40% Off Sale Shop Now

What We Wore | Jean Prounis

Jean Prounis is a young designer who creates jewelry rich with history and the stories of family. Expect to be inspired by her commitment to her heritage, the team that has become her family, and her creativity.

 

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Jean, thank you so much for being on the podcast, especially on a holiday weekend.

 

Jean Prounis:

Of course. It's my pleasure. We're excited to work with Capitol. It's really a dream come true.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Likewise. When I saw the jewelry, I had never seen it before, and it was sort of everything I'd always been looking for. It was so warm and soft. The color was so, so beautiful, and it looked like ... I have to tell you. When I was in Greece after I'd spent a semester in Italy, only thing I wanted was this coin necklace that I had in my head that, you know, didn't exist. And then I found it, and it looked so much like your work.

 

Jean Prounis:

Yeah. Those travel, you know, experiences or souvenirs, rather, that's such a, a part of inspiration for me.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Jean, where are you from?

 

Jean Prounis:

I'm from New York. And my family's been New York based since, uh, my, you know, great-grandparents came over from Greece on my dad's side. And then on my mother's side- they came over from Germany and Canada. New York is such an inspiration for me with my business, and everything's produced here. We've got deep roots. I grew up on Long Island.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Were you always interested in fashion?

 

Jean Prounis:

Yeah. I always loved self-expression through fashion, through objects, through decorating. It’s always been an outlet for me to find out who I am through what I like to collect and design.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Did you study fashion in school, or did you go to school for ...

 

Jean Prounis:

No, actually. I took high school classes at FIT on the weekends. But there came a time where, you know, I feel like a lot of kids go through this-  I switched to bio. I always loved science. But it felt like a pressure almost then to go into something non-creative, so I tried that out for really just a semester. And I chose a school that had a really strong science program and a strong art program because I always knew that was so me. So, when I went to school, and I kind of was failing chemistry, and, I was like, you know what? This is just ... this isn't working. So that summer, I took a course in ancient metalsmithing, where I was really introduced to goldsmithing, and immediately it resonated.

 

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Where did you go to school?

 

Jean Prounis:

I went to Skidmore College in Upstate New York.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Oh, nice.

 

Jean Prounis:

So I've just been-

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

How fascinating that they had that.

 

Jean Prounis:

Oh, so, no. I took that course in the city. It was a very small jewelry program, but I was lucky that they had one just in general.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And so when you went back that second sophomore year, did you go fully into art?

 

Jean Prounis:

Yeah. I immediately switched to studio art and kind of also focused in business as a minor. And I always had an entrepreneurial side that, you know, came from my parents. They were both entrepreneurs. I'm so happy that I felt that intuitive part of me.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

What was your medium in studio art?

 

Jean Prounis:

Primarily jewelry.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Oh, so you could do it.

 

Jean Prounis:

Yeah, there was a jewelry concentration there. My bachelor's degree was in studio art, but yeah, concentration in jewelry and metals. I mean, I didn't start in gold. But brass is really difficult to work with by hand in terms of fabrication. But I was like, "I must work in brass." It's a yellow metal I've just been so drawn to yellow gold my whole entire life, so once I started working in it was just, like, a match made in heaven.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Wow. Had you always had a love for jewelry growing up?

 

Jean Prounis:

I would say jewelry, my attraction to it really came from traveling and from visiting different museums. The women in my family certainly had beautiful jewelry, but the jewelry that has inspired me for my collection, it's one charged with history and story, which they have.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Yeah.

 

Jean Prounis:

I just always was so enamored when we'd visit a different city and see the connection of, like, what might be at the British museum, and what's at the MET, or what's at the Benaki Museum in Athens.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

I love the Benaki. That's my favorite museum.

 

Jean Prounis:

Me too.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

So, I know that you have a really interesting family history.

 

Jean Prounis:

Yes. The Prounis side of the family came to New York in the early 1900s, and they came over from Greece. The Prounis family is from a small village in Greece called Metsovo in Northern Greece. It's very alpine. It has a lot of Ottoman influences. So, they came over and my great-grandfather, Otto Prounis, he worked his way up the restaurant industry. He kind of started out as a busboy. He came over at 13 years old, alone, and really worked his way. When he was older, he co-owned this Cabaret club or supper club called The Versailles, which is where I get a lot of inspiration for my branding, the stories that go behind our packaging, the brand color. Everything at The Versailles was this sage green, which is so fun because when you look at the photos, it's all black and white.

 

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And where was it located?

 

Jean Prounis:

It was in Midtown, which is where I am now. It was right across from the Waldorf Astoria. It was one of Edith Piaf's first US contracts. They actually brought her over to New York for her first American show.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Wow.

 

Jean Prounis:

Yeah, it was just like this star-studded, marvelous restaurant.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And what was it that made it such a hot spot?

 

Jean Prounis:

I think, you know, the performers they had and ... I mean, of that time too, just the glamour. It was one of those spots that was just to the nines, so people, you know, flock to that type of place.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Do you remember stories from your grandparents about it growing up?

 

Jean Prounis:

Yeah, my grandfather definitely. You know, he created such an extensive archive of all the head shots and the newspaper clippings from the club. So, growing up, he would really take the time to educate me about our family history and The Versailles. That was so important to my design process and the brand.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Any favorites stories?

 

Jean Prounis:

Well, I mean, I have this beautiful letter from my grandfather that was to my dad. He shared it with me when I was older- it listed all the performers who were there and, you know, there's over, like, 200. That, I would say, is my most cherished because I was still in middle school when they passed, so I didn't really, you know, maybe perhaps retain those stories, or perhaps I was too young to hear of them.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And then how does your family history, and sort of this legacy of entrepreneurship, how did that influence you in starting your own brand?

