Jeweller Shaun Leane on Crowning McQueen’s Creative Vision

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Shaun Leane fitting the Silver “Orchid Shoulderpiece” backstage at Pantheon ad Lucem, Autumn/Winter 2004Courtesy of the Shaun Leane archive

The most powerful partnerships long outlive their creators, as new London exhibition Fashion Together demonstrates

Collaboration is ubiquitous in the world of fashion, in which the teaming of like minds often results in the creation of uniquely wonderful objects. Take Louis Vuitton and SupremeZandra Rhodes and Valentino; or Off-White and Jenny Holzer, for example – just a few partnerships from the past year whose impact reverberated throughout the industry. It is when alliances such as these endure, and evolve symbiotically, that they become especially extraordinary.

This is precisely the foundation of Fashion Together, a new exhibition at Fashion Space Gallery, curated by Lou Stoppard, and an accompanying book of the same name, published by Rizzoli. “I’m interested in lasting partnerships – the formative friendships, the unions that exist behind the scenes, or the decades-long working relationships that have shaped each participant’s vision and life,” says Stoppard. The show spotlights duos whose collaborative work in fashion has achieved legendary status – think Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy, Gareth Pugh and Ruth Hogben – while the book comprises intriguing conversations between the subjects on the nature of their shared practices, anaylsing their working processes. 

The collaboration between jeweller Shaun Leane and fêted designer Alexander McQueen is one of the book’s most extraordinary. Leane and McQueen worked together for 15 years, the former creating surreal and sculptural pieces to punctuate McQueen’s seminal collections, beginning with Spring/Summer 1996’s The Hunger show. “He was always challenging himself to do something more. And so was I. And so was anyone who worked with him,” says Leane in Fashion Together. “We were best friends, and we were great work colleagues. We were exactly the same age. He was an east London boy. I’m a north London boy. Both gay, both quite feisty.”

He continues: “When he first asked me to work with him I was daunted, because I was a classically trained goldsmith, not a designer. Also, I was 21 years old and had just finished my apprenticeship. I was worried about the money, because I worked with gold and diamonds. I told him he couldn’t afford it, and he told me to use silver or brass. I said, ‘What are you on about? I don’t make things in brass!’ Then he just said, ‘It will be fun. I’ll pay for the materials, if you’ll make them.’”

From metallic discs placed perpendicularly to models’ faces, to sprawling, ornate floral collars, and metallic corsetry that covered the body from head to waist, Leane’s creations for McQueen accompanied the clothes with an incisive precision. And as with all of the greatest partnerships, McQueen’s influence can still be felt in Leane’s work today. “I’ll make a piece for one of my collections and think, ‘Lee would love that!’” he says. “Then I know it’s a winner. He’s embedded in me.”

Fashion Together runs until January 13, 2018, at Fashion Space Gallery, London. Fashion Together: Fashion’s Most Extraordinary Duos on the Art of Collaboration is published on October 24, 2017, by Rizzoli.