NEW YORK – When Ioanna Lalaounis and her three sisters enter a room, with or without their father’s beautiful jewelry, the well-educated and charming women turn heads, but in their youth their clothes were singed and fingers burned as they toiled on the benches of the family businesses workshops.
They would not have had it any other way, and today the trained goldsmiths revel in the role each plays in the perpetuation of the legacy and mission of their father, renowned jeweler Ilias Lalaounis.
June 29 Ioanna was featured speaker at a cultural event hosted by Hellenic American Women’s Council (HAWC) and Hellenic Professional Women (HPW) where she presented Putting Greek Jewelry on the World Map: Ilias Lalaounis and the Revival of the Classical Tradition in the auditorium of the law form Hughes, Hubbard and Reed in Manhattan.
The lecture, which included videos that told the history of Ilias Lalaounis and the firm he founded, depicted how the jewelry was created was part of HPW’s Inspiring Women lecture series.
Eva Poniros, who coordinated the event, introduced Ioanna Lalaounis, but she could not avoid touching upon the latest turns in the Greek crisis which troubled the minds of many of the guests. She emphasized, however that Greeks have endured many difficult moments “so while we are sad, we are not without hope that we will overcome this most recent setback.”
Ioanna, Lalaounis is Director of the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum. She spoke with reverence and pride about her successful parent, but it was clear all the children still feel both his love and his inspiration, and that they had fun growing up.
She offered detailed descriptions and back stories for many of Ilias’ collections that wowed those who wore and bought them, from Jackie and Aristotle Onassis to professional athletes to movie and singing stars.
The arresting images on the video screens of “were inspired by the designs and techniques of the ancient Greeks,” said Poniros, who recently visited the museum that was founded by Ilias Lalaounis in 1993 as the first jewelry museum in Greece. It is located in his original workshop – so the 4,000 pieces from over 50 collections designed reside in the home where they wer born.
Ioanna began by warmly thanking her guests and admitting that she too has endured some sleepless nights worrying about her homeland, but she is strengthened by the fact that “my work is not only to continue the Lalaounis heritage but also the legacy of Greek culture around the world.”
She noted that for 4000 years jewelry has been an important part of Greek tradition, and then said to the guests “all of you here tonight are also keepers of Hellenism, keepers of our traditions and culture, and we should convey that to our children today.”
With deep pride she said that is also a function of the museum, but she was also delighted to tell the guest about how after being initially inspired by ancient Greek archaeological finds, and by Byzantine art and images, her father also created jewelry and art inspired by other world cultures, from the Amerindians to the Japanese.
He was especially fascinated by the interaction, through art and commerce, between neighboring cultures, especially those, like the Greek and the Persian, which also clashed on the battlefield.
Some of Ilias Lalaounis’ work constitutes blends of the art or techniques of two cultures, but he also received inspiration from the science and technology of his time.
One striking piece was a necklace that traced out the path to the moon and back of the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
Symbols spoke powerfully to him, and everything was a symbol.
After viewing only a few images and hearing their descriptions, the guests grasped the uniqueness of a man who was more than a gifted artist, or a successful entrepreneur. There is a profundity and humanity to Ilias Lalaounis’ interaction with the world, its people and its artifacts.
He even played the role of resurrection man. When the so-called treasure of Priam found by Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy – he incorrectly identified Homer’s Troy with the wrong archaeological level – disappeared just after Hitler’s rule, Ilias Lalaounis’ reproductions from photographs were all that humanity could touch of that legendary time and place until their rediscovery in the USSR in 1993.
Ilias Lalaounis’ legacy includes the jewelers he trained and the businesses they established all over the world, but Ioanna could not help but wonder about a less tangible but still real contribution.
Early in his career some people were outraged by Ilias Lalaounis’ designs and creations – she noted with glee that as her father’s work became renowned, some of his Greek critics could not avoid buying them – as being too different.
Their attitude reflected a general lack of appreciation in Greece for the Avant garde. That has changed, and Ioanna believes her father’s work played a role.
There are Lalaounis stores throughout Greece, and in New York, London, and Paris. The website contains many photos of its jewelry and art. www.lalaounis-jewelrymuseum.gr/en/
Dora Hancock, one of the founders of HAWC, traveled from Washington, DC with a number of Board members, and she was joined by others from New York.
HAWC’s mission is “to identify and harness the tremendous talents of Hellenic American Women. HAWC encourages awareness of public policy issues and promotes women who wish to play leadership role,” and sponsors conferences and lectures by prominent scholars, government officials, and experts.
Maria Frantzis founded HPW in 2007 to inspire and support the advancement of Greek-American women at all professional levels and to provide career development and mentorship.
Hancock presented her his HAWC’s signature scarf, and HPW president Valia Glytsis gave her a bouquet of flowers. Glytsis invited the guests to HPW’s “Finding Your Compass Career Boot Camp” on October 17.
Lalaounis offered special thanks to the leader of the two groups for the invitation and to George A. Tsougarakis, partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed for hosting the event.