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Martine and Prosper Assouline started their publishing company in a former New York cab garage. Today, their large-format coffee table books are considered the ultimate luxury in books.

January 2021, Reading Time: 5 minutes

“When we started Assouline, our goal was to celebrate luxury lifestyle and culture in the pages of unique books of the highest quality,” says Prosper Assouline, founder of Assouline Publishing. “We work with the most interesting celebrities, the most exciting artists and the best brands in the world to tell their stories.” The result? Paris-based power couple Martine and Prosper Assouline have published an entire library of beautiful coffee table books over the past 25 years, covering design, art, travel and fashion.

Luxury category B&B: Château de Cassis in a 13th-century fortress. Photo: Tess Baes

C’est chic – casual Provence style. Photo: Stefanie Vinsel

“De facto, the publishing house existed before we even decided we wanted it.”
– Martine Assouline –

Their first book, published in 1994, was dedicated to the hotel La Colombe d’Or in Vence, in the south of France, where the Assoulines had spent many happy weekends. “The hotel corresponds exactly to our vision of luxury,” Martine Assouline explains, “it’s small and has a great atmosphere. Flowers and marble are missing, but there is a lot of art.” The book was pure teamwork: she wrote, he photographed. At the time, no one thought that the publication of “La Colombe d’Or” would lead to the creation of a publishing house – the couple considered the book an individual project. Probably no one expected it to be a sales success either. There was a lot of interest in the beautiful illustrated book, and the couple had no shortage of new ideas. “We then produced a few more books in our basement office and got a little more organized in the process,” says Martine Assouline, “de facto, the publishing house existed before we even decided we wanted it.”

Elegant packaging box for the magnificent volume Versailles.
Photo: Assouline

The interior design is also focused on high quality.
Photo: Assouline

Among Assouline’s early successes was a phone call from Lee Radziwill, sister of Jackie Kennedy and stylish jetsetter. “When my assistant told me who was on the line, I thought it was a joke, but it was really her. She wanted to meet me for lunch to talk about a book project,” Martine Assouline recalls. Other publishers would have given a lot to be allowed to publish Lee Radziwill’s biography. But Ms. Radziwill had chosen with a sure instinct the publisher that best suited her and her glamorous lifestyle. At the time, the publishing house was still in Paris, and to this day Prosper, who was born in Morocco, and Martine, who grew up in South Africa and South America, still cherish their French homeland. Nevertheless, about 20 years ago they decided to move to New York with their publishing house. They found an old garage in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, which in those years was still far from the chic art mecca with the High Line and expensive boutiques. At the time, the west side of lower Manhattan had only dreary industrial warehouses and great views of the Hudson to offer – but that’s exactly what appealed to the Assoulines.

“We like things that are rare and valuable.”
– Prosper Assouline –

Their publishing house grew, and with it their reputation. Hundreds of artists, chefs and couturiers wanted to work with them. Among the lucky ones who made it are designers like Azzedine Alaia and Diane von Fürstenberg, restaurateurs like Alain Ducasse and photographers like Peter Lindbergh. But Assouline also has books on the history of Coca-Cola and Russian ballet, on Rajasthan, Capri and the French Riviera, on Chanel, Shaker furniture and the hidden chic of the Ottomans. But beware: these are not books that fit in any shopping bag, but large, thick and usually really heavy tomes, hand-printed, richly illustrated and often printed in limited editions. That costs. It’s true that you can get one or the other title for as little as 50 euros, and many are around 200 euros. But the Special Editions play in a different price league: a volume on the master perfumer Serge Lutens costs 350 euros, one on Tiffany’s window dressings around 820 euros, and an opulent work on Venice’s synagogues is priced at 3200 euros. “We like things that are rare and valuable,” explains Prosper Assouline, “it’s not about the price, but about the enrichment they bring to our lives.” Recent publications include the wonderful illustrated book “Provence Glory” with a text by Paris star journalist François Simon, a lavishly illustrated Chanel trilogy, and the special edition “Versailles” limited to 100 editions and bound in golden velvet at the fabulous price of 4500 euros.

Kuriositätenkabinett in Londons Maison Assouline. Foto: Andy Barnham

Cabinet of curiosities in London’s Maison Assouline.
Photo: Andy Barnham

To provide a fitting setting for all these magnificent volumes, the Assouline flagship store was opened in 2014 in a former bank building in London’s Piccadilly that was built in 1922. In the grandiose Maison Assouline, not only the latest volumes and rare special editions can be found, but also leather book bags, headphones by Master Dynamic or hand-painted porcelain. At Swans Bar, you can have breakfast, lunch or enjoy a traditional afternoon tea; and in the evening, there are cocktails and champagne. “Our flagship in Picadilly is a concept store for culture,” says Prosper Assouline, “we see it as an extension of our private home and a civilized counterpoint to the increasingly digital world.”

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