by Max Factor was the favoured red! They’ve long since deleted the original formula, which was quite matte, and totally indelible. It’d stain your lips for days! Lesley Chilkes introduced me to it, and I remember her stocking up on it when she heard it was going to be deleted. The nearest match nowadays would be Mac’s original Viva Glam deep red shade, which came out in 1994. But I would really recommend Illamasqua. Make-up artist Alex Box is on the “art team”, along with David Vanian from The Damned and artist Anja Huwe. Illasmasqua has these wonderful colours and formulas. Make-up that’s really defining!