May 13 2011
Lucia van der Post
All the makers of fine leather purses, desirable pens, golden gewgaws and silken scarves never stop pondering on what is for them the eternal question – wherein lies true luxury?
It’s a movable feast, of course, but of one thing I’m sure, and that’s that the little corner that London’s Liberty has just devoted to Assouline’s newest venture will be for some their notion of perfect nirvana. I can see my husband cocooned there for days.
Assouline, as most readers will know, produces some of the most exquisite books on the planet. Its focus is small, for it concentrates almost exclusively on art, fashion, architecture, travel and design. It was started 17 years ago because Prosper Assouline and his wife Martine had fallen in love with the hotel La Colombe d’Or in the South of France. Almost as an act of homage to the hotel, they decided to do a book about it. Prosper did the photography, and his wife wrote the text.
“It was a coup de foudre,” says Prosper Assouline today. “We just loved the simplicity of its luxury, we loved the art that was all around, the mix between the past and the present, the shadow and the light. We put into the book our love and passion and it is written in blood.” And that’s how, in 1994, it all began.
Since then they have published more than 1,000 titles, which sell all over the world, but the Assouline Literary Lounge at Liberty (pictured) is more than just a place to buy some of these wonderful books. It’s a little haven of tranquillity, of culture, of civilisation.
It’s conceived as a library and it’s a place where the book-lover can sit and have a cup of coffee, a glass of champagne or a small snack but can also buy some of the expanded range of beautiful things, all of which are connected with the world of books. For instance, there are some wonderful book-ends, made by the workshops of the Louvre in Paris. They’re huge Modigliani-like heads, carved out of stone (£3,720 a pair).
There is a fantastic range of candles which not only have beautifully made individual containers (some in gold, some in glass) but the candles themselves capture the spirit of the library with the smell of wood, of leather, of the mix of paper old and new, of tobacco (£35 each or £60 for a set of three). There’s a beautifully simple book bag made in white leather, rather like a tote, perfect for the bookworm on the go (£335).
New products are being devised all the time. There’s a little travelling trunk, one of only four custom-made by the grand old French firm of Goyard, which holds 100 Assouline books (£14,895) and a small one made by MCM Trunk that holds 20 (£3,725).
There are fine old prints to buy, a terrific selection of vintage books – I loved the small collection about Africa in the wild old hunting days – and a revolving cast of everything connected with the library and with books. It’s more than just a place to shop. It’s a place just to browse and to be.