Although Stephen Jones has made hats that have been worn by Lady Gaga, Boy George and Madonna, the first time he ever made one, it was a test he didn't think he'd even pass.
He wanted to become a millinery intern for a woman in a grand London couture house in the 1970s.
"The lady who was the head of the work was like, 'Well, can you make hats?' and I said no. She said, 'Well how can I judge if you're going to come into my workroom if you've never made a hat? ... Make something over the weekend.'"
When he came back Monday he was surprised to find that she actually liked his hat.
"She said it was pretty punk," he says, "She really liked it. I was really unsure about it, but I convinced her anyway."
This first hat, which Jones says was made of cardboard, blue fabric and plastic flowers, is not a part of "Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones," but just about every other type of artistic headgear is. The traveling exhibit touches upon artifacts that date back to Ancient Egypt through the past few centuries up to many of the ones that Jones has designed over the past 30 years. Remember all those funky hats at the Royal Wedding? Jones designed some of those. And even when they're not attending a royal wedding, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie spot hats by Jones as well.
Jones says he draws inspiration for these hats from everyday items and people.
"It can be women in conversation," he says. "It can be anything in my day that really inspires me, but I think my favorite thing is architecture. I think for the architecture, it's like a solid object, just like a big hat."
Jones says he has a difficult time choosing favorites from the "Hats" exhibit, which includes items from the collections of American Vogue editor Hamish Bowles and Wendy Ann Rosen. Jones will allow, however, that he is particularly fond of a hat in the exhibit that surrealist painter Salvador Dali made for his wife.
"It's got a pink heel on it," he says with almost giddy excitement. "It's like shoe made for your head."
"I think another one of my favorites is a huge bon- net in black," he says of a 19th century hat made for a widow. "You can tell that she was really happy that her husband wasn't around anymore."
If you go
‘Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones’
Through Feb. 2013, Opens
Saturday, Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex St., Salem, $11-$15, 978-745-9500