Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Birds

Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones (British, b. 1957). “Crow” Mask, 2006. Black coq feathers, black plastic, black neoprene, and gold plastic and rhinestone. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Alfred Z. Solomon-Janet A. Sloane Endowment Fund, 2006 (2006.209).

The Costume Institute commissioned this mask for the 2006 exhibition “Anglomania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion.” Milliner Stephen Jones was given the problem of creating a headdress for a Christian Dior Haute Couture gown by John Galliano (a designer whose long-standing collaborative relationship with Stephen Jones on both his own line and that of the House of Dior prompted the Museum’s choice of milliner). The gown, of black silk, had been inspired by Marchesa Luisa Casati, the early-twentieth-century style icon and eccentric, and was to be shown in the Croome Court Tapestry Room in the English Period Rooms. The curator’s conceit was to express a Francophilic phenomenon by placing the French dress by a British designer in the English room with Gobelins tapestries. The room with its avian subjects had been commissioned by George William, the sixth Earl of Coventry. His wife, the actress Maria Gunning, was a great Regency beauty and notorious narcissist who died of poisoning from the lead in her pallor-enhancing face powder. Jones’s response to this pairing of the narratives of “death by vanity” and of the room’s décor was to transfigure the voluminous black gown with a surreal anthropomorphizing of the bird motif and associate it with a portent of death, a crow’s head. Jones’s whimsy appears in his incorporation of an inexpensive metal hairclip for the bird’s beak.

Comments (110)

  1. Laurie Aron Says:

    Aside from the beak, the face of the mask, or the head, I should say, is not the least bit bird-like. It reminds one more of an Egyptian anthropomorphized animal god. To put it on, I think, would be to assume the mantle of death. You could never take it off again. You would have crossed the Styx, or its Egyptian equivalent.

  2. Walter Says:

    Creo que de las piezas expuestas al momento esta es la que mejor representa el estado actual de la moda. Arte y diseño se funden ya no para definir estilos sino para dejar de lado al actor y considerarlo un mero “transporte” de la pieza artistica. La post-modernidad esta presente en “The Birds”, tan presente que no deja espacios para nada más. El accesorio es pieza fundamental, la pieza absoluta. La identidad solo le corresponde al arte, el observador se ve envuelto, atrapado; pero es desde ese “dentro” unicamente donde puede disfrutar y considerarse parte. Ser visto como un otro, singularidad dentro de infinitas multiplicaciones. Junto a la obra de Hirst-Blahnik, lo mejor de la muetra al momento.
    Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  3. Succubus Says:

    Fetish, anyone? I love how non-vanilla customs are becoming evermore mainstream, primordially through the fashion world.

  4. giancinephile Says:

    Very symbolic and poetic.

    In a world where reality and the truth is nothing like a romantic pouf dress from Lacroix. Fashion is indeed one of our best escapes into fantasy and the realm of the unreal.

  5. allie Says:

    It sort of looks creepy!!!!!!

  6. Liza Says:

    when would people wear somethinglike this?

  7. Countess Elisheva Von Furstenbottom Says:

    This costume is stunningly beautiful. I cannot believe the ensemble of materiaux that are so delicately assembled in a fantabulous combination. It reminds me of the crow that ate my caviar on the balcony of my chateaux in Monaco. Zut alors!

  8. Fashion snob Says:

    Alfred Hitchcock would be proud, but I wouldn’t be caught dead in this.

  9. Gary Petronius Says:

    To the countess Von Furstenbottom: ma cherie, we caught that crow especially for you to wear as improvement of your proboscis and moth-eaten skin so that you could glide incognito on your roller skates through the Frick museum galleries as photographed.
    In adoration,
    Count Dracul (a.k.a. Gary Petronius)

  10. Bobby Says:

    This is just so wrong. It’s creepy and reminiscent of death.( the black plague. OHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

  11. Moo Says:

    Looks more like a Stephen King Halloween costume than fashion.

  12. fj Says:

    Very interesting…

    and by interesting I mean “What the hell were you thinking? Go find the nearest bus and jump in front of it>”

  13. alex Says:

    These are HOT!!!! I Heart this mask. I bought one last week as Saks and they are flying the shelfs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ROCK ON BIRD MASK!!!!

