The (Shaun) Leane Years



British designer Shaun Leane works his magic gearing up for U.S. expansion while opening his first store in Southeast Asia

Shaun Leane is a man of contrasts. If you look closely at the British designer’s ­jewelry, you’ll often notice a gentleness foiled with an edge—an unexpected, perhaps even macabre side that comes from his artistic fascination with juxtaposing love and pain.

Echoing that combination of harshness and beauty, Leane’s new Blackthorn collection of dramatic silver thorns flanking black spinel leaves and soft, sumptuous mauve pearls—now available at Bergdorf Goodman in New York—is based on the hedgerow, a common feature of the English countryside.

Contra Mundum, the diamond and platinum bespoke glove designed by Shaun Leane and London heiress Daphne Guinness

 

 

“Our work is about balance—love and pain, dark and light, fragility and strength; the combination of sculptural lines and delicate details balances a piece,” says Leane, ­calling the Blackthorn pieces “defiant but elegant.”

Then there are the explosive, larger-than-life jewels that adorned and sometimes haunted the catwalk of British design visionary Alexander McQueen, a close friend of Leane’s.

Blackthorn ring in silver with black spinel and pearls; £325; Shaun Leane; 44-207-405-4773; shaunleaneshop.com

Earlier this year, the fruits of Leane’s 14-year collaboration with McQueen, who tragically committed suicide at age 40 last year, went on display at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the “Savage Beauty” exhibit dedicated to McQueen’s legacy. Leane has always acknowledged that it was his dear friend McQueen who gave him access to a world of opportunity and creativity. He describes their relationship as “a truly unique creative experience, which gave me the platform to push the boundaries of jewelry design… allowing me to grow into the designer I am today.”

The Queen of the Night necklace was designed by Leane and produced by Boucheron.

 

Leane, a four-time U.K. Jewellery Designer of the Year, has also made commissioned works for companies spanning the luxury and consumer goods industries, including Coca-Cola, Givenchy, and Bacardi. Yet his social life is just as critical to his professional progress as any corporate contract: The many eclectic personalities in Leane’s life include Daphne Guinness, the heiress, designer, and haute couture collector. At a recent London event hosted by Jay Jopling, owner of the East London art gallery White Cube, Leane marked the completion of an armorlike platinum glove he created with Guinness with 5,000 pavé diamonds. The guest list scintillated with the likes of Tom Ford, actress/model Lily Cole, and McQueen creative director (and royal wedding dress designer) Sarah Burton.

Leane’s first stand-alone store in Southeast Asia is located in the Central district of Hong Kong.

The society connections belie the fact that Leane is as down to earth as they come. There are, for example, plenty of jewelers with far less dazzling credentials who are quick to dismiss the somewhat rundown Hatton Garden, the London jewelry district where Leane has been based since he opened his studio nearly a decade ago. Prior to going solo, he worked at English Traditional Jewellery, where he regularly created pieces for the Sultan of Brunei and the jewelers on London’s Bond Street.

 

“What’s not to love? Retailers and customers adore him,” says Tony Goldsberry of Rock House, Leane’s American agent since 2010. “Everyone knows that behind all the pomp and circumstance that goes with such a highly awarded jeweler, there’s just a humble man who loves to make people feel beautiful.”

The exhibition at the Met promoted that fact to tastemakers worldwide, helping to kick off a summer of intense professional growth. After launching his collection in New York City, Leane jetted between Hong Kong, where he opened a new store (his first in Southeast Asia), and London, where he set up an exhibition in the fashionable contemporary arts venue the Fringe Club. There, he showcased sketches of his collections and examples of his collaborative work with McQueen, Sarah Jessica Parker, Boucheron, De Beers Forevermark, and the Guinness diamond glove.

Large Hook earrings from the Signature Collection in gold vermeil; £240; Shaun Leane; 44-207-405-4773; shaunleaneshop.com

In the run-up to the holidays, Leane will expand to more American retailers with an offering that includes his signature mix of sculptural, refined jewels: the classic Tribal Deco pieces with pearls and onyx; his men’s Diamond Sabre line; and the silver Signature Collection, featuring his popular Hook earrings.

He made a big splash among U.S. jewelers at the Couture show in Las Vegas in June, when he won the Couture Award in the Colored Gemstones Above $20,000 category for his show-stopping Queen of the Night necklace. It wasn’t his first award—Leane picked up a Couture Award in 2007, when he first brought his jewelry to America (Radiance in ARIA Las Vegas and Atelier New York have sold his pieces since)—but it was certainly his most inspired.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty Exhibit at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (May 4–Aug. 7, 2011), featuring Leane’s coiled corset

The latest award-winning piece was created to celebrate Boucheron’s 150th anniversary. The commission began when Leane was summoned to meet one of the most powerful individuals in the luxury industry, François-Henri Pinault, the head of PPR, whose subsidiaries include Boucheron, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, and half of Alexander McQueen.

In Paris, over lunch at Place Vendôme, ­Boucheron’s headquarters for more than a century, the plan for the necklace came to life. “In the room where we were having lunch, I noticed a portrait on the wall and a caption stating the subject was the Countess of Castiglione and that this was her apartment in the 19th century,” recalls Leane. “The story captured my attention because she tragically passed away there. By day, she was shuttered in, her divine beauty was concealed, and her true light was only revealed under the blackness of night [when she dared leave her home]. I decided to dedicate this piece to her.”

Chris Moore
Leane’s Coiled Corset in silver, created for Alexander McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 1999 ready-to-wear collection

The necklace is built around a rare flower called the Queen of the Night, which only blossoms at night. Blue sapphire buds wrap around the neck and, with the help of a secret mechanism, click open to reveal enclosed diamond and ruby flowers. “Both the use of color and the flower itself are reflections of the Countess’ life—they are the two states of her personality, both recluse and queen,” Leane says, once again creating the perfect contrast…naturally.

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