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Jewelry Designers Alex & Lee on Working With Proenza Schouler: "Here Are Some Colors, Do Your Magic"

Photos courtesy of Alex & Lee
Photos courtesy of Alex & Lee

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With the resort 2012 collections now unveiled, we're still drooling over some of the highlights—The Row’s multi-layered black and white stripes, 10 Crosby Derek Lam’s pajamas-as-outerwear-ensembles, and Chloe Sevigny for Opening Ceremony’s mallrat-inspired kick off collection. But it was the accessories, namely the jewelry that complimented Proenza Schouler’s Baja jackets and late 1960’s San Francisco-inspired collection that we can't get out of our heads.

The guys in charge of these bold creations head up Alex & Lee, a cult-loved design temple where each piece is hand made at Sea Ranch, the company's homebase on the Sonoma Coast of California. After the tragic death of Alex Mate, Greg Frankel stepped in and now works alongside Lee Brooks to create their in-your-face creations. Racked's own Yale Breslin chatted with the design duo about their collaboration with Proenza Schouler and why Alex & Lee could only have come out of SF.

Racked:How did the collaboration with Proenza Schouler come about?

Alex & Lee: It's rather a long story. It’s the mid 70’s. Alex & Lee would often shop for quirky, affordable objects at the Sausalito Flea Market north of San Francisco, and one of their admirers was Doris Raymond who had a stall of vintage apparel. 35 years later, Doris purchased a large collection of Vintage Alex & Lee from an estate in San Francisco for her LA store, The Way We Wore. Lazaro & Jack of Proenza were smitten by the collection, and Doris put us all together. The finely crafted fabrics and design of Proenza fit our aesthetic perfectly. And oddly enough, we are both CFDA award winners, 30 years apart.

Racked: How do you view collaborations between brands? What was the process like?

Alex & Lee: Collaboration is an essential aspect of the creations of Alex & Lee, as is the creative process of Proenza Schouler. Our finished creations are more than the sum of their parts. We referenced elements of vintage Alex & Lee which Jack and Lazaro selected, and they said, "Here are some colors, do your magic." And abracadabra, we had a collection.

Racked: Describe the woman that you had in mind when designing the collection.

Alex & Lee: A woman who has her own style, has a spiritual side, appreciates original handcrafted creations with soul; a woman who wants to be noticed and enjoys the dialogue that art inspires and stimulates.

Racked: The materials you chose are both hard and soft, how do you decide what materials you want to use together?

Alex & Lee: Over the years we have developed a vocabulary of mixed media and found objects inspired by tribal art and the art of ancient high cultures. We discovered a treasure trove of vintage cord (passmeneterie) in Paris in the 70s, and the hand dying, wrapping and knotting of cording became a signature of Alex & Lee. The pieces evolve as we work with them. We have mountains of cord, trim, minerals, crystals, metal, and found objects, and somehow the elements find their perfect marriage, a surprisingly seamless union of the unexpected. Offerings for the temple of the body and objects of the ancient future.

Racked: You currently live in Sea Ranch, CA, a gorgeous somewhat untouched community on the Northern CA coast. How has living there and Northern CA influenced the design of Alex & Lee?

Alex & Lee: Alex & Lee could only come out of San Francisco—Gay, Hippie, high drag artists inspired by nature and ethnic art—funk & flash. Living on the coast is heavenly. The open space, air and light are incredibly pure and bright, and the lack of distraction keeps us out of trouble.

Racked: What are you planning for your next presentation?

Alex & Lee: We are always creating new necklaces, belts and bracelets—each one of a kind. We will be exhibiting a new collection at the SOFA Show (Sculptural Objects and Functional Art) in Santa Fe in the beginning of August. And we are totally jazzed about our Dream Mandela Scarves—surreal collage images printed on silk which are coming out this fall.
· Alex & Lee [Official Site]