Images of Pa Salieu in a sculpted aluminum jawbone have been flooding Instagram over the past few days, thanks to the British rapper’s recent Dazed & Confused cover.
The rising star’s atavistic jewelry, designed by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen’s SS98 collection, is an immediate head turner, but it also reminded us of how Leane and McQueen’s mind-bending designs exploded the possibilities for jewelry on the runway.
The two famously met outside a club when Leane defended McQueen’s avant-garde outfit. Later, they began experimenting with non-precious and unconventional materials to create hybrid fetishistic objects. “He changed the silhouette of fashion, and I changed the silhouette of jewelry, and we worked brilliantly together because we were both really good friends,” Leane told Dezeen.
The claim that certain fashion objects “belong in a museum” is bandied around quite a lot, but the jaw-piece in question actually does, and it is. It’s currently held in the MET’s permanent collection and was on display last year as part of the “Jewelry: The Body Transformed” exhibition.
The jaw piece, a cast aluminum section of a male jaw with broken and missing teeth remains as powerful today as it did in the late ’90s. According to the MET’s curators, the skeletal piece draws on the tradition of memento mori jewelry, “with cast bone serving as a reference to death and the transience of human experience.”
Together, Leane and McQueen created some of the most provocative pieces of jewelry to grace the runway, including the iconic coiled corset. “The ‘coiled’ corset was one of the first pieces I made for [McQueen],” Leane explained.
“I had to explore technology and I had to explore new forms of how to make things like electroforming. I’d never worked with electroforming even though it’s a very old process. The ‘coiled’ corset, that was made from an aluminum rod, pure clean metal, which I forged around a concrete cast of the model.”
The pair continued to experiment with flesh and metal, continuing their fascination with hybridity and the uncanny. This sense of alter-ego, or (wo)man and machine, was prevalent in McQueen’s fashion shows, and for Alexander McQueen SS08 they debuted the Grille Collar. In the Shaun Leane book, the jeweler recalls McQueen’s advice about ambitious works such as these. He told him, “‘If you have any doubt about anything you make, you never let it out… You exceed your own expectations.’ From that moment on, I would finish a piece and then take it to another level because… I knew I could go further.”
“If it wasn’t for (McQueen), I would still be sitting in a little workshop doing tiaras,” Leane once admitted. But with the late designers’ priceless co-sign, Leane would go on to created coveted pieces for fashion houses as well as unique jewelry for the stars.
Leane’s jewelry even appears on the cover of Björk’s landmark 1997 studio album Homogenic. Björk’s wears a McQueen-designed silver satin gown embroidered with filigree flowers with Leane’s brass coiled necklace, evoking the metal neck rings worn by the Kayan Lahwi people of Myanmar.
When McQueen passed away in 2010 Leane revealed, “he was not just an amazing work colleague, he was my very closest friend. I just kind of shut down for years, I didn’t talk about him and I didn’t feel ready.” When the “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” exhibition opened at the V&A museum in 2015, it offered him a chance to celebrate his longtime collaborator. “I felt this is my opportunity to now sing from the treetops about how brilliant he was, and how he inspired all of us and how he changed my world.”
As the exhibition enjoyed record-breaking visitor numbers, traffic to his website increased by 40 percent and sales increased too. But Leane reflects that most of all, spurred interest in his work, and it’s why creatives continue to return to his archival pieces today.