Whether gothic or romantic, such creations were an integral part of McQueen’s catwalk shows, which struck a lasting visual chord in a pre-Instagram era, and which reflected a surge of creativity in fashion and art at the time in London.
“The key thing is that Shaun’s jewelry created a really important part of the looks that Alexander McQueen was famous for,” said Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, adding that Mr. McQueen was “the most brilliant designer of his generation.”
The sale, which is being held in association with Kerry Taylor Auctions, a London-based vintage fashion house, is unusual in its offering of a living jeweler’s archive, particularly one focused on pieces that were not created for sale but for a moment on the runway.
“They’re not really jewelry but they’re not really fashion but they’re not really contemporary art, and yet they’re all three,” said Frank Everett, senior vice president and sales director of the Sotheby’s Luxury Division in New York. “It’s truly unique property.”
Credit Chris Moore
The selections range from everyday-wearable cuffs and earrings to over-the-top constructions that are hard to imagine anywhere but on the runway or behind museum glass, such as an elaborate neckpiece constructed of pheasant claws and hundreds of Tahitian pearls ($40,000 to $60,000).
Ms. Steele said her institution would be among the bidders, although she speculated the competition might include as many art museums as it does fashion institutions and private collectors.
Describing Mr. McQueen’s work as being preoccupied with the point “where beauty and terror intersect,” the same territory as British artists like Damien Hirst and Jake and Dinos Chapman, the pieces that Mr. Leane created for him “are visually so powerful,” she said.
Mr. Leane and Mr. McQueen were friends first and collaborators second. They met in 1992, after both spent their formative years in what Mr. Leane described as the “dark and Dickensian workshops” of the deeply traditional worlds of London craftsmanship. Mr. Leane learned his goldsmithing skills during a seven-year apprenticeship in Hatton Garden while Mr. McQueen learned the cutting skills for which he would become famous at a Savile Row tailor.
When Mr. McQueen, known to his friends by his first name, Lee, by then a graduate of Central St. Martins, approached Mr. Leane to make jewelry for a 1995 catwalk show, at first the jeweler resisted. Conditioned by his training to the concept of jewelry being restricted to diamonds and gold, he could not imagine how the two men could afford the materials.
“Lee said, ‘No, Shaun, you are a skilled craftsman. If you just apply your skills to any medium, you can create the beautiful,’ ” Mr. Leane said.
The show was Highland Rape, whose bumster skirts and ripped dresses heralded Mr. McQueen’s arrival on the fashion scene. At the designer’s request, Mr. Leane made Victorian-style silver fob chains. Believing they were to be paired with watches, he recalled being shocked on the night of the show to see them “draped around the body in places I wouldn’t have even thought of,” he said. “When Lee did that, it opened up the idea that there were no limits here.”
More shows followed, with Mr. Leane using the workshop of his Hatton Garden employer. “By day I was making diamond tiaras, by night I was making skeleton corsets,” said Mr. Leane, adding that he was nicknamed the “Jekyll and Hyde of jewelry” by his peers.
Describing Mr. McQueen as a conductor who pulled together work from many disciplines (including millinery by Philip Treacy), Mr. Leane said that Mr. McQueen’s confidence in other people’s talents pushed their own creativity to higher levels. “To work with Lee, he was such a visionary, there were no limits or boundaries,” he said. “We wanted to create the beautiful but we also wanted to create the new.”
Some pieces in the auction such as the skeleton corset ($250,00 to $300,000), which Mr. Leane first carved in wax before learning how to work in aluminum, were part of the “Savage Beauty” exhibitions. But one piece has not been seen since its catwalk debut: a headdress of silver roses and strings of blood-red garnets, created for Joan of Arc in the fall 1998 show. Mr. Leane discovered it in his cellar after the show at the Victoria and Albert had closed.
Credit Robert Fairer
Another lot represents a collaboration of not two but three friends. The white gold and diamond Contra Mundum, or Against the World, evening glove ($300,000 to $400,000) was the result of a conversation between Mr. Leane, Mr. McQueen and Daphne Guinness, the fashion muse and now musician, who requested a piece of armor to protect herself.
Seven painstaking years in the making, “it’s representative of a great friendship and a great collaboration,” said Ms. Guinness, who owns the glove jointly with Mr. Leane.
Letting it go, she said, was sad but also cathartic. Mr. McQueen’s suicide in 2010, and that of the fashion force Isabella Blow in 2007, had been a heavy blow to her and all of their friends, she said, and it was time to move forward.
Mr. Leane agreed. When asked what he will do with the auction proceeds, he said, “I will use it to create the new.”
The multidisciplinary approach he learned from Mr. McQueen has resulted in his latest project. What he described as the largest public sculpture by a British jeweler is to be unveiled in March as part of a luxury development in the Kensington section of London.
Mr. Leane said he hoped his work would inspire the next generation of designers, just as he was once inspired by antique jewels at the Victoria and Albert, and by the Sotheby’s catalogs he used to collect.
As for the creations for Mr. McQueen in the coming auction, he said, “The pieces inspired and provoked, and they need to go and do the job they were created to do rather being put in a box.”