  14. Farnsworth Says:

    I believe the creator of this, may have fallen and bumped thier head…

  15. boby bill Says:

    i love it!!!!!!!! NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. kaitlin Says:


  17. Laura Says:

    I want wear it out on the street now and pose with the birds…..

  18. Tuffy Says:

    “the early-twentieth-century style icon and eccentric”

    This is how I want to be described.

  19. Jo Says:

    While this mask is an interesting idea, I think that people would be scared if they saw it in a fashion show. I definetely would be!

  20. ganza Says:

    So reminiscent of high fashion. What a waste of intellectual energy and fabric. Do we not recognize how we have drifted into an arrogant and stupid use of our resources. A form of mental masturbation only the truly self-obsessed and wasteful wealthy could appreciate.

  21. andrea Says:

    when this was in the anglomania exhibt it actually looked like a human swallowed by a bird

  22. ganata Says:

    i dont think alfred hitchcock would be very amused since this mask? is quite disgusting. who would ever wear such a thing ?!

  23. susan Says:

    great concept…great presentation…great blog idea

  24. Anonymous Says:

    I think that the lower neck and the head more resemble that of a human. Also im dissapointed in the fact that the feathers flow the wrong way.

  25. Renee & Dana Says:

    R: i think the idea of wearing a bird on my head is kind of creepy. also the eyes are beady and stare at everything in its path so you wouldnt really get good publicity for it. i think this was a miss for feathers :(

    D: I really really really dislike this particular headress. It was very creepy. The nose scared me, and the eyes… Normally I don’t like feathers, and this was no exception. I just disliked the entire idea….nothing about it was good.

  26. benjamin brewton Says:

    this is the most disturbing piece of clothing i have ever seen. i wouldn’t even wear it for money.SCARY

  27. robster Says:

    Is it me, but I keep thinking Batman villian or twisted Eagles fan.

    Id like to wear it and hand out candy next Halloween…

  28. I Says:

    Looks like a Slipknot mask. spoo-ky.

  29. Louisa Smith Says:


  30. roxy rules Says:

    i love it

  31. Spoon Says:

    This left me speechless. Quite frankly I feel that I have lost several thousand brain cells as a result of this disturbing display of “fashion”.

  32. sam Says:

    The written descriptions are too low. They should be eye level, not at the level for midgets.

  33. sam Says:

    High fashion is phony and a waste of time, energy, and talent.

  34. John Says:

    Does it need to be worn with a canary yellow dress?

  35. Gloria Guinness Says:

    I honestly don’t consider it fashion but installation art. It was not made for a person but for an exhibition’s dress, to complement that, so it should be judged, if at all, as a stage piece rather than literal fashion.

  36. c willow Says:

    It fit with anglomania crazyness, but it looks like a prop for an 18th century horror movie. It looks out of context without the red walls and birds flying.

  37. MO Says:

    Wouldn’t Eiko’s coachman’s headress from Bram Stoker’s Dracula be a perfect accompaniment to this gorgeous excessory.

  38. La Bricoleuse Says:

    As a huge fan of Stephen Jones’ millinery work and of the Anglomania exhibit–which i even wrote a review of on my own blog at the time–i’ve got to weigh in with an apparently unpopular opinion, judging by the other comments. I like the mask.

    I don’t see it as something meant to be “practical fashion”–who would wear it? Of course not someone on the street–it was commissioned for an exhibit. I consider it more on the lines of a wearable sculpture, a stage costume piece, or perhaps something which would be worn in an extremely stylized “real-life” setting, such as at a costume party or some kind of fetish event. No, i personally would probably never wear it, but i enjoyed seeing it in the context of the Anglomania tableau for which it was created. Jones is a brilliant milliner whose work inspires and challenges me, as a milliner myself. I do concur with the the post of “c willow,” in that its impact is lessened outside of the context of the “Transgression” exhibit room.

    Incidentally, should you wish to read my further thoughts on the displays, my review of the Anglomania exhibit is here: http://labricoleuse.livejournal.com/4713.html

  39. Lucy Kessler Says:

    Well, and what exactly would that accomplish, fashion-wise? Nothing, I fear.

  40. Stephanie Caldwell Says:

    Looks like something removed from an ancient grave site that predates the written word.

