The Couture Books By Assouline: Between Style, Poised Craftsmanship And “Art De Vivre”

If you ever wondered who Prosper and Martine Assouline are, look no further than here. Booksellers of luxury, trailblazers across editorial haute couture, eclectic connoisseurs lusting for voluptuous beauty embodied in the opulence of the most precious accessories; but there’s more. The duo are the pioneering founders of the iconic luxury publishing house of the same name and the forerunners of a “Culture of Luxury” typified in the niche book, an art object for furniture and collection. Luxury isn’t equivalent of wealth, but, as Franca Sozzani well wrote in her editorial: “Luxury today implies exclusivity, almost uniqueness and not because it is for the few, but because it is special. Luxury is research, the possibility of experimenting new ways, of finding new solutions that are not too obvious and already seen.”

Moreover, enlivened by a spirit of “nouvelle vague” in the early 1990s, the Assouline couple perpetuated the intuitive and modern vision of illustrated books to a market that was still too conservative and lacking in “fashionable” publications. 

In 1994, Prosper and Martin decided to dedicate a photo book to their favourite hotel La Colombe D’Or, a small retreat also loved by Jacques Prévert just outside the village of Saint-Paul de Vence, known throughout the world as an intimate place where Provencal art de vivre blends with a stunning private collection of modern art. “For us it is the quintessence of luxury, a place where you can eat simple tomatoes surrounded by paintings by Picasso and Léger“. After this dedication of love, with the successful “pilot” series Memoire de Mode, a tribute to some great designers, they chose a building on Park Avenue, in international and cosmopolitan New York as the headquarters of their receptacle of style and culture, the Maison D’Édition Assouline. And in 2014 they open their first flagship store in the heart of the busy Piccadilly Circus, in an old bank designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1922. A distinct philosophy is at the basis of a plethora of publications part of the Assouline brand: an identifiable identity along with a polished savoir faire marry a contemporary visual narrative.

Case in point: The ability to observe a subject from a different, unprecedented perspective, as in “Dinner with Jackson Pollock.” A visual journey through the rooms and garden of Springs’ Long Island home, Pollock’s studio, the portraits and dishes that the artist and his wife, Lee Krasner, loved to offer their guests. Thus, discovering a “Jack the Dripper”, not only a painter, but also a baker lover of homemade pastries and cakes, dedicated to fishing, gardening and the first fruits of the season. The book – with a preface by Francesca Pollock, the painter’s nephew – illustrates about fifty recipes that collect Lee Krasner’s handwritten cues, Pollock’s creations and his mother Stella’s traditional recipes, but also many suggestions from famous friends.

Flaunt luxury with a praise for handcrafted luxury bookmaking, as in “The Impossible Collection of Bentley.” A fine $1,450.00 coffee table book bound in ivory leather to celebrate the centenary of the famous British car manufacturer founded in 1919 by young engineer Walter Owen Bentley. An elegant photographic tour through 200 pages, 150 illustrations and 100 revolutionary and glorious Bentley models from the 3-Litre Le Mans winner to the luxurious S2 to the Continental GT coupé.

Design Special Edition, as in “Mosques: The 100 Most Iconic Islamic Houses of Worship.” A book, in just 300 copies, made of silk, velvet and woven gold threads that accompanies readers to the entrance to the 100 most significant prayer buildings in the world, to celebrate the great beauty of architectural wonders. The places of worship, from time immemorial, have been the sign of human greatness: the nobler and more sumptuous the temple, the nobler the society. And this spirit of magnificence is no exception to the imposing architecture of Islamic mosques with their precious decorations, enamels, carvings, marble and ceramics. 

On a style note, as in “Gaetano Savini: The Man Who Was Brioni.” At a time when Savile Row was synonymous with men’s style, an Italian figure, Gaetano Savini, reinvented men’s fashion with the luxury brand Brioni, and his far-sighted legacy is celebrated in this spectacular illustrated edition. Full of letters, photographs and personal anecdotes, this volume recounts the brand known as “the Dior of menswear”. 

Travel with the imagination, as happens with the oversized volume dedicated to “AIUla”. A journey, in huge format, into the fertile and remote Valley of AIUla, in Saudi Arabia, with its pure oases, rock paintings, majestic tombs dug out of the rocks, rugged mountains and the suggestive canyons.

We love books more than anything. They are the testimony of the present and the past. They are legacy and innovation. They are what remains in the trifling of the digital world.”

Man in Skirt | the skirt of “discord”

Long, short, tunic, habit, chiton or toga, the male skirt has been the favorite garment of people, civilizations, tribes, kings, and warriors. It has ruled in temples, courts, agora, and battlefields. But, in 1789, to the cry of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, trousers have become the flag of revolutionaries and skirt was put in the pillory. 

In the modern West, wearing a skirt is still inconvenient for men because it is a garment associated with the female world and it is a symbol of lack of masculinity. But it is amazing how the points of view change when we look from another perspective. 

Think about the kilt. Prince Charles, Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor o Gerlad Butler with the kilt and knee socks look like “William Wallace”, they are daredevils and dark and with patriotic pride, they say: “It’s a kilt, not a skirt”. 

Also, the Tartan Skirt, the traditional symbol of Highlands, it is not very different from a piece of cloth rolled around the waist. However, if we think about Maasai wrapped in their gaudy colored drapes (Shuka) and dressed up with bead jewelry and iron wires, the first thing that will come to our mind, won’t be a tribe of female men in skirts, but a tribe of warriors, hunters, and skilled fighters. 

For the utopian hippies, instead, the skirt embodied the image of a future society without gender diversity; for punks, in their rebelliousness, it was a symbol of contempt for the patterns and models imposed by the society; David Bowie, as an incarnation of the excessive glam rock, showing off white fur, glitter, feathers, rafts, and skirts, denied clothing as an expression of personality. 

In 1984 people shouted to the scandal when the irreverent Jean-Paul Gautier debuted with his first men’s collection “objectification of men”, questioning the clichés of clothing and dressing a rough and macho man with skirts, scoop-neck sweaters and sailor’s t-shirts with uncovered back. 

But on second thought it is fashion. As well as if Joaquín Cortés dances in a skirt is art, and if Billy Porter shows up at the Oscars with a wide black skirt is show biz. If the male uniform of the Starfleet of Star Trek is a mini dress, the Skant then is science fiction.

Summing up, in today’s society, the acceptance of a man with a skirt (or his refusal) is essentially related to the historical, cultural, environmental, religious, ethical and creative factors. Its decontextualization leads to hilarity, discomfort or distrust. If we ask a man to wear a skirt, he “will be struck to the idea to appear effeminate” as the journalist Arwa Mahdawi wrote in “The Guardian”. 

In a West that has consecrated the skirt as an icon of femininity, for the male culture the time to welcome it in its wardrobe has not yet arrived. 

A day, maybe, the idealistic hope of David Hall of “give men more freedom without meaningless extravagance, but without dull conformism” will be realized.

On the other hand, when Elizabeth Smith Miller, the first woman who has worn trousers in 1851, showed up in public with Turkish wide trousers was hit with vegetables and snowballs, insulted by men and accused of outrage against decency. 

It has been a long road, but finally today also a woman with trousers can give of herself an image of strength, power, and career. Maybe, in the next future, it will also be for a man wearing a skirt.