LONDON: The Maison Assouline on London’s Piccadilly is not the usual bookstore but a place to celebrate the art of collecting books and a way of life I can relate to very well.
You have their latest book collection, a selection of vintage books, a bespoke book bindery, a showroom with Assouline interiors and Antiques, a Cabinet de Curiosité and the Swans Bar where you can start the day with a breakfast or have the most delicious fois gras sandwiches and salmon toasts. The moment you step in you enter the world of Martine Assouline. I wanted to know more about this world and to talk about books with her.
IRMA: The idea of a café in a bookshop is very appealing. Can clients read through books while enjoying a coffee?
MARTINE ASSOULINE: As a courtesy, we offer to our clients the possibility to browse through our books while enjoying a drink, and we trust they will indulge themselves with moderation. Maison Assouline is our first international flagship showcasing the full Assouline experience dedicated to the passion for culture, the art of reading, luxury gifting, and bespoke bindery services. We added the Swans Bar, where one can enjoy and treat others to a continental breakfast, light dining, teatime, and cocktails to complete this experience of sophisticated lifestyle. Attention is given to the details of the menu and the service, which reflects the way Prosper and I enjoy une degustation, or savoring gourmet bites and fine wines.
IRMA: How do you sort your books on the shelves? What’s the concept behind it?
M.A.: Similar in some way to fashion: by collections, lifestyle themes, and interests.
IRMA: The books are displayed on the shelves with an open double page and they almost become pieces of art. How important is lighting for your own library at home?
M.A.: Luxury illustrated books, which we specialize in and are recognized for, aside from our distinct visual signature style, are actually pieces of art in themselves. They are also luxury objects that one may connect with emotionally and cherish while delighting friends and acquaintances, as well as embellishing interiors. Lighting within a library is key, the same way lighting enhances the sparkle of a beautiful jewelry piece.
IRMA: What is your best tip to take good care of books?
M.A.: Do not place them in direct sunlight.
IRMA: You have a lot of antique objects around the bookstore and café. Is that because of Piccadilly and its former venue, or is every Assouline store like that?
M.A.: Antiques and curiosities are part of our positioning in curating and offering access to great treasures. Maison Assouline beautifully blends art, culture, collectors’ items, and one-of-a-kind antiques and vintage objects that convey heritage, authenticity, and beauty through statement pieces.
IRMA: How are these objects related to the place and the books?
M.A.: For the same reasons. Maison Assouline was described as a three-floor temple to the art of reading and collecting, by Robb Report in February 2015.
IRMA: What is your best-selling book of all time?
M.A.: The Chanel three-book slipcase set. Over the years, it has been so successful that we had the idea to create special editions incorporating Chanel fabrics into the slipcases, such as quilted leather or tweed, similar to the brand’s famous handbags. These special and limited editions were a huge success, illustrating the interest for books being represented as an art object and luxury accessory.
Currently, one of our most popular books is Dinner with Jackson Pollock which is a wonderful edition, especially for the holiday’s period which has just started.
IRMA: Lots of your books come in slipcases. Is that a signature of Assouline?
M.A.: Yes, among others. We love to create and consider each book differently, as a unique object and luxury decor accessory. This is our expertise.
IRMA: What book are you reading at the moment?
M.A.: I am currently re-reading Les Memoires d’Hadrien by Marguerite Yourcenar. Emperor Hadrian became an icon for me since I first read this book, to the point that I purchased a marble bust of him, which now stands majestically in our Library room on the first floor of Maison Assouline.