A Tablecloth as Source Material

The Edith Piaf impersonator was belting out “La Vie En Rose” as an ice sculpture of the divine Greek stallion Pegasus slowly melted between two seafood towers. ‌Potted orchids dotted the draped tables alongside standing ice buckets filled with bottles of champagne, in a nod to a more mid-century kind of evening decor.

What had seemed an ordinary winter night at Orsay, the French bistro on New York’s Upper East Side, had been temporarily transformed into a scene from the city’s 1940s cabaret culture. And even if the partygoers, who included the actor Lucas Bravo, the artist Nate Lowman, the actress Tommy Dorfman, the model Ella Emhoff and the fashion designer Aurora James, appeared more interested in the present than the past, it didn’t matter. The evening’s hosts — Emily Adams Bode Aujla, the fashion designer, and Jean Prounis, the fine-jewelry designer — stood side by side, satisfied in having transported their guests to another moment in time.

The two friends — and now collaborators — were celebrating their first capsule collection, inspired by Ms. Prounis’s 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 by the bar: a tunic, a pair of trousers, a pair of boxer shorts, four different shirts and a scarf. In addition, Ms. Prounis had also crafted three pieces of fine jewelry for the occasion: a gold pin, an emerald ring 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-by-way-of-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 subsequent 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 rubbed shoulders, dining on French cuisine, cocktails and champagne over live music and other entertainment. Famous musicians and comedians including Abbott and Costello, Dean Murphy, Hildegarde, Perry Como, Desi Arnaz and Peggy Lee performed there. Edith Piaf was a frequent guest singer beginning in 1947. When Versailles shut its doors for good in 1958 — its owners were facing “some financial troubles and ready to retire,” according to Ms. Prounis — it was one of several closures that signaled the end of a particular era of New York nightlife.

“It was quite natural to do a collection together,” said the designer Emily Bode Aujla, left, who collaborated with Jean Prounis on a collection inspired by the nightclub Ms. Prounis’s family owned and operated called Versailles. “So much of our brands are about heritage and family history. This idea of preservation is very much part of what we do.”Credit…Dana Golan for The New York Times

Ms. Prounis’s obsession with her family history first took root when she was a child, after her grandfather showed her photographs and other ephemera from Versailles’s heyday, such as old menus, silverware, napkins and autographed showgirl portraits. He also introduced her to his personal library devoted to ancient Greek culture — the Prounis family is originally from Metsovo, Greece — where a young Ms. Prounis pored over images of architecture, statuary and other artifacts with an obsessive eye. Both would eventually become the inspiration for Ms. Prounis’s eponymous fine-jewelry line, which she launched in 2017, offering stately pieces made out of a buttery green 22-karat gold alloy composed only of copper, silver and gold that was commonly used in antiquity.

“My parents’ house was a museum to Versailles,” said Michael Prounis, 67, the father of Ms. Prounis. “It was a very big part of our upbringing. But my siblings and I never really engaged with my father about Versailles. Jean immediately fell in love with its history; it touched her and impacted her, obviously.”

Both brands, Bode and Prounis, possess distinct aesthetics; the former a kind of refined-but-dusty flea market chic, the latter more of a glittering ode to antiquity. And yet the two have found meaningful ways to come together, sharing a spirit that bucks at the flashiness of contemporary fashion. At Bode’s spring 2019 men’s wear presentation, the models wore Prounis rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings as accessories alongside Bode khadibowling 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 custom Bode white silk and beaded skirt, top and headpiece.

As both of the brands have grown, so has their stature 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 sported a pair of Prounis drop earrings at the MET Gala after party last year. Bode opened a New York City store in 2019 (where Kendall and Kylie Jenner were photographed shopping a few months ago) as well as a second location in Los Angeles, Calif., just last year.

An ice sculpture of the Greek stallion Pegasus at the launch of the Bode Prounis collaboration.Credit…Emily Adams Bode Aujla
A band played at the party, held at the New York restaurant Orsay.Credit…Aayushi Khowala

Ms. Prounis and Ms. Bode Aujla first met in 2016, bonding over the fact that they were both young designers launching their own brands. One evening over dinner at her West Village apartment, Ms. Prounis showed Ms. Bode Aujla her family’s pistachio green-and-white jacquard Versailles tablecloth that she had framed and hung on her wall, asking if Ms. Bode Aujla could sew it into a shirt. When Ms. Bode Aujla launched her label that same year, she debuted with one-of-a-kind pieces made with antique textiles (her singular approach to fashion has since earned her three CFDA awards). And though she often preferred to work with vintage and other found fabric, Ms. Bode Aujla was wary of altering an item of such value. Instead, she offered a better idea: Why not create a historical reproduction of the tablecloth and use it to design something entirely new?

Creating 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,” said Ms. Prounis. “We never had a proper deadline.” They eventually changed the white in the original fabric’s pattern to a darker forest green to better emphasize the jacquard weave. While they knew that adding more buttons and charms could be costly, they ultimately decided to sew them on the cuffs, collars and edges of various pieces for a gentle 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’s website and by appointment at Ms. Prounis’s New York City showroom.)

“It was quite natural to do a collection together,” said Ms. Bode Aujla. “So much of our brands are about heritage and family history. This idea of preservation is very much part of what we do. Jean and I have talked before about how heart-wrenching it is that some things from her family’s archive have been lost or certain people have been lost over the years and how those connections are gone.”

“I’m interested in the preservation of certain ancient metal-smithing techniques that have been somewhat lost to new technology,” Ms. Prounis said. “I fell in love with jewelry through these very repetitive and labor intensive ways of working; they’re meditative.”Credit…Dana Golan for The New York Times

Ms. Prounis agreed that her approach to jewelry design was weighted with a deep attachment to the past. “I’m interested in the preservation of certain ancient metal-smithing techniques that have been somewhat lost to new technology. I fell in love with jewelry through these very repetitive and labor intensive ways of working; they’re meditative. I may no longer be on the bench every day, but it’s that approach to making a piece that still guides me.”

Still, during the launch party, the designer was already looking ahead. “Even if this was just for a few hours, it was special to recreate this moment for me,” Ms. Prounis reflected. “Though I’m already wondering: Should we do this every year as a holiday party?”

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