Alex Assouline on Bringing the fashion book industry into the digital age

Alex Assouline, 29, grew up watching parents Prosper and Martine make their publishing house the benchmark for luxury fashion and lifestyle books, telling the story of everything from the house of Chanel to Coca-Cola via 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 can pay off. In their new role as Chief Operating Officer, Brand and Strategy, Assouline’s next generation is tasked with bringing their family business into the digital age and cultivating a new generation of customers.

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During his first six years with the brand, founded in 1994 and arriving in New York in 1999, he has already made an impression by introducing a design service for private libraries. Other product design collaborations are also in the works, and possibly NFTs, he said, discussing his plans during a Zoom interview from Paris.

But no digital versions of the books, because Assouline considers her beautifully illustrated tomes to be luxuries as valuable as the coffee tables they sit on.

In addition to wholesale to boutiques and e-tailers, Assouline has 12 stores, including Maison Assouline and Swans Bar in London and The Plaza hotel bookstore in New York, as well as dozens of corners of brand in cultural venues around the world, from the St. Joseph’s Arts Society in San Francisco to the El Palacio de Hierro department store in Mexico City.

The most recent is a pop-up at the new Samaritaine in Paris, which sits in the center of the ground floor, surrounded by Dior, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent and Gucci boutiques. “It’s a good company,” he said.

Assouline produces more than 100 titles per year by authors initiated on the themes of travel (“Gstaad Glam” was written by restaurateur Geoffrey Moore, son of actor Roger Moore); cities and countries (“Dubai Wonder” ships on February 9); art, design and photography (“Art Deco Style” is new); “impossible” collections of yachts, watches and more.

It’s also an instrument for luxury fashion and jewelry brands to celebrate and carry on their heritage, even as they race to conquer the metaverse.

Coming in April, “Louis Vuitton Manufactures” offers another look at the luxury house by honoring its craftsmen. Released Feb. 14, “Dior by John Galliano” chronicles the designer’s collections in the ’90s and early 2000s, including — and incredibly — without mentioning his dismissal and disgrace after making racist and anti-Semitic remarks.

The cover of “Dior John Galliano 1997-2011″  edited by Assouline.  - Credit: Courtesy of Assouline

The cover of “Dior John Galliano 1997-2011” published by Assouline. – Credit: Courtesy of Assouline

Courtesy of Assouline

This is not surprising given that 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 book marks. (“Dior by John Galliano” is the latest in a series Dior and Assouline are doing on the house’s couturiers, and the 14th book the publisher has done with the house.)

“We regularly work with brands that understand the impact [a book] can have as a gift for their customers or something that can live in their own space as part of their brand image,” Assouline said. “We are very excited about this book as we have been working on it for three and a half years with Andrew Bolton and Dior,” he said, noting that the first printing will be limited to 5,000 copies.

Assouline at La Samaritaine in Paris.  - Credit: Courtesy

Assouline at La Samaritaine in Paris. – Credit: Courtesy

Courtesy

What has been particularly successful for Assouline are style books with an unusual approach, he said, titled “Valentino: At the Emperor’s Table” from 2014, with an introduction by the late André Leon. Talley, for example. “It brought that aspect of table art 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 focus is always on sleek covers and lush photography, and he said, “up to 95% of the time it’s really an object.” As in, the book may not even be read. “That’s what Proper figured out a few years ago, spending our time and putting all of our effort into the packaging, creating these beautiful, vibrantly colored covers… That’s why we started the travel series because that it’s not something you see from other bands, and to have them as collections for bookshelves or a coffee table.

Armchair escapism aside, when it comes to cultivating a youthful clientele, he has his work cut out for him. A 2020 Library Journal study found that Gen Z spends less time reading than previous generations, with 28% saying they rarely read for pleasure, compared to 6% for Gen X.

“People my age really enjoy the books and the tactile experience,” Assouline said, speaking as a millennial. “But Generation Z is different… Are they our customers? Not yet. It is important to understand how to speak to this new audience. Making them understand all these references is going to be important to transmit through the books, and in other mediums on which I work and that I develop.

Adding a digital component to the physical is a priority, he said, perhaps via NFTs – “to bring that whole aspect of storytelling and belonging to our brand rather than having just a transactional aspect,” he said. They might be a natural complement to such extravagant tomes as the $4,900 edition of “Versailles: From Louis XIV to Jeff Koons.”

There may also one day be an Assouline showcase in the metaverse. “Since I was a kid playing video games, the metaverse is something I understand better,” said Assouline, who splits her time between New York and Paris, with a personal collection of 1,000 books in the mix. “Every brand in three years will need to have a digital component in the metaverse to be able to speak to another audience and present their brand as they wish.”

Designing IRL libraries is the other side of the business he is looking to grow – for private and commercial clients.

“I hire a team,” he says. “Beyond being a book curator, we want to be interior designers, bringing the rug, the sofa and the coffee table. That’s what really excites me. I started working on brand partnerships,” he said, mentioning the perfect reading chair and step stool, as well as vintage items and maybe more clothing as opportunities. (In 2021, Assouline and Zara teamed up to create a capsule collection of summer menswear inspired by travel titles “Capri Dolce Vita,” “St. Tropez Soleil,” and “Provence Glory.”)

“Every day in the company and in my job, I learn something new,” he said. “In the same day, I can work with a country, a luxury brand, a restaurant and work on a new destination. It keeps me going.

A look from Zara's collaboration with Assouline.  - Credit: Courtesy of Assouline.

A look from Zara’s collaboration with Assouline. – Credit: Courtesy of Assouline.

Courtesy of Assouline.

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