HOME SWEET ASSOULINE: Assouline is broadening the brand beyond books with the opening this week of Maison Assouline on Piccadilly, a 5,400-square-foot London flagship with an exhibition space, bookbinder, café serving Spanish ham and French foie gras, and shop floors filled with merchandise ranging from leather goods to antiques to new furniture. Oh, and there are books, too.
“This is a candy store for culture,” said Prosper Assouline, who founded the publishing house with his wife Martine in 1994. “We have 20 stores, and now it’s like, ‘Hello! We have something else to say.’ A lot of what is in the maison is what we have at home. It’s our music, what we eat. It’s an extension of who we are,” he declared during a walk-through of the historic building at 196A Piccadilly, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens with mile-high ceilings, dark parquet floors and swanky wood-paneled walls.
The vast ground floor houses a café that will serve “a few beautiful dishes,” according to Assouline, as well as coffee, tea, wine and a series of oxygen cocktails, cooked up by Dr. Nadia Volf, one of Assouline’s authors. One wall is covered top to bottom with 4,500 books, while another is home to the Ultimate Collection of coffee-table tomes and another showcases the publisher’s new collection of leather goods, carrier bags embossed with Assouline’s signature motif of letters and numbers, as well as wallets, passport covers and portfolios.
A full-time bookbinder will work from a corner near the bar, creating, customizing and repairing works, while the gallery overlooking the ground-floor space has been earmarked for exhibitions. The first will be dedicated to the scrapbooks of Cecil Beaton. On Tuesday night, Assouline will mark the opening with Valentino Garavani signing his new book, “Valentino: At the Emperor’s Table,” and the launch of a book on the history of Krug.
Upstairs, there are two rooms that Assouline calls “cabinets of curiosities” filled with antiques — African masks, a vintage typewriter, a 17th-century gardening book, and catalogue raisonné of Rembrandt’s works. A larger room nearby houses antiques such as a marble bust of the emperor Hadrian as well as new furniture, which customers can order.
The plan is to open a second maison, in Manhattan, but Assouline has promised his wife that won’t happen right away. “I need a nap before New York,” said Martine during the walk-through. She added that the maison concept had been in the works for a while, and the London opening came first because of the gorgeous space. “We didn’t need something huge, but something with soul,” said Martine. “We saw this building — and it was love at first sight.”