The Edith Piaf impersonator sang “La Vie En Rose” as an ice sculpture of the divine Greek stallion Pegasus slowly melted between two seafood towers. Orchids in pots were scattered on the draped tables next to standing ice buckets filled with bottles of champagne, a nod to more mid-century evening decor.
What had seemed like an ordinary winter night at Orsay, the French bistro on New York’s Upper East Side, had temporarily been transformed into a scene of the city’s 1940s cabaret culture. And even though the partygoers, including actor Lucas Bravo, artist Nate Lowman, actress Tommy Dorfman, model Ella Emhoff, and fashion designer Aurora James, seemed more interested in the present than the past, it didn’t matter. The hosts of the evening – Emily Adams Bode Aujla, the fashion designer, and Jean Prounis, the fine jewelry designer – stood side by side, content to have transported their guests to another moment in time.
The two friends – and now collaborators – celebrated their first capsule collection, inspired by Ms. Prounis’ family history, which combines Ms. Bode Aujla’s unisex silhouettes with gold-plated silver buttons and charms designed by Ms. Prounis. Eight pieces hung on a rack near the bar: a tunic, trousers, boxer shorts, four different shirts and a scarf. In addition, Mrs. Prounis had also made three beautiful pieces of jewelry for the occasion: a gold pin, a ring with emerald and gold earrings.
“I’ve always wanted to find a way to go back,” said Ms. Prounis, 29, wearing a flowy silk dress from Desert Vintage, the coveted downtown Arizona retailer, and a black hat with period-appropriate netting. Beginning in 1936, her great-grandfather and his brother, Otto Prounis and Nick Prounis, were the co-owners (along with a later third partner, Arnold Rossfield) of a popular Manhattan nightclub called Versailles.
Originally located at 151 East 50th Street, Versailles was where wealthy New Yorkers, celebrities, aristocrats, showgirls and other regulars met, dining on French cuisine, cocktails and champagne with live music and other entertainment. Famous musicians and comedians including Abbott and Costello, Dean Murphy, Hildegarde, Perry Como, Desi Arnaz and Peggy Lee have performed there. Edith Piaf was a frequent guest singer from 1947 onwards. When Versailles closed its doors for good in 1958—the owners, according to Ms. Prounis, “had some financial problems and were ready to retire,” was one of several closures that signaled the end of a certain era of New York nightlife.
Mrs. Prounis’ obsession with her family history began as a child when her grandfather showed her photographs and other ephemera from Versailles’ heyday, such as old menus, cutlery, napkins, and signed portraits of showgirls. He also introduced her to his personal library devoted to ancient Greek culture – the Prounis family is originally from Metsovo, Greece – where a young Mrs. Prounis absorbed images of architecture, sculpture and other artifacts with an obsessive eye. Both would eventually become the inspiration for Ms. Prounis’ eponymous jewelry line, which she launched in 2017, featuring stately pieces made from a buttery green 22-karat gold alloy consisting only of copper, silver, and gold that was widely used in ancient times. .
“My parents’ house was a museum to Versailles,” says Michael Prounis, 67, Mrs. Prounis’ father. “It was a very big part of our upbringing. But my siblings and I never really connected with my father about Versailles. Jean immediately fell in love with its history; it touched her and clearly made an impression on her.’
Both brands, Bode and Prounis, have a distinct aesthetic; the former a kind of sophisticated but dusty flea market chic, the latter more of a shimmering ode to antiquity. And yet the two have found meaningful ways to come together, sharing a spirit committed to the flashy contemporary fashion. During Bode’s Spring 2019 menswear presentation, the models wore Prounis rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings as accessories alongside Bode Khadi bowling shirts and rugby shorts, loosely evoking the cinematic universe of Satyajit Ray. When Lorde was dressed by Ms Bode Aujla for the 2021 Met Gala, the pop star wore two pairs of Prounis earrings and several gold rings with a bespoke Bode skirt, top and beaded white silk headpiece.
As both brands have grown, so has their status with a certain class of celebrity. Justin Bieber, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Harry Styles have all worn Bode. Zoe Kravitz wore a Prounis necklace and ring in a Super Bowl commercial, while Bella Hadid wore a pair of Prounis earrings at last year’s Met Gala after party. Bode opened a store in New York City in 2019 (where Kendall and Kylie Jenner were photographed shopping a few months ago), as well as a second location in Los Angeles, California, last year.
Mrs. Prounis and Mrs. Bode Aujla first met in 2016 and bonded over the fact that they were both young designers launching their own brands. One night at a dinner party at her West Village apartment, Mrs. Prounis showed Mrs. Bode Aujla her family’s pistachio green and white damask Versailles tablecloth, asking if Mrs. Bode Aujla could sew it into a shirt. When Ms. Bode Aujla launched her label that same year, she debuted one-of-a-kind pieces made from antique textiles (her unique approach to fashion has since earned her three CFDA awards). And while she often preferred to work with vintage and other found fabrics, Ms. Bode Aujla was hesitant to alter an item of such value. Instead, she came up with a better idea: why not make a historical reproduction of the tablecloth and use it to create something completely new?
Making the collection was a process of trial and error. They were both busy running their own businesses and it was challenging to find the time. “We were more organic in our approach,” Ms. Prounis said. “We never had a good deadline.” They eventually changed the patterned white of the original fabric to a darker forest green to better highlight the jacquard weave. Although they knew adding more buttons and charms could be costly, they finally decided to sew them onto the cuffs, collars and edges of several pieces for a soft metallic effect. (The clothing, which ranges from $385 to $890, will be available on Bode’s website and at both Bode stores, while the jewelry, which ranges from $590 to $2,480, will be available on Prounis’ website and by appointment at Ms. Prounis’s New York City showroom.)
“It was very natural to do a collection together,” says Ms. Bode Aujla. “Many of our brands are about heritage and family history. This idea of conservation is a big part of what we do. Jean and I have talked before about how heartbreaking it is that some of her family’s records have been lost or certain people have been lost over the years and how those connections have disappeared.
Ms. Prounis agreed that her approach to jewelry design was accompanied by a deep attachment to the past. “I am interested in preserving certain old metal forging techniques that have been somewhat lost to new technology. I fell in love with jewelry because of these very repetitive and labor intensive ways of working; they are meditative. I may not be sitting on the couch every day anymore, but it’s that approach to making a piece that still guides me.
Nevertheless, the designer was already looking ahead during the launch party. “Even if only for a few hours, it was special to recreate this moment for me,” says Ms. Prounis. “Although I’m already wondering: should we do this every year as a holiday?”