SHAUN Leane says his creativity was set free by collaborating with Alexander McQueen
A DAMIEN Hirst painting, a Philip Treacy hat, a light sculpture by South Korean artist Chul Hyun Ahn and Daphne Guinness’s antique kimono – all of these are being displayed alongside pieces by one of Britain’s leading avant-garde jewellers, Shaun Leane, at SHOWstudio in London, transforming the gallery into a chamber of curiosities.
Pride of place will be given to a single diamond tusk earring Leane has created in memory of the silver one he made for Alexander McQueen’s 1996 catwalk show The Hunger, during a decade-long collaboration with the fashion designer.
Other exhibits include a vibrant gem-set butterfly brooch alongside an original Damien Hirst painting, feather hoop earrings next to Philip Treacy millinery, a ring that speaks to Chul Hyun Ahn’s light sculpture and cherry blossom cuffs that channel Daphne Guinness.
Leane takes his inspiration from the art and fashion worlds, as well as from history and nature, and the combination of his traditional goldsmith skills with a strong fashion slant makes his work stand out. Black leather is combined with yellow gold and white diamonds, delicate flowers are mixed with thorns, as Leane creates what Sotheby’s calls the “antiques of the future”. This is what makes Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Moss and Emma Watson fans. Even the demure Duchess of Cambridge rocked a little Shaun Leane on her recent jaunt Down Under.
“My key inspirations are all that is beautiful in nature – the elements that surround us. Organic forms are fragile and beautiful, yet there are hidden elements of strength and danger,” says Leane.
Leaving school at 15, Leane enrolled on a foundation course in jewellery design. His tutor encouraged him to train as a goldsmith and he went to work as an apprentice in London’s Hatton Garden jewellery district with a company making and restoring historic pieces – everything from diamond solitaires to tiaras – for Bond Street.
“I also take inspiration from my antique restoration days working on many beautiful pieces from the Art Deco and Victorian period. It was the time when my design ability awoke,” he says.
“I am also greatly inspired by the sentiment and romance in literature and poetry. These ideas are reflected in my collections combining traditional jewellery craftsmanship with avant-garde ideas. I fell in love with jewellery at Hatton Garden.
“I learnt the principle that pieces should look as beautiful from the back as they do at the front, and that attention to detail is paramount.”
Leane had appreciated the sense of occasion and glamour that jewellery can bestow ever since childhood when he watched his parents putting on their rarely worn matching diamond watches before a night out. Then, in 1993, the world of fashion came calling in what Leane calls “a moment of serendipity”. The young jeweller met Alexander McQueen and began designing pieces for his catwalk shows.
“This was such a departure from my classical background creating pieces for Bond Street jewellers like Garrard,” says Leane. “There were no boundaries with McQueen; no commercial constraints. It was a creative platform which allowed me to use my traditional craftsmanship to express these incredibly innovative concepts. I found my signature style, fusing tradition with fashion.
“Alexander taught me ‘to be the best you can be and nothing is impossible’. He was right and his words continue to inspire me as a designer. He opened my eyes to the world of fashion… and in his eyes it was one with no boundaries. Often we would have very little time to create these catwalk pieces, so sourcing materials or getting the right technology to create these visions was challenging. Some of the pieces we created were almost defying gravity, attached to fine fabrics, so sometimes it was a bit nerve-wracking, but it always worked.”
Leane set up his own company in 1999, combining traditional craftsmanship with computer-aided design techniques to push jewellery creation even further.
A believer in the emotional power of jewellery, Leane never parts with his black and white diamond interlocking rings, part of his first fine jewellery range in 2005, or an escapula necklace made for him by a friend which he regards as his “guardian angel”. His jewellery is made to last, destined to achieve heirloom status. And while his talent and eagerness to experiment have seen him pushing the boundaries, he has never wavered from the lesson he learned as a 15-year-old apprentice goldsmith: “how to create pieces of work that would be treasured for years to come.”
BUTTERFLY BROOCH/DAMIEN HIRST BUTTERFLY PAINTING
“Having admired and collected Damien’s work for years, it was incredibly important to me that we feature his work in the exhibition. The work that we are featuring from his butterfly painting series is so full of life, even in the obvious presence of death. A key theme that runs throughout our jewellery is depicting a fleeting moment of beauty through the medium of precious materials, in order to be treasured forever. The butterfly brooch we have created is above all a truly beautiful object which celebrates the natural brilliance of a butterfly’s wings.”
FEATHER HOOP EARRINGS/PHILIP TREACY HAT We worked with Philip on the Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter 2001 and 2003 shows, and have always appreciated his innovation and craftsmanship. The Macaw feather hoop earrings demonstrate the dichotomy of strength versus fragility. We have used the delicate elements of nature to create a strong silhouette. The feathers themselves have been arranged by colour and shaped to create a kaleidoscopic final piece. Philip too has harnessed the vitality of feathers in his headpiece and created an almost warrior-like adornment. It proves that materials do not have to be gold and diamonds to achieve the same outcome.
THE AURORA RING/LIGHT SCULPTURE OF AHN CHULHYUN
The new Aurora ring, created exclusively for the exhibition, is inspired by the blues and greens of the Aurora Borealis and features Mozambique tourmalines and Santa Maria Aquamarines. These are complemented by bands of diamonds that act like shards of light crossing through.
What fascinates me about this piece, and in turn the work of light sculptor Ahn Chulyhan, is the human reaction to light and colour. As jewellers, we cut gemstones to optimise their beauty, in order to create something even more fantastical with what nature has given us. Ahn too explores ways of mixing and reflecting light in works that transcend light and space.
CHERRY BLOSSOM CUFFS/ANTIQUE KIMONO FROM DAPHNE GUINNESS? The mystical beauty of spring in Japan and the fleeting grace of the cherry blossom has been the inspiration behind one of our most beloved collections. Creating the pair of cuffs has required the utmost skill and precision from all in our atelier; from the intricate arrangement of flowers, to goldsmithing enamelling and diamond setting. Daphne Guinness’s vintage silk kimono also harnesses generations of craftsmanship to achieve its beautiful appearance, in particular the stencilled gold surihaku detailing.
DIAMOND TUSK EARRING/Sculpture by Luke Dickinson
Not only do we share a traditional background in our respective fields – Luke worked as a stonemason on Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals - he treats the ancient materials he works with in visionary way. Works like ‘Concord’, are light yet fluid and elegant whilst retaining a strong message and this was the key concept behind our original tusk earring. Whilst its shape is derived from organic and tribal influences, it ultimately became a sleek piece of jewellery crafted in aluminium, which we have now developed further by setting with over 10.00cts of diamonds.
• SHOWcabinet: Shaun Leane, until 29 August, 19 Motcomb Street, Belgravia, London SW1X 8LB (020 7235 7680, www.showstudio.com, www.shaunleane.com)