 

Jean Prounis:

I'd say I launched Prounis really as a vehicle to tell these stories of my love for antiquities and my family heritage. It feels like an ongoing conversation that I'm having with my grandfather to thank him for this archive that he's left me and my family. And also, yeah, it's, it's a way for me to connect with my parents to be able to have their advice on business decisions and strategy.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And so, right out of Skidmore, did you start your collection right then?

 

Jean Prounis:

Not until about a year and a half later. For a year and a half I had worked and interned, well, freelanced then for other designers. Two jewelry jobs and then I also had some odd jobs, but throughout that year and a half, I was designing for family and friends and doing special commissions. It just felt like a natural progression to really build out a collection.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And how did you know how to do that? Had you learned that at Skidmore, or did you know that from interning?

 

Jean Prounis:

Interning really was pivotal in being able to see how certain businesses operated. I wish I had you know, say a few more years under my belt of working at other businesses because I did launch the brand quite young. But we've been able to craft what works for our team now. But yeah, the internships were very helpful to see. I worked at one startup where I was the first intern, so I got to see how she organized her business, and then I also worked at a much larger corporate designer.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Yeah.

 

Jean Prounis:

So having those two experiences was really important.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

I think jewelry's so ... It seems so simple, but it seems also a little complicated in that, there's certain things you really love and prefer, but to understand how to merchandise an entire collection and how to build a collection that makes sense even if there are things that you don't wear. And to understand why that's important. Was that something innate in you, or did you have to have a team in order to understand that part of it?

 

Jean Prounis:

I think that was innate in the first couple launches I did. So, each chapter is kind of a continuation of this story we're telling through the jewelry. But as time moves on, the, my team definitely helps.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

How do you know when you introduce a new collection that it really feels like Prounis?

 

Jean Prounis:

You know I hope that sticking to my intuition of design and ... When I launched I really took the time to create a brand DNA. There’s certain stones or techniques that I set boundaries with that we use within the collection. So, everything will always have a matte finish that, you know, shines as you wear it. So, making sure that each new design fits these points.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And every time you introduce a new piece, do you literally go through each and make sure that they fit?

 

Jean Prounis:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Jean Prounis:

I mean, there's been a handful of pieces that we design and fully finish, and I'm like, you know what? No, we can't. We can't launch this. It doesn't feel like me or us.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Do you still make everything by hand?

 

Jean Prounis:

No, but I do in development. In terms of our actual collections production, we make everything in New York, and that's something I'm committed to. I love how historical the jewelry industry is here in New York, and we work with a beautiful team of artisans and, you know, most pieces touch the benches of, like, three to five different people.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

What part of the process, the creative process, is the most important to you?

 

Jean Prounis:

What comes to mind initially is the grounding process to get into the head space for creativity because as I mentioned earlier there's the creative side of the business, and then there's the selling side of the business. To enter each one, I have to really, you know, mentally prepare myself and set kind of the atmosphere. So, for inspiration and creativity, I have certain grounding practices.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Is that a practice that you learned in art school or is it something you developed on your own?

 

Jean Prounis:

It’s something I developed on my own and with help of this life coach who's really helpful. She's creative life coach. She really just helps me keep my creativity in a small business and a small growing business to get lost in, you know, the minutiae. So taking a moment, pausing, creating time to be creative is so important.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Is there anything exciting about the future of jewelry and the jewelry industry that keeps you coming back?

 

Jean Prounis:

Yeah. I mean, one thing here that's interesting that has kind of opened my mind more during the pandemic as a need to source new material, but not new, but old material that exists.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Yeah.

 

Jean Prounis:

We have clients who bring in heirloom stones. To me, it's so important to use what exists, and so I have now been trying to use that as one of those new DNA points of, like, can we find this as, a dead stock stone or a post-consumer stone? Does it exist somewhere else outside of something modern or newly mined material? So, looking towards that way with a sustainable mindset. But also, you know, often the pieces that are dead stock or post-consumer, or antique materials have a very different feel to them. They're romantic. The cuts are so much different from what we see now- it's so unique. And I think, you know, that's something I've been trying to source more in terms of stones and kind of with a future mindset for how we can keep sustainability at the core of our business.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

The fashion industry is tough. What continues to make you motivated and inspired to stay in it? It's a tough business.

 

Jean Prounis:

You know, there's so many things, but in particular it's the collectors we work with and the relationships with the retail partners we work with, and how we all kind of inspire each other with the goal of sharing, selling, and creating beautiful objects for people to carry legacy, intention and stories in. Giving someone a vehicle to be able to share, say the excitement of a first born, or a marriage. Giving people these objects is so rewarding. I love working with people in that way.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

What does success for Prounis look like for you? Is there a milestone that you'd want to reach, or a feeling that you'd like to have?

 

Jean Prounis:

I feel like we are succeeding- I love my team dearly and coming to work every day feels like success because we ... It just feels like family. So in a way, I feel like that right we are achieving success, but moving forward I just want to continue adding to our family and growing our team. That and growing our collector base and our connections with people are my goals for success.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Thank you so much, Jean.

 

Jean Prounis:

Oh, of course. Thank you. And we're so excited to have our collection at Capitol.

 

Keep in touch

Don’t worry, we won’t spam

Your cart — 0

You cart is currently empty

Login

We use cookies to provide, improve, protect and promote our services. Please visit our Privacy Policy (located in the footer of our website) to learn more. You can manage your personal preferences by clicking the Manage Cookies button ( located at the bottom right-hand corner of this windows) to enable or disable analytics, advertisements or social cookies. Manage cookies