Alex Assouline, 29, grew up watching parents Prosper and Martine turn their publishing house into the gold standard for luxury fashion and lifestyle books, chronicling the history of everything from the house of Chanel to Coca-Cola to the Carlyle Hotel.
He also grew up playing video games – more than his parents probably would have liked, he admits. Well, now that screen time may be paying off. In his new role as chief of operations, brand and strategy, the next-gen Assouline is being charged with bringing his family business into the digital age and cultivating a new generation of customers.
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In his first six years at the brand, which was founded in 1994 and arrived in New York in 1999, he has already made a mark on the business by introducing a service to design private libraries. More product design collaborations are also in the works, and NFTs perhaps, he said, discussing his plans during a Zoom interview from Paris.
But no digital versions of books, because Assouline considers its beautifully illustrated tomes luxury objects as precious as the coffee tables they sit on.
In addition to wholesaling to boutiques and e-tailers, Assouline has 12 stores, including the Assouline maison and Swans Bar in London and the book shop at The Plaza hotel in New York, as well as dozens of branded corners at cultural hot spots worldwide, from St. Joseph’s Arts Society in San Francisco to El Palacio de Hierro department store in Mexico City.
The most recent is a pop-up at the new La Samaritaine in Paris, which sits in the center of the ground floor, surrounded by Dior, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent and Gucci boutiques. “It’s good company,” he said.
Assouline produces more than 100 titles a year by insider authors on the topics of travel (“Gstaad Glam” was written by restaurateur Geoffrey Moore, actor Roger Moore’s son); cities and countries (“Dubai Wonder” ships Feb. 9); art, design and photography (“Art Deco Style” is new); “Impossible” collections of yachts, watches and more.
It is also an instrument for luxury fashion and jewelry brands to celebrate and perpetuate their heritage, even as they race to conquer the metaverse.
Coming in April, “Louis Vuitton Manufactures” offers a different angle on the luxury house by spotlighting its artisans. Out Feb. 14, “Dior by John Galliano” chronicles the designer’s collections in the ’90s and early 2000s, notably – and incredibly – making no mention of his firing and fall from grace after making racially insensitive and anti-Semitic remarks.
Courtesy of Assouline
That’s no surprise considering LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton – which owns Dior, Vuitton, Givenchy and La Samaritaine, to name a few – is a minority investor in Assouline, which often partners with brands on books. (“Dior by John Galliano” is the latest in a series Dior and Assouline are doing on couturiers at the house, and the 14th book the publisher has done with the house.)
“We work regularly with brands who understand the impact [a book] can have as a gift for their clients or something that can live in their own space as part of their branding, ”said Assouline. “We are very excited about this book because we’ve been working on it for three-and-a-half years with Andrew Bolton and Dior,” he said, noting that the first print run will be limited to 5,000.
What’s been particularly successful for Assouline are style books with an unusual take, he said, naming 2014’s “Valentino: At the Emperor’s Table,” with an introduction by the late André Leon Talley, as an example. “It brought that aspect of art de la table and cooking and lifestyle through Valentino, who is a fashion icon, “he said, adding:” We’re working on a few like that in the next few months. “
The emphasis is always on stylish covers and lush photography, and he said, “as much as 95 percent of the time, it’s really an object.” As in, the book may not even be read. “That’s what Proper understood a few years ago, to spend our time and invest all of our efforts on the packaging, creating those beautiful covers in vibrant colors … That’s why we started the travel series because this is not something you see from other groups, and to have them as collections for shelves or a coffee table. “
Armchair escapism aside, when it comes to cultivating young customers, he has his work cut out for him. A 2020 Library Journal study found that Gen Z makes less time for reading than previous generations, with 28 percent saying they rarely read for pleasure, compared to 6 percent for Gen X.
“People my age, they really appreciate books, and the tactile experience,” Assouline said, speaking as a Millennial. “But Gen Z is different… Are they our customer? Not yet. It’s important to understand how to speak to that new audience. To make them understand all these references is going to be important to convey through books, and in other mediums I am working on and developing. “
Adding a digital component to the physical is top of mind, he said, perhaps through NFTs – “to bring that whole aspect of storytelling, and belonging to our brand rather than just having a transactional aspect,” he said. They could be a natural add-on for such over-the-top tomes as the $ 4,900 edition of “Versailles: From Louis XIV to Jeff Koons.”
There could also be an Assouline storefront in the metaverse one day. “Since I was a kid who played video games, the metaverse is something I understand more,” said Assouline, who splits his time between New York and Paris, with a personal collection of 1,000 books in the mix. “Every brand three years from now will need to have a digital component in the metaverse to be able to speak to another audience and portray their brand the way they want.”
Designing IRL libraries is the another aspect of the business he’s looking to expand – for private and commercial clients.
“I’m hiring a team,” he said. “Beyond just being a book curator, we want to be interior designers, to bring the carpet, couch and coffee table. That’s what really excites me. I’ve started working on brand partnerships, ”he said, mentioning the perfect reading chair and step stool, as well as vintage objects and perhaps more apparel as opportunities. (In 2021, Assouline and Zara partnered on a summer men’s wear capsule collection inspired by the travel titles “Capri Dolce Vita,” “St. Tropez Soleil” and “Provence Glory.”)
“Every day in the company and my work, I learn something new,” he said. “In the same day, I can be working with a country, a luxury brand, a restaurant and working on a new destination. It gets me going. “
Courtesy of Assouline.
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