Design Daily: Alex & Lee Jewelry 2012-2013Author:Sarah Virginia White
It’s hard to miss Lee Brooks in a crowd. He’s the man in the elegant caftan, focusing intently on his conversation and standing ever so slightly apart from the swirl and twirl of the crowd that came to admire his stunning handcrafted jewelry. What’s as readily visible as the man himself is his passion for creating beauty from ordinary objects.
Brooks and his former partner, Alex Mate (now deceased), combed the beaches of Fire Island one summer back in 1970, weaving macramé necklaces from the collection of shells, feathers and flotsam they gathered along the shore. Gwen Mazer, legendary accessories editor for Harper’s Bazaar, spotted them and commissioned pieces for her new boutique—and Alex & Lee was born.
Nowadays, Brooks designs with his new artistic and romantic partner, Greg Franke, from their home and studio in Sea Ranch. Together, they weave semiprecious stones, fossils, minerals, bones and cord into otherworldly designs. The 2012 – 2013 collection features necklaces woven into impeccably controlled and luxurious designs. Franke hand–dyes and knots the cord in the style of French trimmings, an art form called passementerie. I’m struck by the incredible restraint and technique applied to each construction—from a riot of colorful elements arises a sophisticated platform for large-scale protrusions in the form of feathers and jawbones.
While speaking to Brooks about working in his studio, I wonder aloud whether he ever worries about his numerous specimen trays collapsing on him. (My mother, who collects everything from Neolithic jade to mummified lizards discovered on the heating grate, calls her love for gathering specimens horror vacui, a Latin term meaning “fear of the void.” It’s a Medieval art concept that translates to filling an entire surface with detail, and she fully expects to one day end up in a mausoleum of her own curation if it ever collapses.) Brooks has a ready answer, telling me that the disarray becomes purposeful by aligning items in his view for serendipitous placement into new designs.
Brooks also has a visionary mantra that guides him during the seeming disorder of the creative process. “It was during an acid flash,” he says. “I was looking at the flickering light of a candle flame reflected on me ceiling, and I saw the mouth of God. It opened, and it said ‘Find peace in the chaos.’ I’ve lived by that mantra ever since.”
You can find Alex & Lee designs at Cavalier by Jay Jeffers in San Francisco. Mark your calendar for the trunk show, where more than 150 new and heritage items from the brand will be on display (accompanied by champagne) October 25–26, 11 am – 6 pm.
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