On my quest to find world-class milliners, a tailor friend of mine introduced me to J Smith Esquire. When I met the creative creature behind the world-renowned eponymous business in his secret garden and atelier near Elephant & Castle in Spring 2017, I was struck by his extraordinary approach to dressing clients and creating looks. Over a cup of tea, we talked about his journey into the field of millinery and what it is that makes him happy every day. I left his atelier enriched, with only positive creative energy flowing in my mind… Justin Smith enables you to grasp elegance from a totally different perspective through his extravagant designs.
J Smith Esquire – Hair and Hats
Mr Justin Smith started his professional life as a hairdresser at Toni & Guy. His eye and feel for clients’ needs enabled him to become creative director after only five years. Shortly thereafter, he opened his own hairdressing salon in Soho called And People Like Us. The salon quickly made a name for itself for its daring hairstyles for fashion shows and competitions. Inspired by his own work in sculptural hairdressing, he ‘felt like’ trying his hand at designing and making hats. This led him to undertake part-time millinery training courses. Five years later, in 2005, he earned a distinction on the Higher National Certificate (HNC) Millinery course at Kensington and Chelsea College. He then completed a two-year MA in Millinery at London’s Royal College of Art in 2007 – the year in which his company J Smith Esquire was founded. His graduation show earned much critical attention and praise. The rest is, as they say, history. Countless awards for his collection from classic hats to couture pieces were to follow. His clientele includes Angelina Jolie – those Maleficent horns -, Amal Clooney, and Brad Pitt and he regularly collaborates with brands such as Stella McCartney, Aganovich, Manish Arora, and Moschino. He also had made a name for himself for his work on various film projects. Justin is also currently a visiting lecturer at London’s Royal College of Art and has given seminars around the globe.
Style is not an add on
Justin Smith does not only make hats but designs them to fit his clients’ body and head type and their personality. I, with my limited knowledge of hat making or design, was immediately intrigued by this approach. It has always been my silent belief that any object worn this close to the face would certainly have to be designed specifically for you. Until now, I was unaware that seemingly everything is possible in Smith’s hands. He dresses his clients in what he thinks will suit them best. He does not add to a personality, he underlines, supports, and enhances. No material is out of the question, from tattooed pig skin to origami. The result is avant-garde design mixed with traditional making (although even that usually has something of a twist). Every single J Smith Esquire hat is unique, entirely made by hand, and finished in his London studio. Two to four weeks is all it will take to make the hat of your dreams a reality.
The question may arise why it took me more than half a year to write this piece. Honestly, I have started this piece perhaps three or four times and I have never been entirely satisfied. In fact, I’m still not, if truth be told. I have a whole hatful (unfortunately, my translator is allowed one terrible pun per translation; it’s in the contract) of thoughts and ideas in my head that I cannot quite put into words. However, rest assured that not a day goes by in which I don’t remember meeting Justin Smith. I distinctly recall standing at the bus stop at Elephant & Castle as if in a trance… I want to share this experience with my readers. I guarantee that meeting his team, his Italian Greyhound, and Mr Smith himself – even without the joy of commissioning one of his beautiful pieces – will be an experience to remember.
Firstly, Justin still cuts hair; appointments can be made via his website. Secondly, something I was not quite able to fit into the piece but which deserves mention is his sparkling, dry, and black humour. Thirdly, Justin Smith now moved premises – to an appointment-only showroom and salon in North London’s De Beauvoir quarter. MM