J Smith - Esquire Millinery
Justin Smith creates hairstyles, but he'd rather be covering them up. The hair stylist turned hat designer received a master of arts degree from the Royal College of Art in London in 2007. Before that, he'd spent six years cutting hair for Toni & Guy, dabbling in hats on the side. "For me, millinery was really a hobby that spiraled out of control."
Smith's debut collection, "Dance with Me," was an homage to ballroom scenes of the '20s and '30s. The vibe of his runway show was all sepia tones, feathers, and literary ephemera—basically, dashingdudes in suspenders and dandy pants who looked like they'd leapt out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The designs grow from the raw materials he uses, like rabbit fur, felt, calfskin, and gold leather,and it's all served up with vintage trimmings that make his work cohesive.
His most recent showpiece, "Creatures," which will debut in Japan, features five animals. "It's space age … sort of tribal in reference," he explains. He's used a coyote jawbone, a baby alligator, an ibis skull, as well as some peacock wing feathers. But don't banish Smith to the taxidermy museum just yet. His work can be quite matrimonial, and he recently outfitted a Gothic bride with a black beaded headpiece.
Asked about his tattoos, he utters a nearly inaudible, "Oh, dear," before describing his work at largely leaning toward the "biomechanical," with influence drawn heavily from Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger. Now Smith is looking for an investor. If you're interested in financing a lovely hat shop for him in SoHo, London, he's game. He'd finally be able to leave haircuts behind. Until then, check out Justin's hats at Henri Bendel in New York and the posh Maria Luisa in Paris.