Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
This is no ordinary book store. The launch party featured Krug champagne, pata negra ham and a sprinkling of celebs. Anne Hathaway, the American actress, was there, as was Kylie Minogue, Hugh Grant and a very orange Valentino (pictured below on the cover of his new book). The shop’s called Maison Assouline and it’s a luxury French publisher with branches in New York, Paris and Istanbul. The London shop is on a prime site on Piccadilly, a stone’s throw from Waterstones.
Who would have guessed in this digital age that there was money in books? Well, perhaps there isn’t. These aren’t exactly books, or not as we know them. They are status symbols that cost £4,500 each. They have names like ‘Sultans’ or ‘Motorbikes’ or ‘The North Pole.’ They cover topics like architecture, design, fashion and art. Most of them are far too big, heavy and expensive to be read in bed, on a bus, sur la plage, or indeed anywhere. Perhaps they all end up on superyachts.
I went along to the shop on its first day of opening and got talking to a very friendly Sardinian waiter called Stefano who looks after the café area. There’s the briefest of menus with foie gras (£17), tea from Damman Frères and Château Cheval Blanc (£110o – and non! that is not a typo). Not surprisingly, customers were very thin on the ground. In fact, there were probably about three in the entire store and they may have been PR people just pretending. I went upstairs and looked at Maison Assouline’s antiques. I think they are for sale but I couldn’t see any price tags. Flamenco music was playing, there was a musky, old library smell, and a lot of African tribal art, some strange antiques and a velvet sofa.
It turns out Maison Assouline is a husband and wife business. She’s an ex model called Martine. He’s an advertising magnate who goes by the splendid name of Prosper and has apparently written a book on that little museum in Paris nobody ever goes to – Nissim de Camondo. Martine (pictured below) happened to be there on a flying visit and I got chatting to her and discovered that Assouline has just celebrated its 20th year. Had I had more courage I would have asked her for a job there and then.
I didn’t. But I did find out where her fabulous bug-eye sunglasses are from (Balenciaga) and her narrow black patent leather boots (YSL, current collection). And I will most definitely return. Not to buy a book, or to look at more African spears, but to try out a £12 pisco sour at the bar, which is made the proper Peruvian way with egg white, and to check out the Russian oligarchs.
Maison Assouline is at 196A Piccadilly, London W1J 9EY. Opening hours Mon-Sat 10am to 8pm; Sunday 10am-7pm