• What a Merry Go Round
  • Autumn/Winter 2001
  • Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Tahitian pearls and pheasant claws

This necklace, made for a collection that had a strong gothic undercurrent, juxtaposes beauty and the grotesque with its intriguing combination of organic materials – expensive Tahitian pearls and lacquered pheasant claws.

It was an interesting departure for Leane, who trained as a fine jeweller and goldsmith and typically rendered designs in precious metals and stones. McQueen, however, frequently used provocative materials in his designs as a mechanism through which to challenge conventions. He once said, ‘I think there is beauty in everything. What “normal” people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it’.

In this instance, the long strands of pearls echo the drapery of the 1920s flapper-style gowns in the collection, while the inclusion of pheasant claws allude to a darker aesthetic. Although on the surface the claws appear hard and vulgar, from a distance they resemble fur. McQueen was also interested in the concept of memento mori, and references to this genre of objects, including mourning jewellery, skulls and jackets lined with human hair, are present in many of his collections. For the presentation of his MA graduate collection, Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims (1992), McQueen borrowed Simon Costin’s ‘Memento Mori’ necklace (1986). It also included bird claws – as well as three rabbit skulls inset with hematite eyes – and provides a notable precedent for this piece.