Shaun Leane is one of the UK’s most innovative jewellery designers and is best known as the creative force behind the jewellery pieces at Alexander McQueen’s most striking shows. Shaun Leane Hook earrings are worldwide bestsellers, having garnered a cult status across the globe. Here we speak exclusively to Shaun about what it was like working with Alexander McQueen, the jewellery piece he wishes he had designed and how he created the Contra Mundum glove in collaboration with Daphne Guinness.
Your Tusk earring design first appeared in early McQueen shows and has become something of a signature shape for you. Why do you think this design has such enduring appeal?
It was very elegant and refined ‒ the form of it and the shape. It produced a very powerful image which continues to resonate with the woman of today. I believe jewellery design is evolving into something more than stones and materials; it’s about form, space, concept. As Leonardo da Vinci famously said ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’.
What was the favourite piece that you created in collaboration with McQueen?
One of my favourite pieces, and the most challenging, was the Coiled Corset [created for the A/W 1999 Overlook show]. Earlier that year I had worked with Lee [Alexander McQueen] on an African-inspired neckpiece for Bjork’s Homogenic album cover. It was a challenging project as I had only just begun to teach myself silversmithing. When McQueen asked if I could create the same neckpiece but for the whole torso, I knew it would challenge my skills. I remember him saying to me that ‘nothing is impossible’‒ if I could make the neckpiece, I could also make the corset. After that, I spent 16 hours a day for 10 weeks creating the piece. Since then we have continued his mantra ‘nothing is impossible’.
Which of your jewellery pieces was the most difficult to create?
The bespoke diamond glove that we created in collaboration with Daphne Guinness. To me this is the piece that represents the spirit of our jewellery house, a creation that crosses the boundaries between art, jewellery and fashion. The project began at a party six years ago when Daphne asked me to create a silver glove. She spoke of her fascination with armour. It began as a child through her reading of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, a compilation of the legendary tales of the Knights of the Round Table. To Daphne armour is like a mask, a protective layer that keeps you hidden from the world ‒ there is something isolating yet strangely reassuring when you put it on. So when she was considering her choice of words in naming the glove, she settled on Contra Mundum, meaning ‘against the world’ in Latin.
A few weeks after the party, Daphne came to our atelier. I briefed her on the details and the concept of birds I had in mind. With excitement we both realised we were speaking the same language – the relationship was very organic and our vision just naturally came together. We began to produce the glove in silver, but this was too softer a metal to withstand the construction of amour so we both decided to create the glove in a harder material. In the end we crafted the piece in 18-carat white gold.
As the piece began to grow, so did our ideas. We realised that this piece was pushing traditional notions of fine jewellery, bringing decorative armour to the 21st century.
Is there one famous jewellery piece you wish you had made?
Fulco di Verdura’s Maltese Cross cuffs for Coco Chanel. The 1920s and 30s were an incredible period for innovation in craftsmanship and materials, and saw fine jewellery crossing over with fashion. The cuffs are a great example of contrasting materials creating a bold statement. Wearing one on each wrist is still a strong style, which I adhere to today.
Which of your pieces is your favourite to wear?
I always reach for a selection of interlocking rings in a mixture of plain gold and diamonds. They were one of the first pieces I designed and have a very slick, powerful look. The design allows them to be interlocked in different ways, meaning that everyone can create something unique.
What inspires you?
I am hugely inspired by the sentiment and romance of Victorian and art nouveau jewellery, literature and poetry. These ideas are reflected in our collections, combining traditional jewellery craftsmanship with avant-garde ideas to create jewellery which symbolises modern romance.
Another huge influence for the house is nature. Its fragility and strength, its organic forms and details allow it to be beautifully portrayed and preserved in an array of metals and gemstones.
I am also greatly inspired by art. I feel that art, fashion, architecture and all elements of design feed each other.
Who would you love to see wear your jewellery who hasn’t yet?
Her Majesty the Queen.
Do you believe there any dos and don’ts when it comes to wearing jewellery?
Do wear jewellery that arouses emotion, whether this is sentimental, confident or sexy. Don’t wear jewellery for the sake of it.
Where are your favourite places to shop for jewellery in London?
Grays Antique Centre in Davies Street. There are few things as rewarding as finding an antique piece that was seemingly waiting for you.
What’s next for your brand?
2017 is going to be a really exciting year for us. We have a beautiful bridal collection coming out in the summer, followed by our first men’s collection in 10 years. We are also working on an architectural project. I feel it’s important to explore different art forms to express my design capabilities.