Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

Inside the hidden library nestled between Dubai Mall's biggest fashion stores

We ask the founders of luxury publishing company Maison Assouline if there really is a place for Dh2,000 books in this digital age

The books at Maison Assouline come with block-colour covers and surround you as you walk in. Courtesy Assouline
The books at Maison Assouline come with block-colour covers and surround you as you walk in. Courtesy Assouline

Everything is about style,” says Prosper Assouline, as he gestures around his new flagship store in Dubai. “Style, and education on style.”

The boutique is nestled ­between Dior, Chanel and Versace, but there is one major difference – its shelves are not filled with clothes or shoes; they’re filled with books. But these are the kinds of books that belong among the world’s most beautiful clothes. In fact, it’s what a large chunk of them are about. From Dior to Louis Vuitton, Frida Kahlo to Guy Bourdin, Assouline books immortalise some of the most stylish moments in history.

“Assouline is a luxury brand on culture. The medium is the book, but the big idea is to be a lifestyle brand,” Prosper explains. “It’s also about dreams and inspiration,” adds Martine Assouline, who is sitting across from her husband.

The two have managed to turn their own dreams and inspirations into one of the world’s most luxurious publishing houses. Established in the early 1990s, Assouline immediately positioned its tomes as a status symbol. “At that time, books were very conventional, both in the subjects and in the way they were done,” Martine says. “We both love books and had collected them, and we thought there was space for a new kind of book, so we proposed our own style. People bought into it and liked it, and that was the beginning.”

Bergdorf Goodman was the first retailer to understand the luxury concept, housing Assouline’s then-small collection away from other standard-class books. But with more than 1,000 published titles now under its belt, Assouline has more than just its own store, it has its own maison.

The entrance to the new Maison Assouline store at Fashion Avenue in the Dubai Mall. Courtesy of: Masion Assouline
The entrance to the new Maison Assouline store at Fashion Avenue in the Dubai Mall. Courtesy Assouline

Maison Assouline, which just opened in The Dubai Mall’s Fashion Avenue, is just the second of its kind in the world, following the original concept store in London’s Piccadilly. Stepping inside, it’s easy to forget that everything you see is for sale, and that’s exactly the point. “We want it to be like an embassy of culture and luxury and beautiful moments,” says Martine. “It’s a beautiful store; it’s very exciting,” Prosper adds. “It’s exactly the dream we had in the beginning. It’s really happened exactly as we were hoping it would.”

The books are displayed on floor-to-ceiling shelves that surround you as you walk in. There are black iron library ladders, half for practicality, half for decoration. The books, with their block-­colour covers, are broken up by the gold Swans Bar, which is inspired by the old Hollywood glamour of 1930s speakeasies. The bar serves signature mocktails, each named after an Assouline title, while a terrace cafe at the back offers stunning views of the Burj Khalifa.

“A maison is a home, so we wanted to make it very warm,” Prosper says. “Here, you can find 1,000 books, but you can also find objects that you cannot find anywhere in the world. They are antiques, they are unique, and they are the perfect asset for a library.”

The Swan Bar inside Dubai's new Maison Assouline store. Courtesy of: Assouline
The Swan Bar inside Dubai's new Maison Assouline store. Courtesy Assouline

These objects, from vintage Louis Vuitton trunks to jewellery boxes from the film Sunset Boulevard, are dotted between the books, strategically placed to pique your curiosity. But the antiques, along with the grand and beautiful titles, feel a long way from the bustle of The Dubai Mall.

“We are very well known and very established in the West and, for us, Dubai is really in the middle of the world, between the East and the West,” Prosper explains. “We decided Dubai was very important to us becoming known in the East of the world. The Dubai Mall is a concentration of 180 different nationalities, it’s really something. The energy is really unique so we are very happy to be here.”

Martine adds: “I think it’s one of the most important malls in the world and it’s representing all of the luxury brands, so when you are here, you know you are established internationally.”

Rather than just trade from this part of the world, Assouline wants to ensure that the brand becomes embedded in it. Alongside the countless books on Paris, New York and Milan, there will soon be a series focusing on the rich culture and history of the UAE and the wider Middle East.

There are black iron library ladders and the gold Swans Bar, inspired by 1930s speakeasies. Courtesy Maison Assouline
The room in which Maison Assouline will curate your dream library. Courtesy of: Maison Assouline

“We like to understand a place, understand the culture and do something with our vision,” Martine says. “We are going to do a lot of books on this part of the world. We are intimately planning with some really good people and have so much lined up for the region.”

Maison Assouline seems to have more faith in books now than ever before, something that sadly cannot be said for the wider industry. In a busy world where e-readers, podcasts and smartphones are replacing page-turning, do Dh2,000 coffee-table books really have a place?


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“These books are luxury, documenting moments in history. They are handmade from start to finish – from when we get the idea right up to it being published,” Prosper says. “Our Ultra collection is handbound using traditional techniques with colour plates hand-tipped on art-quality paper. They are collectables. You cannot get this from any screen.”

Updated: December 10, 2018 05:21 PM