Made in the UK: A Conversation Between Stephen Jones and Erdem Moralioglu

Benjamin McMahon

Legendary milliner Stephen Jones and emerging designer Erdem Moralioglu have found success in two very different eras of London fashion. Here, they compare notes. (Over tea, of course.)

Your studio is around the corner from here, Stephen. But your first store was not quite as posh. 
STEPHEN JONES: My first shop was in a basement in Covent Garden, underneath Steve Strange’s boutique, PX. I was friendly with Brian Eno, who organized my opening party. He invited 500 people when probably only 20 could fit. [Sunday Times fashion editor] Molly Parkin arrived in a transparent tulle dress that made my father’s eyes pop. It was 1980. Were you even born then, Erdem?

ERDEM MORALIOGLU: I was three years old. [Laughs.] Where I grew up in Canada, fashion was everywhere. You could grow up consuming fashion from a very young age. We had Tim Blanks and Elsa Klensch on TV, and all the French channels, so I was watching full Yves Saint Laurent couture shows the day after they happened. We had an avalanche of fashion magazines. Now fashion is a religion, but on social media.

Is social media a blessing or a curse?
EM: Social media is all about how you perceive yourself and present yourself outwardly, so inevitably fashion’s going to love social media and vice versa.

SJ: Was it John Lennon who said that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”? Fashion became a religion in the ’80s and ’90s, and now it’s social media. When I was starting out, fashion in the Daily Telegraph was one black-and-white photograph a fortnight. The designer decade—the ’80s—hadn’t happened. The media weren’t interested.

EM: Yes, but you could open a store straight after college. It has taken a de- cade to feel that we, as a company, were ready to open a flagship.

SJ: Did the feng shui and the vibes feel right in your new store?

EM: I approach each of my collections with, What is she—my girl—feeling, where’s she going, and how does she want to project herself? I asked the same questions about our flagship. Where would she like to be in Mayfair? What chair would she like to sit on? The minute I walked in, I immediately thought she would be at home.

SJ: I thought she lived in Downing Street. [Erdem famously dresses Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha.]
EM: Too funny.

Stephen, your Blitz club days while studying at Saint Martins are well documented. Were you setting fashion as well as studying it?
SJ: Strangely enough, the London club and fashion scenes in the late ’70s were very separate. My tutors at college thought that street fashion had no relevance whatsoever, that fashion was Dior and Balenciaga. 

Erdem Moralioglu and Stephen Jones

How was the music at the time inspiring fashion?
SJ: Fashion was led by the music. David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, and Lou Reed, who had done their own thing combining fashion and music, inspired us. In the late ’70s, you went to Paris for chic, to New York for sports couture, and to London for music and fashion combined together with an original point of view. We didn’t think the established fashion was relevant at all. The designers who we thought were the most important were Vivienne Westwood, BodyMap, and all the kids dressing for the Blitz club.

Did you think of fashion as a business when you left Saint Martins, in 1979? 
SJ: I am not sure I’ve ever thought of fashion as a business! The reason I got into fashion was because I wanted to go to parties and nightclubs and meet fabulous people. It still is. I really wanted to create my own world; I didn’t want anybody else to be responsible for my success or happiness.

Now the business side of fashion is more high stakes than ever.
SJ: Recently, I was interviewed for the Saint Martins magazine and was asked what the biggest influence on students today might be? I replied, “Having a £50,000 bank overdraft when you’ve finished [school].” We were never saddled with that kind of debt at the start of our careers. In fact, around 2001 to 2003, I had what I suppose was a midlife crisis and considered closing the company and going back to college. But it suddenly occurred to me that what I had wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t bad either. So I told myself to shut up and get on with it. 

Today there’s a red-carpet event somewhere in the world on any given day. Is it still important to dress stars?
EM: The red carpet is an amazing way to see your clothes out of the context of a magazine or a runway show.

SJ: It’s a really important marketing tool for most fashion designers. What we make are inanimate objects. When someone wears a hat or dress and wears it beautifully, they take our work to another place. What’s interesting about looking back to the Oscars in the ’50s and ’60s is that an actress like Elizabeth Taylor went to Dior for fittings and purchased the clothes. Often that fantastic liaison between a designer and the person wearing their work is separate now. This is a shame.

EM: It’s wonderful to dress someone that you know. When I have the opportunity to do fittings it is so gratifying. The other day I had Keira Knightley at the studio sharing lunch.

SJ: Also, these famous women are professionals. You can learn from them. They will tell you a hat might not be working and push you creatively. Dita Von Teese is a client I find really interesting because everything she wears is a costume. She can walk into my shop, see a baseball cap, and imagine it with cutoff jeans and a poodle.

What do your clients ask for most today?
SJ: Transformation. Maybe she’s a working mum but wants to be a femme fatale like the Duchess of Argyll. Hats are costumes, they take you where you want to go.

EM: Anything you do from the neck up is very transformative, whether it’s putting on a hat or a pair of glasses. They can make you a totally different person.

SJ: What does RuPaul say? “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”