Unique interview: jeweller Shaun Leane was 1 of trend designer Alexander McQueen’s closest friends and collaborators. As the sellout Savage Beauty exhibition closes at the V&A, Leane spoke to Dezeen about how the duo “experimented with to change people’s perceptions of what jewellery and fashion should be”.
Leane’s elaborate jewellery, headpieces and physique adornments, initially developed for McQueen’s groundbreaking style shows, were featured during the exhibition, which drew a record 480,000 visitors throughout its five-month run.
This image: portrait of Shaun Leane by Simon Harris. Principal picture: Shaun Leane and Alexander McQueen, photograph by Ann Ray
His corsets shaped like skeletons, wire coils and bunches of roses – all of which were displayed prominently in the V&A demonstrate – grew to become some of the most iconic pieces from McQueen’s collections.
Associated story: Ann Ray shares intimate behind-the-scenes images of Alexander McQueen
In an interview with Dezeen at his Mayfair studio, Leane, 46, described how he was generating classical jewellery for royalty when he met McQueen in 1992.
Coiled Corset by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Photograph by Chris Moore
McQueen – recognized to his buddies as Lee – was even now studying vogue at Central Saint Martins in London when a mutual buddy introduced the two in “a moment of serendipity” that transformed Leane’s life.
“If it wasn’t for Lee I would nevertheless be sitting in a little workshop performing tiaras,” Leane stated.
Moon Headpiece by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Photograph by Chris Moore
“He transformed the silhouette of trend and I changed the silhouette of jewellery, and we worked brilliantly with each other because we had been each really excellent friends,” Leane advised Dezeen.
Related stories: see a lot more stories about Alexander McQueen
McQueen died in 2010 aged 40, and Leane has largely kept away from the press for the previous 5 many years. But the accomplishment of the Savage Elegance exhibition has offered him the possibility to celebrate how his colleague and pal spurred him to generate the avant-garde styles.
Eagle Feather Headpiece by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Photograph by Chris Moore
“I felt this is my opportunity to now sing from the treetops about how brilliant he was, and how he inspired all of us and how he transformed my globe,” mentioned Leane.
Study an edited edition of the transcript from our interview with Shaun Leane:
Dan Howarth: When did you very first meet Alexander McQueen?
Shaun Leane: By means of a moment of serendipity, I met Lee in 1992 just just before his graduation at Central Saint Martins through a mutual friend who was on the same course. So I would go to meet my good friend after school on Charing Cross Street, we’d all go down Compton Street and go to the pub. And we were just buddies, we were all just hanging out. The funny factor was that I was a classically skilled goldsmith, they have been style college students at Central Saint Martins, our worlds were so far apart.
Lee asked me: “So you are a jeweller?” and that was it, it was just left at that, he didn’t want to know anything at all else. And I stated: “Yeah, I make jewellery”, and I was on his radar then. I would go see them at university and they have been doing what they do and it was brilliant, but it was so far eliminated from me. Even when I think back to 7 years prior to that, when I wanted to do vogue, I just did not get it. I considered these guys are crazy. I loved jewellery, the antiques and the traditional varieties, but I was hungry to layout.
Egg Nest Feather Headpiece by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Photograph by Chris Moore
Dan Howarth: When did you start functioning with each other?
Shaun Leane: It was only when Lee came to meet me after perform a 12 months later following he graduated in 1993. He’d often meet me right after operate but this a single time my masters had gone property and I had to finish this occupation just before I left, since a tiara had to be sent to the setters in the morning.
And I stated to Lee: “Seem, I’ve received an hour to do this and then I’m accomplished with this occupation. Come up to the atelier, sit and read through a magazine or whatever, give me an hour and then we can go out.” And he came up and was just blown away, simply because he walked into this time warp. It was like an outdated Victorian workshop.
I believe it type of connected with him because of his apprenticeship at the old tailoring workshops on Savile Row. It was very conventional exactly where I worked. When he saw what I did, he said: “My god, I didn’t realise this is what you do.” I explained: “I’ve been telling you for years, I’m a jeweller”. But he did not realise to what level I was a jeweller, and to what common.
He was sort of blown away by the craft and the detail and the intricacy of what I was creating. I believe it sort of sunk into his mind. Then about say six or eight months after that, Lee approached me and stated: “Search, will you make jewellery for my exhibits?” And I was thrown by that, because it was not on my radar at all.
Star Headpiece by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Photograph by Chris Moore
Dan Howarth: What was it like when you very first started doing work together?
Shaun Leane: At very first it was actually challenging for me, because I couldn’t get my head all around it. He’d just left university, he hadn’t got the funding. I would just finished my apprenticeship and I hadn’t received the funding. How had been we going to do this?