  41. Librari[d]an Says:

    Recently saw this in person. I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, and now I can’t imagine the boy named crow without thinking of this mask. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s sort of neat.

  42. CM Says:

    Great for a mask party - wonderful craftmanship!

  43. gg Says:

    I think Hitchcock would appreciate this piece of art

  44. pete Says:

    DISGUSTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! TAKE IT OUT OF YOUR EXHIBIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  45. Ethan Says:

    I wish I could wear it!

  46. ed Says:

    this is rank
    take it out

  47. Sterling Says:

    its weirdly cool… :)

  48. clara Says:

    OMG :-o who would wear that that isn’t fashion that’s weird. i wouldn’t walk around looking like a bird how sad :) i don’t want to be mean but whoever made this has no taste :)

  49. Kelsey Says:

    uhhhh this looks more like a mouse than a bird. and it’s makes me feel disgusted. i would be sooo claustrophobic in this mask… seriously.

  50. Josie Says:

    I completely agree with the comments posted by La Bricoleuse. I feel that you can’t judge this piece in terms of wearable fashion. It isn’t meant to be worn out to dinner or anything like that.

    Rather, it should be taken more as art just like most peices at haute couture fashion shows. I also agree that the backdrop of the Anglomania exhibit allowed the mask to fit in better with the exhibition. The beatiful dress and room allowed the mask to have much more of an impact for the viewer.

  51. marina urbach Says:

    “Arte y diseño se funden ya no para definir estilos sino para dejar de lado al actor y considerarlo un mero “transporte” de la pieza artistica. La post-modernidad esta presente en “The Birds… Ser visto como un otro, singularidad dentro de infinitas multiplicaciones. ” Arte y diseño y la post-modernidad, en pocas palabras ha sabido definir el interes de esta exposicion, singularidad dentro de infinitas multiplicaciones: muy agudo su comentario.

  52. caitlin Says:

    good for a play

  53. Justin Says:

    I truly don’t understand all of the negativity towards this. Some people make it seem like masks are suddenly an acceptable daily accessory and that this one is just an ugly and scary example. And, for the sake of argument, let’s say it was meant as an actual fashion statement. Does fashion always need to be practical? Is sculpture practical? Is mid century Pop Art practical? Fashion is just as much an art form as it is a part of daily life, it’s just horribly devalued as such.

    I remember that scene in the “Anglomania” exhibit well, it’s burned in my memory. It was so fantastic, so macabre, so chic. That vast expanse of black taffeta hoop skirt covered with tiny rows of pleated ruffles topped off with a raven’s head, Edgar Allen Poe could not have imagined it better himself.

    Galliano and Jones are the ultimate collaborative team.

  54. lindsay Says:

    this piece is sexual and dark. it takes me back to the days when i would travel to my grandmothers house in the countyside…

  55. Nick Says:

    its great:)

  56. fashionholic Says:

    Loved the anglomania exhibition and here we are again, New York and the Metropolitan have once again put on an amazing show. Great exhibition. Stephen Jones makes wonderful creations, not that this hat would fit me but still ;) thank you!

  57. Alexa Says:

    Looking at this, I was not quite sure exactly what it was supposed to be. I was confused by it being a hat or mask. On the other hand, I think this mask/hat thing is very ugly and I definitely would not see anybody wearing it in the future.

  58. Jason Says:

    Is it a death mask? It suggests the journey to River Styx, as noted above. It’s horrifying, yet compelling too! It’s evocation of death is so compelling (and easier to evoke than climbing a mountain or bungee jumping off a cliff!) Aside from the red Galliano dress (and the Hopi Indian-inspired coat) (and the red Chanel brocaded-thing), it’s the greatest thing here. Terrifying, and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off it!

  59. Lynne Says:

    Reminds me somehow of a great fashion spread in the New Yorker titled “In Memory of the Late Mr. & Mrs. Comfort:” Perhaps some of the viewers missed the point. Or failed to read the description.

  60. kris Says:

    this thing will totes give me nightmares.

  61. Lucy Says:

    GROSS! it looks freaky meaky :(

  62. Lily Monir Matini, Esq. Says:

    a little much for masquerades

  63. Debora Lehrer Says:

    Wasn’t this piece just in the British Invasion exhibit?

