The creative relationship between jeweller Shaun Leane and late fashion designer Alexander McQueen truly was a meeting of minds, their collaboration sparking ideas as darkly poetic as a corset crafted from 97 aluminium coils and porcupine quill earrings. On December 4, at Sotheby’s New York, Leane is auctioning 45 bespoke creations (public view from November 30) from his personal archive, including some of those made with McQueen.
“Couture Fashion Jewellery: The Personal Archive of Shaun Leane” features over two decades of jewels – mostly for McQueen’s catwalk shows – that were famous for a theatricality that raised them to the level of artworks. Indeed, the Coiled Corset (estimate $250,000-$350,000) from the autumn/winter 1999 show and the encircling quill earrings ($25,000-$35,000), crafted from silver and natural South African porcupine spikes, were both exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the V&A – like many lots in the auction.
Tribal themes are beloved by Leane, and crossing the block is a set of shell earrings ($4,000-$6,000) worn by Kate Moss in McQueen’s spring/summer 2001 show. Indeed, the sale is peppered with pieces created for the duo’s fashion muses. Cue the beautifully savage Thistle brooches ($40,000-$60,000 each) with black spinel pavé thorns gripping dark grey Tahitian pearls, worn as a matching pair by McQueen and Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2006 Met Gala ball. Isabella Blow was an early champion of the jeweller, and the spiked silver tusk anklet ($10,000-$15,000) and tusk-shaped hairpin ($3,000-$5,000) with black seed pearls and rhinestones were commissioned by the fashion editor in 1997 (the anklet in the sale is an exact replica of the original). Leane credits Blow, in part, for his signature tusk – for “giving me the courage to explore my own style”.
The auction’s standout designer-muse work is the 2010 Contra Mundum (Against the World), a fabulously gothic, white gold and diamond glove ($300,000-$400,000) created for Daphne Guinness, complete with gold chainmail, a tracery of branches, flight of diamond-set birds and diamond fingernails. The design was notably concocted on a whim – Leane recalls that while at a crowded V&A exhibition, Guinness said, “I need some armour to protect me”. The piece itself would take four years, three additional craftsman and 21 fittings to perfect.
It may seem tragic to part with such defining pieces, but Leane hopes the auction will highlight a bygone era. “The collection represents a level of creative freedom that has no parallel today and a time when jewellery, performance art and fashion fused as one,” he said. “The sale’s destiny is to inspire and provoke.”