Alexandre Assouline: A Question of Luxury

Alexandre Assouline: A Question of Luxury

Ahead of Luxury Week in Geneva, Sotheby's has partnered with Alexandre Assouline to discuss the importance of keeping ahead of the curve, and running a publishing empire at the intersection of luxury, art and style.
Ahead of Luxury Week in Geneva, Sotheby's has partnered with Alexandre Assouline to discuss the importance of keeping ahead of the curve, and running a publishing empire at the intersection of luxury, art and style.

What does Luxury mean to you? How has it changed over time?

Luxury is about a product or experience that you cannot just get anywhere. Luxury involves the highest level of respect for a craft and the understanding of quality. It creates a sense of desirability that will never be fully satisfied unless you acquire it. The change in trends and the rise of technology both influence what we desire. The information that digital media provide helps us have a better understanding of the craftsmanship that goes into the making of a product. This easily helps us identify which ones fit into the luxury sector. Some great examples include a Bottega Veneta handbag, a timepiece from Cartier, and even one of our Ultimate books at Assouline. The notion of luxury evolves as mentalities do, and now, luxury brands not only need to maintain the highest quality standards, but also the highest ethical and environmental standards.

Alex Assouline © Steve Benisty.

How would you describe your collecting philosophy/interests and what draws you to a particular object as a collector?

Collecting comes with passion and curiosity. It is about experiencing a product that you cherish forever; why it belongs to your collection is inexplicable. I started collecting cards when I was just a little boy. It evolved into me collecting silk suspenders in my early twenties as they held a sense of practicality, and I loved wearing them. Shortly after, I started with a few timepieces, vintage books, and designer chairs. I built a collection based on pieces that moved me both emotionally and intellectually— understanding their backstory and points of differentiation while linking them to a particular memory or personal experience.

"We are convinced that beauty can be found everywhere"

Books from the Ultimate Travel series.

How would you describe luxury from an Assouline brand point of view?

The books we publish have a real visual identity; they are editorially powerful and are seen as objects that bring style to all interiors. We care for the best materials and our obsession with details is obvious in our collections—our team is trained to meet these expectations. We created our company similarly to a luxury fashion brand and each collection corresponds to a different step. We start with the “Classics,” which could be considered our perfumes and we finish with the “Ultimates,” which could be our own Haute Couture, as they are mostly handmade.

Cairo Eternal by Mai Eldib, published by Assouline.

Bringing alive the history and emotions related to rarefied objects is your métier; what is the secret to making a book that conveys the beauty of collecting to the wider world? 

Beauty is key in life. We are extra sensitive to it and always looking for it. We are convinced that beauty can be found everywhere, and that it is the seed to good moral, inspiration, and open minds. As publishers, it is our duty to give that to our readers. It is the base of our work process and our philosophy in life.

In your opinion, what is the enduring appeal of a coffee table book?

Its curation at a fixed moment in time: you can go on Google, research a certain topic and have access to 1,000 images and so many stories, but the editing that goes into our books is incomparable. Of course, there is the cover design and material that both turn the book into a beautiful object, but the curation that goes into the story telling links emotion and intellect together.

Titles from the Ultimate Collection, published by Assouline.

Through Assouline’s rich list of specialist and explorative publications, what extraordinary crafts or stories have you discovered along the way? Any that stand out in particular?

Working over a hundred books a year gives me the chance to learn so much about the different subjects we cover. Whether it’s architecture, fashion, art, design or the brands themselves, I love that part of my day-to-day job is to learn.

Why do you think Assouline is the perfect partner to collaborate with Sotheby’s for this edition of Luxury Week?

We curate the best of luxury and culture and have the opportunity to work closely with so many brands and people. We are able to turn their vision into luxury objects that are complemented by excellent storytelling. I believe this aligns perfectly with Sotheby’s Luxury Week, whose vision matches ours both in terms of curation and exceptional content.

"yellow diamonds are my favorite; they are so captivating when they reflect light, it’s like a piece of wearable sunshine."

Traditionally, the event is spread across a series of auctions—which category has interested you the most and why? 

Firstly watches; they are all luxury items with the same functionality, but they all have so many variations, complications and designs and they’re all inspired by a unique story. You can build an emotional connection with each piece. I got my first timepiece when I was 13, and I have been collecting ever since. It’s not about quantity, but about pieces that are important to me at a specific moment in time. It’s a luxury I like to treat myself to.

And secondly, Magnificent Jewels: I’m obsessed with the creativity behind all these magnificent jewels that have been crafted over the past millennia, including some natural stones in amazing colors. I’ve been studying mines and ateliers and became even more interested when I started looking for an engagement ring for my fiancée—I started researching the different types of diamonds. A piece of jewelry can be very particular—it can enhance a person’s look and the perception they give to the world.


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