  64. Robert I. Says:

    I would love to have seen the room for full effect and context.
    This was for an art installation not for a fashion show or to be worn.
    The mask is also representative of the bird beak masks worn by DOCTORS during the plague.

    I think the only frightening thing here are some of the uninformed, narrow minded comments posted here.

    Art is food for the soul.

  65. marina urbach Says:

    “I think the only frightening thing here are some of the uninformed, narrow minded comments posted here.” This aspect comes with democracy!

  66. Laurie Aron Says:


    “we caught that crow especially for you to wear as improvement of your proboscis and moth-eaten skin so that you could glide incognito” This seems so catty it has to be an in-joke. Oh, tell me it is!

    I was merely going to point out that that crow is second cousin thrice removed from the magpie that stole my Vial Thing in Monte Carlo. I’m wearing the Elsa Peretti all the time, now, and it’s so SUBTLE.

  67. Ro Says:

    Truly enjoed the selections and commentary. I always learn a little more at each fashion/costume exhibit and their history, which helps one to appreciate what was and what is. Keep it coming

  68. Laurie Aron Says:

    Fascinating remark, Robert I., about bird beak masks worn by doctors during the plague. I, too, had seen the mask as attendant upon death.

  69. Maya Says:

    I love The Bird. It is so beautiful, and cute. I wish I had it in my room right next to my bed.I wish I can come see it again!

  70. Lyris Says:

    I think this piece is very intriguing, but it is very spooky at the same time.

  71. Cr0w Says:

    I feel that the mixed reaction to this piece is part of the point. Many people could find no polite way to express their negative feelings for this piece, while others quite enjoyed it while not seeming able or willing to express what exactly about it they like. I feel that this dichotomy of feeling and informality strikes at what this mask means to me.
    It is frightening, because it has power. It is a symbol, to many of death, to others beauty, to others (such as myself) wisdom. That a single mask, and such an unconventional piece of fashion as it is, is capable of this can be terrifying in its power.
    I very much enjoyed this piece myself, yet despite what i have said, like others, i am both unable and unwilling to explain exactly what about it strikes me.

  72. Mady Says:

    Lovely, exquisite, dreamy, sublime. I do not see what most are saying of the piece that it is rather disturbing.

  73. marina urbach Says:

    “death, beauty, wisdom”, indeed!

    Perhaps the negative reaction to this piece is related to the same negative reaction to Simon Costin necklaces. The “Crow” Mask of Stephen Jones brings to mind several works of Max Ernst of the early 1920’s, in particular the “Santa Conversazione” , “The Meeting of Two Smiles” and “The Chinese Nightingale”.
    In the ” Santa Conversazione” there is a visual collage of two women, one part human, part mannequin, part bird, and the other, a headless woman, who has in place of her head a full bird. The part human, part mannequin woman is “pregnant” with a bird. The bird is outside her body, at the site of her entrails. The only point of this association is that both necklaces and the “mask/ headpiece” are pregnant with meaning that cannot easily be expressed. It is this element of non-mastery,
    out of control meaning, not enough meaning and excessive meaning at the same time, that puts the viewer in a precarious, uncertain and insecure position.

  74. ilana b. Says:

    ilana: err…it’s weird. i don’t even know how someone would put this on- i saw no zipper in the back, and besides, how would you fit your hair in it? fashion is supposed to be avant-garde, but this is a bit too much. besides, how many birds were killed to make this thing?
    This is the perfect halloween costume. Outside of that, I do not think it is meant to be worn. It could represent how people want to be something they’re not. Like a bird.

  75. Brooke Says:

    ummm…………………… im speechless.

  76. Caroline Says:

    Of everything here I’d want to wear this the most. Everyone who says they don’t like it is just jealous.

  77. Christina C. Says:

    Ok. . . first things first. . . WHOA!!

    This looks like something from that movie “Eyes Wide Shut”. Even though this may be for those with an “acquired” taste, I can never acquire that taste; this is just strange. Imagine waking up to something like that hovering over your bed in the middle of the night!

    I still can’t seem to figure out the functionality or the aesthetic appeal of this piece. Regardless of the gown it was paired with, what can you really wear with this mask? I’d rather this be kept on display where it is now, because a museum is a more perfect place for this, not a person’s head.