I mentioned: “Lee, I will not consider we can, how are we going to afford to make jewellery? Surely it’s got also massive for the runway?” And he explained: “Well, no we will not make it in gold, we’ll use other supplies like silver or brass or aluminium.” And I was like “What?! I’m a goldsmith, I never make items in copper or brass – I don’t operate in these components Lee, I will not know where I would start off”.
He turned my total globe all around, due to the fact he stated: “Shaun, I have observed what you do, I’ve witnessed what you make.” And he mentioned if you just apply these capabilities to other mediums you can generate anything. And that was it, he just changed every little thing for me. He took me out of my comfort zone.
I utilised to operate with copper, I know what solders I can use for that. I had to get my head around what supplies or solders or apparatus I would use to forge larger issues, and it was interesting. He was youthful and I was younger. We had been both in our early twenties, we were each London boys, we the two had something to say, we the two came from really classic instruction. Him at Savile Row as a tailor and me as a goldsmith in Hatton Backyard. Our worlds weren’t that far away from every single other if we analysed it, but then we had been offered this platform to do some thing diverse.
As you know, Lee was a visionary, there have been no boundaries with what he wished to do. He really had a vision and it was never compromised. I really feel very fortunate and honoured that I had the opportunity to operate with him. We were very near close friends for 25 many years, but I worked with him for 22 of those. And we produced the physique of functions that we did.
Tusk Earring by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen
Dan Howarth: What was the working procedure like in the early days?
Shaun Leane: In the beginning, it was from one particular extreme to the other which I very liked, due to the fact I was a extremely classically educated goldsmith and then he gave me this imaginative platform where there were no industrial constraints due to the fact these pieces didn’t have to be sold – they had been objects we designed to portray the notion of his demonstrate, or how we questioned how jewellery need to be worn, and what it should be made of and what silhouette.
He changed the silhouette of style and I altered the silhouette of jewellery, and we worked brilliantly with each other due to the fact we had been both actually great close friends. We were hungry and driven, and we did not analyse it also considerably, we just wished to generate the new.
The early nineties was a hub of energy and it was very revolutionary genuinely because there have been so several designers, there was Hussein, there was Dior, there was McQueen, there have been so several fantastic issues happening.
London was shifting as nicely at that time, so there was a true power, and it was Lee that sowed that seed in me. I commenced operating with him on present to demonstrate, and I stayed at English Standard Jewellery. I worked throughout the day for them, then evenings and weekends I would function for Lee. We created things out of silver and brass and aluminium, we had to use the materials to match the design and style.
Coiled Corset by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Picture courtesy of the V&A
Dan Howarth: Can you talk me by means of some of the most iconic pieces you manufactured with each other?
Shaun Leane: The Coil Corset was a single of the very first pieces I manufactured for him. I manufactured loads for that display The Hunger, Spring Summertime 1996. So that was the 2nd present I worked with him on. I commenced doing work in silver 1st because it was the nearest materials I could associate with to gold since I knew how to forge it and make it. So I kind of taught myself silversmithing to meet the demands of what he required.
It was a fantastic journey simply because he pushed me. He was quite clever, he didn’t push me in the sense of “do that, you have received to do that”, he would make you push your self, which was brilliant. He did that with me, with Philip [Treacy], with Sarah [Burton]. Any individual who worked with him, he would make you question your talents in style and craft so you would challenge your self, and you would create, not just to please him or to demonstrate to him you could do it, but to show to oneself.
Lee was a visionary, there were no boundaries with what he desired to do
Dan Howarth: How else have been you challenged in these early days?
Shaun Leane: The Hunger display was the 1st exactly where I manufactured massive pieces. It was very large for me making these massive earrings, the stag pieces that went in excess of the dress.
[The Tusk earring] was 1 of the initial pieces, and this you are going to see echoes through everything I do now. This for me was the perfect silhouette. [Lee] explained to me: “I want you to create some thing that type of generates a little bit of an edge in between all the girls” – so it really is really animalistic due to the fact there was leopard prints in the demonstrate. It was The Hunger, so there was an animal theme running via it, so the Tusk earring was perfect.
For me this became the silhouette for what the home is these days. Because it really is refined, it was a very elegant form but really potent, and I feel that was the balance that I located that I truly loved, and what Lee loved as nicely – producing something that was very classy and stunning but it had a very robust statement.
Spinal Corset by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Picture courtesy of the V&A
Dan Howarth: How did your styles produce as the collaboration went on?
Shaun Leane: I made plenty of things for Lee, like a crown of thorns and the headpieces, and it was all extremely either around the head or the ear or the neck pieces, but I would by no means made a piece like the Spine Corset.
Sometimes how Lee worked was he would have one piece in his thoughts that he needed, or he would show me the mood board of the collection and mentioned: “Appropriate, let us make some pieces. What do you believe we need to have? We require some things here, we need to have earrings right here or a headpiece.” So we would work like that. I would go away and design and style stuff with him, and then often he’d know exactly what he needed, for example the Coil Corset and the Yashmak, he knew he needed people pieces.
