The World of Assouline
How a luxury book publisher has thrived in an anemic market.
Being purveyors of savoir vivre can be distinctly exhausting. The couple admits that the concept of downtime is foreign to them. “If we do nothing, it’s like we’re going to die,” Prosper says. They often spend weekends at the office, though to be fair, the space is more beautifully adorned than most private living rooms. Its decor emulates that of their art- and book-filled homes in New York City and in Paris, “where we have the most beautiful apartment in the world,” Prosper says. “I miss it every morning when I wake up elsewhere.”
Much of their travel involves putting down business roots in the world’s capitals; Assouline has boutiques and outposts from Las Vegas to Istanbul to Dubai. Additional store openings are planned for 2012, including a boutique in São Paulo, Brazil, and an impressive 3,000-square-foot flagship in Seoul. “After Seoul, we’ll open in Taiwan and the Philippines,” Prosper says. His espresso cup is empty; he leans across the table to press a fresh cup. “And after that, China and Japan. The next few years are going to be very, very Asian.”
Assouline’s readers have been living vicariously through its globe-trotting owners for years, and Prosper and Martine eventually realized the Assouline world had significant currency beyond the pages of its books. Over the last few years, the publishing house has been quietly building itself into a luxury brand, with offerings ranging from gift items and stationery to ambitious design services.
The marketing of Assouline-as-lifestyle largely began in the publishing house’s first boutique on Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, conceived in 2005 as a contemporary library. Prosper created a series of products to surround the books for a certain mise-en-scène: Assouline aromatic candles, handcrafted bookcases, special-edition Goyard travel trunks jointly designed with Prosper to “capture the nostalgia of traveling with books.”
Encouraged by the success of the venture, Prosper expanded the initiative in 2008, filling Assouline’s then-new Plaza Hotel–based Manhattan boutique with those products; he also layered in an array of vintage books and personally scouted objets d’art and antiques. (The shop at The Plaza now offers custom bookbinding services.) The brand’s devotees began to perceive Prosper as an interiors visionary as well as a gifted publisher. Requests started pouring in for his design services for projects both modest and grand. “Someone in Texas wants me to design them lamps,” Prosper says.
“Someone else calls to ask me to scout a vintage object for them. Now we have someone in Dubai who wants us to find a complete collection of rare books.” He recently created the Library and Culture Lounge at the new St. Regis Hotel in Florence. “We wanted something quite different from a traditional library, and Prosper came to mind immediately,” says Paul James, global brand leader at St. Regis Hotels & Resorts. “He has an innate understanding about creating intimate spaces where people want to interact, introspect or be inspired.” Prosper also created spaces for the Caledonia luxury condominium tower and the downtown Gehry Building, both in Manhattan; the Clarendon luxury residential building in Boston; and the Century luxury residences in Los Angeles. Late 2012 will witness the launch of Assouline Home, which will retail Assouline products and design services through select Assouline boutiques and flagships. Prosper will continue to design the items, and customers will be able to commission elaborate custom library design projects, which he will personally oversee.
Neiman Marcus is currently previewing the endeavor in its holiday “Fantasy Gifts” catalogue, in which the luxury retailer offers a Prosper-designed custom library. The space “could be on a yacht or a second home or a city apartment,” Prosper explains; he will mastermind everything from “the prints to the carpets to the canapés.” A selection of Assouline titles and vintage books tailored to the client’s interests will make up the bulk of the library collection. The price tag: a cool $125,000. The aesthetic will, of course, mirror the Assoulines’ personal taste and will likely incorporate a palate of black, white, red, gray and brown, along with a mix of modern and traditional elements. And who could possibly object to that? A luxurious, Assouline-designed space would be the perfect backdrop for high living and impress even the most discriminating of guests, from Lee Radziwill to the tomato seller from Capri.
It may seem astonishing to see a book company expanding so rapidly in the digital age, or a thriving market for three-dimensional libraries: Countless oracles have proclaimed print products dead. Yet that prophecy only seems to steel the Assoulines’ resolve to make their enterprise’s core products more elaborate and sumptuous than ever. One of their fall releases, Gaia—which features spectacular color photographs of the earth’s surface taken by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté while in orbit in a Russian Soyuz for 11 days in 2009—retails for $7,000; it has been lovingly hand-sewn and dwells in a dignified linen box. The book is Assouline artistry at its finest.
The Assoulines say they are simply doing their part to make things feel more civilized in the often-uncivil Internet era. “The more we live in this digital world, the more we need to have references to feel that you are still part of this world,” Martine says. “With the book as an object, you have the past, the present, the memory and the creativity. People are still buying books; maybe they will just be more selective about what they buy.” And Assouline will be on hand to tempt these selective buyers with a tactile, sensory experience. Thanks to their efforts, the glamour-hungry readers will have access to this rarefied variety of savoir vivre for years to come.
Six New Assouline Books
This year, Assouline has created bigger, lusher books than ever. Among Prosper Assouline’s favorites: Gaia ($65–$7,000), which presents photographs of Earth taken by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté 220 miles above its surface; and The Impossible Collection of Cars ($650), showcasing 100 of the 20th century’s most exceptional automobiles. “The book is completely made by hand,” says Prosper. “Each image is hand-glued on the page.” Martine Assouline’s fall pick is Ballets Russes, a work celebrating the collaboration between ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, composer Igor Stravinsky, designer Leon Bakst, and artist Pablo Picasso, among others. Also of note: Fernand Léger ($650), The Impossible Collection of Fashion ($650), and Beken of Cowes: The Art of Sailing ($650, in stores spring 2012).
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