Alex Assouline carries himself differently than most people his age. At first impression, it takes a second to remember that he’s only in his mid-twenties. When I met him in his office one afternoon, he greets me in a three piece suit, immediately apologizing for making me wait an extra three minutes. He’s had a busy day, he explains. I, however, hadn’t even noticed those three minutes as, sitting in the lobby, I’m intrigued by the gorgeous coffee table books that surround me. Highlighted in a striking red, all-encompassing book case, the titles catch my attention. Dior. Chanel. Bentley. Vintage Cars. Up next, he tells me, is a book with design family Missoni. But, it’s not the book you’d expect: it’s a cookbook. It’s unique, and it’s on brand with Assouline, the publishing company Alex’s parents started that records culture in an elegant, timeless way.
Our conversation took us through some of that culture, with more upcoming additions to the Assouline catalogue, his passion project, and his fashion inspirations.
For those of us who are not already familiar with your family’s publishing house, give us an introduction to Assouline and your role within the company.
“So Assouline is a nearly 25 year old coffee table book publisher. We specialize in books about art, lifestyle and culture. I joined a few years ago after working in consulting. I’m now the director of marketing, and I work a lot on interior design, where I curate libraries, especially in New York.”
Other than the Missoni book, can you tell us what’s coming up for you?
“I’m working on a fantastic book on [Azzedine] Alaia, who passed away a few months ago. It’s a very dear project to me because he was my godfather. We’re working on a special edition as well, leather bound with three different covers. It’s going to be a good homage.”
Tell me about the process of curating a library.
“So I started that a few months ago as an organic extension of what I was doing, but just on the side. So I met with a friend of mine for lunch and she was working on a building with her family as well, and she was just saying that she needed a space where–she needed a library, you know? She needed a space where people could just sit down and unplug from everything and feel safe and troubles with their minds are gone. And it just was a perfect fit, so I started one there, at The Shephard with the Naftali Group. Then I started having some requests, from word of mouth, and then started to structure it as a part of the business. So I go to a very specific place, whether it’s a hotel, restaurant, office, apartment or amenities for a library building, I just study the place, the neighborhood, the tenants, who goes there and their interests, and after a few days or weeks I just come up with something. A little drawing, a proposition. It’s a passion at this point.”
I can tell.
“It’s my own thing. Something I developed that I’m happy about and proud of. It’s kind of the extension, when you have a family business, that you need to find your area to develop, while still being in the family business. And I found it, so I can have my own thing on the side.”
So let’s talk about style. Do you have a style philosophy? Do you have some icons you look up to?
“I just saw a documentary on Gianni Agnelli. It absolutely changed my philosophy of fashion. It was so interesting because this guy was super well dressed, and he wasn’t scared of going his own way and his own style. Like putting the watch over the cuff, for example. And he did it in such a stylish way, that’s very inspiring. There’s no real boundary that you have to set for your style.
I like to wear suits. I feel good in a suit, I feel comfortable in a suit, which may sound a bit not genuine, but to me I really feel comfortable. You need to present yourself in a way that people can receive well. It’s an action of respect as well. I keep t-shirts for Sundays.”
Where are some of your favorite places to buy suits?
“I have the two extremes. I have a tailor in Hong Kong that comes once a year or once every two years. So I just see everything, all the patterns that I can do. I’m very into plaid, so I’m very experimental in that way. So that’s fun. And then, I have a store in Paris where I buy most of my suits called Wicket. I trust them, I know every time I go I’m going to leave with a couple. It’s exactly my taste. In New York, I just buy my shirts at Brooks Brothers. Cufflinks, only vintage and on eBay. And suspenders as well, only on eBay. I have a big collection of suspenders. I’m very proud of it. I used to go on eBay and start betting on crazy suspenders and I would try to get a pair once a week. I cannot stop, but I don’t have space anymore.”
Do you have any brands of suspenders that we would recognize?
“There’s vintage Ralph Lauren and there’s Trafalgar. These are the only two I find, but when I go to a vintage store or something, I might stumble upon something unusual, but it’s very rare. It’s not really in today’s culture, even to carry in vintage stores.”
Where did your love of suspenders come from?
“That’s the thing. I didn’t see them anywhere, and I wanted to have something different. I wanted them with different colors, like an accessory that wasn’t something you couldn’t see on everyone. I wanted to build my own identity from that.”
What about timepieces?
“I don’t like extravagant or showy timepieces. I love my Cartier Tank because it’s meaningful to me. I got it when I was 18, and there was a big story behind it. My father, when he was an assistant and he was 18, saw it on his boss at the time in an elevator. And he said, “wow, this is what I want for my son one day.” And he got it for me when I was 18. So I just keep it at all times.”
Take me through a day in your life.
“I wake up at 6:30 or 7, depending on what I did the night before. Then I jump on my rowing machine for about 20 or 30 minutes. I have to do that every day because it keeps my body moving at all times. It gives me the right energy. Then I have a big glass of water, shower, go to the office, meet with my team around 9 or 9:30. I try to separate my day around the tasks in the aspects of marketing or the library or communications. Mostly, I start with working on the new products we’re going to release–for example, we’re working on bookstands, candles. Then I answer e-mails for partnerships that we’re doing, and work on marketing products for books–how to make the book come to life. And then quick lunch with my parents to debrief about what’s happening in the company. And after that go back to the office, until I finish the day and I take out my pencil and I just draw a library. For a client or just to practice. I leave the office around 7 or 7:30, depending on whether I have a drink with a client, or dinner, which usually happens.”
What’s your favorite drink?
“I’m in my spicy margarita with salt phase. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. But, usually, I love a pisco sour. It’s a Peruvian drink made of pisco, lime juice, sugar and egg whites and a bit of tabasco.”
What do you feel like is different about New York?
“What I see the most is the energy and the willingness for people to achieve. That’s a pretty cool trait.”
Featured photo courtesy of: Assouline, by Josh Deveaux.