But he would just give me the concept, he stated: “Proper, I want you to develop a skeleton corset.” At this point I’d never ever worked in aluminium before, and I explained “Lee you are pushing it too far, I can’t do that.”
Every single season it would be bigger and larger
We didn’t choose on aluminium at that stage, he mentioned “make me a silver corset with ribs and a spine and I want a tail on it as well”, and that’s all I acquired. I didn’t get a drawing or anything at all. This was in a pub in Islington, and I mentioned: “Lee, I dunno. I can make earrings and this is what I know.” And he mentioned “I am sure you can do it, feel about it.”
Then that was it, two sleepless nights thinking how can I do that? Silver’s going to be as well hefty, she’s going to fall in excess of, she’s gonna weigh a ton, I could do it in aluminium but I’ve never ever worked in aluminium. Then I spoke to a sculptor that I would worked with in the past and she was like yeah you can carve it in wax and then cast it in the aluminium, and then it all commences to take place.
So then I phoned Lee and explained “I’ve figured it out, we can do it”. And he said “I knew you would” – and that was it. You were on the chain, you have been on the journey, and it was wonderful.
It was a nightmare to make, admittedly. Everybody loves that piece, but I appear at it and I shudder because of the memories of making it. If you ever function in aluminium, do not cast it, it really is so brittle.
I made it and Lee loved it, and it opened up the door then. Lee knew what I could do, and I knew what I could do.
Orchid Shoulder Piece by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Image courtesy of the V&A
Dan Howarth: Which designs came following?
Shaun Leane: So then came the Coil Corset, the Yashmak, the Rose Corset, all the huge pieces. I had to discover engineering and I had to explore new kinds of how to make things like electroforming. I would never ever worked with electroforming even though it really is a extremely old method. The Coil Corset, that was manufactured from aluminium rod, pure clean metal, which I forged about a concrete cast of the model.
Each season I had to educate myself even a lot more about engineering, resources, to generate the concept of what we wanted to produce. So it was usually tough. Every season, the display had been completed and we had to meet up coming week, and we would be on the subsequent piece due to the fact these pieces took months to make.
It wasn’t like we could design it two months prior to the demonstrate. Some pieces have been two months ahead of the show, I can tell you, but with larger pieces it requires time. It’s a shame since I believe which is the reason why we don’t see pieces like this anymore, since there is no time. Designers are carrying out a single display and then they are doing resort or ready-to-dress in, it truly is too significantly.
Bird Nest by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Image courtesy of the V&A
Dan Howarth: Do you think that is impacted the quality of the output from designers?
Shaun Leane: An individual stated to me recently: “Why never we see pieces like this?” And I said: “Simply because the demand on vogue does not give these bad designers the time.”
So we grew and we grew, and every single season it would be greater and greater. Just before I knew it I was incorporating the metal into the clothing, so we had been really doing work together in the entire silhouette. He would fabricate the clothes and we would put the metal into it.
What one should don’t forget is that all along, while I was performing this I was nevertheless creating tiaras. I got nicknamed the Jekyll and Hyde of the sector, due to the fact by the day I was performing tiaras and solitaires and diamond clusters and quite standard pieces, which I had to – it was my bread and butter.
He was not just an amazing work colleague, he was my extremely closest good friend
Dan Howarth: How did you manage that stability?
Shaun Leane: What I did for Lee was out of adore, it was my time and we employed to trade. He used to give me clothes, simply because he didn’t have the money, so it was all about passion and exploration and striving to modify people’s perception of what jewellery ought to be and what trend should be.
Star Headpiece by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Image courtesy of the V&A
Dan Howarth: Have you witnessed a heightened curiosity in your work given that it went on demonstrate in the V&A exhibition?
Shaun Leane: Our web site traffic has had a large enhance, about forty per cent. And revenue clearly to a degree, but I consider individuals are a lot more interested.
When Lee passed five years ago, I had to deal with that. He was not just an remarkable operate colleague, he was my really closest pal. I just sort of shut down for years, I did not speak about him and I did not come to feel ready.
So when the exhibition launched, I recreated the Yashmak for the exhibition and I worked with [V&A curator] Claire Wilcox. We genuinely gave it every little thing due to the fact I felt this is my opportunity to now sing from the treetops about how brilliant he was, and how he inspired all of us and how he changed my globe.
If it was not for Lee I would nevertheless be sitting in a little workshop carrying out tiaras only. He opened my mind to the freedom of layout and the freedom of execution. A beautiful object can be produced from any materials, it is the procedure and the design and what materials you use, you use the ideal material to get the very best out of that design and style actually, and he allowed me to believe like that.
So even although I nevertheless love gold and diamonds and I make items in all treasured metals, I make things in feathers, I nonetheless work in aluminium. I kind of owe this to McQueen as well.