  78. Mr Millinery Says:

    if you want function buy a t-shirt

  79. "mad"moiselle Says:

    it’s very unforunate those who do not read the placards when viewing a piece. this mask is a work of art. i suppose learing to distinguish art from every day clothing is not a natural gift.

  80. Mariana* Says:


  81. Rachel Says:

    Uhhhhh…this is…. very… interesting… I dont have anything else to say…

  82. Margaux Says:

    no comment, and even though this is a blog, it leaves me speechless.

  83. Jane Says:

    Yikes! this is creepy! I would never wear this!

  84. Lou Says:

    Verrrrry interesting. But stupid!

  85. Miryam Says:

    Perfect for open house at the Poe residence

  86. freddy Says:

    perfect outfit after plastic surgery!

  87. Ho P Le Says:

    I wish I can wear it.

  88. Henry john vumbaca Says:

    look’s a little like the raszac un Eragon lol.

  89. Lucie 8 Says:

    The eyes seemed to stare at me! Was the crow eating the rhinestone?

  90. Henry Says:

    This is the worst piece of fashion ever and even the fat lady right next to me in a bunny suit says it too! :-(

  91. Laurel Says:

    I would love to have this on my desk in my room, but I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it on my head. I would keep it as a kind of decoration sort of thing in my room or in some other part of the house, but to wear this, definitely no. But I do love how it looks, it’s an amazing piece of art.

  92. Sadie Says:


  93. del Says:

    did anyone notice that there is a diamond in the birds beak?

  94. marina urbach Says:

    ‘did anyone notice that there is a diamond in the birds beak?’

    In fact, there are many diamonds in this exhibition!

  95. diane Says:

    i think the bird head necklace and head should be sold as a set. Does this head make me look fat?

  96. diane Says:

    Can you make it in buzzard heads?

  97. mike Says:

    weird, but awesome!

  98. callum sims Says:

    yes diane it does….

  99. meimi1995529 Says:

    this is really scary. GORGEOUSLY SCARY!!!!!! i LOVE it. :)

  100. jhhhhhhhh Says:

    I think it was a very creative idea, however, I don’t think i would wear it.:)

  101. ana Says:

    its cool and creepy if u ask me! :)

  102. Kami Says:


  103. Jeanette Says:

    Fashion is an art form.
    Instead of paint on canvas, it is clothing on a human body.

    I love how this is reminiscent of the masks doctors work during the days of the bubonic plague.

  104. Paul Says:

    You’re absolutely correct, Jeanette!
    It’s not meant to be worn… just to be admired.

  105. Martha May Says:

    This mask creeped me out and I would never wear it. However…it did catch my attention and was interesting to read about!

  106. marissa-and-scott-rock Says:

    gah!!! this thing is pretty scary looking! it reminds us of the fahion exhibit you had here about 2 years ago. there was a creepy crow-lady there. very creepy!!!!!

  107. Moiria Curry Says:

    This piece exudes morbidity. I think it is a perfect fit for the eccentricly inspired gown it was designed to accompany. The artist use of irony is brilliant. The mask is inspired by a bird that represents death to be worn over a women’s face who had died because of her vain use of lead infused face powder.

  108. marco Says:

    i am gonna wear this to my wedding! its the hottest thing the world has ever seen

  109. jason Says:

    i would soo wear the bird hat to my 8am classes, so everyone could be all like “what” or “how did THAT happen”

  110. marina urbach Says:

    ‘Fashion is an art form.
    Instead of paint on canvas, it is clothing on a human body.’

    Good point. On the other hand, artists have painted bodies, used
    bodies as canvas.

    ‘I feel that the mixed reaction to this piece is part of the point. Many people could find no polite way to express their negative feelings for this piece, while others quite enjoyed it ,while not seeming able, or willing to express what exactly about it they like’

    Relevant point. To verbalize about visual art is not always easy, possible or desirable!

    ‘I very much enjoyed this piece myself, yet despite what i have said, like others, i am both unable and unwilling to explain exactly what about it strikes me.’

    The description of Jones’s impulse is direct and clear.

    Several responses to this piece have touched on the visual/ verbal

    ‘Looks like something removed from an ancient grave site that predates the written word.’

    Perhaps it is precisely that feeling of something that predates the written word, language itself, that makes it difficult to express
    the emotions that this piece elicits.

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