Books and Beauty with Prosper and Martine Assouline

Prosper and Martine Assouline are arbiters of good taste. The founders of the publishing house Assouline, the Parisian couple claim to have created “the first luxury brand on culture” and have published a veritable library of beautifully crafted books dedicated to design, fashion, art and travel since the brand’s inception in 1994. Their flagship London store, Maison Assouline, combines their numerous titles with carefully curated objects, collaborating with high-end brands such as Chanel and Valentino to produce special edition books and deluxe goods. With a focus on luxury, quality and beauty in all its forms, their creations are a celebration of the physical object in an increasingly digital world.

How does Assouline set out to cultivate the beautiful?

Martine: Our objective is to understand the world through visuals that carry you to the most beautiful, inspiring and exciting places. We aim to capture the eye through colour, form, subject and the documentation of visual culture. Beauty is one of the most important things in life. I recently met with a photographer from a book we are doing on the mother and child. I said, “I think the mother’s first responsibility is to open the eyes of their child to the beauty of the world”.

What does luxury mean to you?

Prosper: Although we’re known predominantly as a publishing house, to me luxury isn’t just books – it’s hospitality, travel and experience.

Martine: Luxury was once very much focused on objects, but the concept has expanded to include time and service. People are more and more conscious about what they do with their little piece of time on earth. The fact that we are living in an increasingly digital world means that you can have exactly what you want, when you want it – so the question is, how am I going to be surprised, how am I going to excite myself, and how am I going to spend my time? Luxury strives to provide the answer to that question.

You say on your website that culture can be acquired. Can you really buy good taste?

M: Taste is very difficult to define because you can have bad taste but think it’s good! I think taste is something that you make. I don’t think you can buy it, but you can buy a piece of it and understand and define who you are in the process. Some people have a strong vision from a very young age, whereas others learn to develop this sensibility over time.

P: Taste is not just how you work, it’s how you live. This is very important.

How do you select which objects and books make it into the Assouline collection?

P: We love to create our own cabinet of curiosities, which we call the “ideal imperial library” – it could exist anywhere in the world, from Dubai to Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Everything here is completely different and that’s what we love – to understand and respect diverse cultures and mix all their elements together. The things we choose to display here are completely “us”.

Aside from your own, what’s your favourite library in the world?

P: I couldn’t possibly choose just one! We want to continue to discover, to dream and to build something completely different by combining parts of everything.

You’re in the book business – what do you think of the idea that “print is dead”?

P: The more people say that, the more our products are going to be handmade, sophisticated, interesting, tactile and expensive.

M: We took this road deliberately when we understood that the digital world was going to be the future. We put even more care and detail into everything and made our products even more luxurious. We think that physical objects are an important part of life. A few months ago we met Ian Rogers, the Chief Digital Officer at LVMH and the creator of Apple Music. He said, “I just love your books. I’m a fan.” He wasn’t reading a tablet, he was reading one of our books. The digital cannot exist without having a tangible product as its counterpoint.

What was your favourite book as a child?

M: I read a lot when I was very young – there was a series in France called Le Biblioteque Rose (The Pink Library) about the Countess of Ségur that was a particular favourite of mine.

P: For me it was Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt [a European graphic novel depicting the adventures of an ironic sailor].

Is there a book that you return to again and again?

M: Les Mémoires d’Hadrien by Marguerite Yourcenar, about the life and death of the Roman Emperor. It’s the reason we have a big sculpture in our London store.

Which writer would you most like to invite for dinner?

M: I would invite all the people I love who have died – both famous and people I knew.

Aside from your hometown of Paris, you’re largely based in London or New York. Where do you feel most at home?

P: I love London when I’m in London, and I love New York when I’m in New York. When I’m in London, I’m in love – I feel like a Londoner. When I’m in New York, I’m a fighter. London is more civilised, whereas New York is a jungle.

M: I’d pick New York, because I love working there. After more than 10 years, it’s become my city – even more so than Paris.

What’s your go-to travel destination?

P: We always have the same answer: La Colombe d’Or in Saint Paul de Vence, Capri and Miami.

M: And Seville!

Finally, what’s your SUITCASE?

M: I never travel without music, a book and a notebook.

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