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.