ALEX ASSOULINE: ART PUBLISHING HEIR APPARENT
“When I was six, I was drawing a lot, and my parents decided to publish me, just like that. So I basically became the youngest ‘author’ of my generation."
I meet the young publishing scion Alexandre Assouline at the front door of Deyrolle—his favourite secret place in Paris: a remarkable cabinet of curiosities a few blocks from the Musée d’Orsay. He has an unexpectedly quiet demeanour, and speaks dexterous English with a gentle French accent. We stroll down the cluttered isles of taxidermy and oddment.
The 23-year-old heir to Assouline Publishing—a global force in art, fashion, and luxury books—has lived and breathed the family business since birth, and his whole life has been sealed into the publishing mortar that bolsters the apex of culture. “When I was six, I was drawing a lot,” he tells me, “and my parents decided to publish me, just like that. So I basically became the youngest ‘author’ of my generation. It is called the Jungle Book (Le Livre de la Jungle). I remember one day that year, Karl Lagerfeld bought ten at once at Galignani in Paris.”
The Assouline family are deeply woven into the fashion world, and the acclaimed couturier Azzedine Alaïa is Alexandre’s godfather: “Once I was five and running to join my father on the other side of the street.” Assouline recounts to me, “Azzedine caught me at the second a speeding car passed. He saved my life.”
Pausing to inspect a particularly fine stuffed albino peacock, he tells me of the current state of his education: “I went to Concordia University in Montreal to learn about a new culture and country, I studied marketing, art history and then did a second degree in graphic design. I also just attended Columbia business school for an executive program in digital marketing.” Next he has his sights on an MBA.
Wearing some of his trademark suspenders, Assouline navigates the aisles with an engaged curiosity, as at home in the old world as he is in the new. When I ask about the suspenders he explains that he collects them: “I must have 34 by now, maybe more, and I wear a different one every day.”
Assouline spends much of his time in Paris, with the city boasting two Assouline boutiques, while 15 of the shopfronts scatter the globe in places as diverse as Istanbul, Seoul, Santiago, and Fifth Avenue. It’s a global business that sees him frequently in transit. Since its founding by his parents Martine and Prosper, Assouline Publishing has become France’s largest independent publisher, and they have collaborated with the who’s who of the luxury world: Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and Cartier to name but a few, with the collaborations being more than mere books, but vivid extensions of their respective creative visions.
Assouline is forging a major role for himself in the family empire: “After college, I worked there for about a year as a graphic designer and as a retail manager. Later on, after a fantastic year learning from the retail consulting industry, I was asked to come back and develop some sides of the operations.”
Assouline has taken the helm of the company’s digital operations, first launching their new retail website this year, and with his sights now on expanding the digital interactivity of luxury books, “I’m not actually planning to make the book digital like a Kindle,” Assouline explains, “but to compliment the tangible book with a digital dashboard, which I’m visualising and developing in the next six months. It will be a digital enhancement of the book, with extras like behind the scenes, and excluded pictures. Also options to have access to translations of the text in different languages.”
Assouline is optimistic about the outlook for the luxury publishing industry—a diametrically opposed view to what is seemingly the norm with publishing more generally: “a digital novel is convenient, but what we make is an object—it’s very important to have the whole experience by holding it—it’s different from a paperback novel. And I do not think that this will be a dying market.”
As a man who lives with one foot in the U.S., and the other in France, I ask what he thinks the French might take from Americans: “The enthusiasm and determination,” but he correspondingly believes that Americans could learn from the French “openness to culture and classical references.”
As we both lean over an intricate glass and timber cabinet to inspect a startlingly diverse assortment of glimmering beetles, Assouline reflects on his favorite artist, Wassily Kandinsky. “Mysterious shapes,” he comments, glancing up with a twinkle in his eye, “but there is a whole alphabet to decode it.”