Stephen Jones Nominates Justin Smith

“It is very refreshing to see a different point of view in millinery at last,” says master British-hatmaker Stephen Jones of nominee Justin Smith. “Justin’s hats have culture, and they are original.” It’s surprising that 29-year-old Smith started his hatwear line as a hobby. “I never really considered it as a career,” he says. While his made-to-order millinery label, J Smith Esquire, was founded in 2005, he showed his first collection only last February, brandishing 24 hats (12 for men, 12 for women) inspired by the ballrooms of the ’20s and ’30s. Smith offers the usual head trips, like berets, derbies, aviator caps, gaucho hats, top hats, and trilbies, albeit reimagined in silks, rabbit fur, salmon skin, exotic feathers, and other materials. But he often lets fantasy overtake his hairlines. Consider what he recently made for a shop in Hong Kong—a concoction that looked something like a tribal alien headpiece. Ingredients included the jaw of a coyote. Another recent creation was a top hat made out of transparent pig leather. Smith’s upcoming spring/summer 2009 collection is inspired by his recent trips to Ibiza. “The lucky thing about millinery is that you aren’t limited,” Smith says. “You can treat hats like sculptures, using any material that you want. I also love that you never wash a hat. So it has its own history that keeps going.