WHILE THE REST OF THE INDUSTRY DESPERATELY TRIES TO FIND FOOTING IN A FAST-PACED DIGITALLY DRIVEN MARKET, MAISON ASSOULINE RETAINS THE GREATEST THING A BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED BOOK CAN OFFER – TIME FOR ESCAPISM.
The first luxury brand dedicated to culture, Maison Assouline began with the belief that a book artfully crafted and highly considered in its visual content can open our eyes and minds. For over two decades, guided by their passion for knowledge, culture, and travel, they have extended their vision to create all that can be desired in a chic library, including lavishly illustrated books and special editions that become unique decorative accessories.
The founders Prosper and Martine Assouline brought their vision of a luxury escape to the Dubai Mall with the unveiling of their second store – the first can be found in London’s Piccadilly Circus.
On the adjacent terrace overlooking the Dubai Fountains, we sit down with Prosper to discuss their vision for the region and how brand is not going to be swept up in the digital world.
Why did you choose to Dubai to open your new store?
For me, Dubai has something really specific. If you look at the globe, it’s the middle of the world for me, so its strategic for one. Number two, our books are couture and the region is full of couture. And number three, there are 180 different nationalities living here, so I really wanted to try to find a place here.
Talk us through the design concept.
It’s a huge space, I wanted to make it small. So when I designed it, I divided it in three parts. I wanted to make it warm with browns and reds and gold. First part is the books, then there’s a bar and then cabinets of curiosity. I wanted the terrace to be an oasis, an extension of the room. I want the customer to stay here, buy all their gifts here, we have a private room to discuss creating your own book and library. There’s nothing like that in all The Dubai Mall, we are bringing a new experience.
Can we expect any exclusive items for the region?
We are going to do a lot of books exclusive for the region. We will have limited editions that you can only find here, we have antique pieces that are one of a kind that you can also only find here. I want to make this place more and more unique.
Assouline goes beyond books, talk to us a little bit about what else customers can enjoy at the store.
Number one, you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Number two, the idea of this store is to have more cabinets of curiosity so we will do a book on Ferrari and you can buy the collectable model, we are going to do a book on the top 100 Rolex watches and we’re going to find the best vintage Rolex. This store is alive and it’s unique. We will also have a collection of jewellery in bronze made by an artist, and Gucci created a collection for Maison Assouline that you will only find here.
While many focus on the digital platforms, how is the world of Assouline adapting to keep a loyal customer base?
I love digital, but we are focusing on the book being even more beautiful, made by hand, more exceptional. The more people are going to talk to me about digital, the more my books are going to raise in quality.
What makes Assouline books so special?
It’s made by the same people by hand, and we are talking about style, we are not doing books on everything. They all have the same ingredients; beauty, education and style. We do the books like movies, it’s not just pictures with text.
What books can we find on your coffee table at the moment?
All of these books, but I also love books from the 1920’s. I love manuscripts from 18th and 19th century, I love the book on architecture from the 19th century.
Why do you think designers want to work with Assouline?
For our savoir faire. They come to us for our distribution because as we don’t distribute everywhere. The most important thing is to deliver what’s promised. We refuse 90 per cent of the books proposed because we put our name on them.
What challenges do you face?
Finding the right people to continue to work in this quality who don’t want to go to digital. I always say to my people ‘we are artisans’ we are not a factory of books. Each one has to be perfect, each letter, each font. Also, to grow organically, to control everything, to be in the right place. Now we are here, next year we will be in China, in Japan, but it has to be in the same quality.
If we were to start our Assouline collection, which books should we add to our library?
I still have a lot of emotions with my first book La Colombe d’Or. It’s a small hotel in the South of France and it was made by an artist in the beginning of the last century. They have the biggest collection of modern art today and I decided to do a book on them. I took the pictures, my wife wrote the text and it was not to create a publishing company, it was to do a book together and I still love this book. At the hotel, they still sell 1000 copies every year and nothing has changed in the book, we printed it 20 times and never changed anything.
What is your idea of a contemporary library?
A cabinet of curiosities, it can’t be just books. We wanted to design the complete library. I designed the furniture, and not because I want to be in the furniture business, but because when you have a book you need to sit, you need flowers, you need glasses for drinks. I love objects, and you can leave with a book.
Any tips on how to best look after the books?
To take time, to try to understand what a book is. When I do a book, I don’t oblige you to read the text, I want you to look at it, to understand the reason, and invite you to come back to read the text.
How do you see the publishing industry changing over the next few years?
I don’t care, I’m not interested. I do what I have to do.
What books would you love to work on?
Each time I say something, it happens. I wanted to do a book on Farah Diba (Pahlavi), the Empress of Iran, and we just did a huge book on her, it was a big success, we just reprinted the book after three weeks. Now, I want to do the most beautiful book on Dubai and the region.
What is your ultimate goal for Assouline in the new year?
To survive. To survive in this quality, I don’t want to compromise.