Founded in the basement of Prosper and Martine Assouline’s Paris apartment in 1994, the eponymous publishing house known for its colorful coffee-table books and lavish collections has grown to employ 80 people (not including the staff at retail stores across the world) and move its headquarters to a 42-story building on Manhattan’s Park Avenue. Despite all this, Assouline is still very much a family-run business.
I interviewed the founders’ son Alexandre Assouline, newly appointed to the role of chief of operations, in his apartment in downtown Manhattan’s Police Building, formerly the city’s police headquarters. We sat before a staggering bookcase holding hundreds of Assouline titles.
Alex, who was raised in the heart of Paris, moved to New York when he was 15. He grew up with the company. “My concept of family and work has been blurred since the beginning,” he said. “I was raised for it.” Now 28, Alex, who graduated from Manhattan’s Lycée Français de New York and went on to study marketing and art history at Concordia University in Montreal, is integral to the company’s day-to-day affairs.
After an early college graduation, in 2013, Alex enrolled in a six-month intensive graphic-design program. An aspiring C.E.O. of a publishing company, he figured, should be invested in all facets of the business. (Alex has no qualms about his ambitions—or about the risk of his mother, the company’s current C.E.O., coming across this article.)
He graduated on a Friday in 2014 and started work at Assouline at seven a.m. sharp the following Monday. His first job was as a graphic designer, and over that year he collaborated on several titles, including a book on the enigmatic designer Valentino.
Alex’s father, the chairman of the company, soon encouraged him to dip his toes into the retail business and gave him carte blanche to open an Assouline store in London, a 5,400-square-foot project in bustling Piccadilly. “I was 22 and had to oversee the architect, the contractors, the lawyers,” Alex remembers. “There was no time for self-doubt.” The result—sleek, with luminous bookcases and a café selling coffee and pastries—was a success.
As great as family-run businesses are, they don’t always make for the easiest dynamic at home. “The family and work relationship was always intertwined,” Alex says. “You can’t sit at dinner and talk about other stuff. It becomes very complicated to have that emotional support as a family.”
In 2015, Alex decided to leave Assouline and took a job at a business-development consulting company. “I wanted to learn how a company is structured, you know, without my parents as boss,” he says. But later that year, following the terrorist attacks at the Bataclan, in Paris, his parents urged him to set their differences aside and return. “The world is a mess,” Alex recalls them saying, “and we need you.”
Alex did and was made director of Assouline’s marketing and digital department, where he expanded the brand’s e-commerce reach. In 2018, he became global vice president, also operating the retail end of the business, and in 2019 committed to the One Tree Planted initiative, vowing that the company would plant a tree for every book it sells.
Five years on, Alex is the man behind the “travel set” books—think the bright-orange Capri Dolce Vita or the bubble-gum-pink Ibiza Bohemia—which have made Assouline a household name, an Instagram sensation, and a go-to for gifts all year round. “My mother had the idea for the Ibiza edition,” he says, “and I said, ‘You know, this is a gold mine. This can be developed.’ And I focused on that.”
Countless other editions, spotlighting the best vacation spots from Havana to Mykonos, have since been released. Earlier this year, the collection’s spidery drawings—done by hand by Alex’s mother—were emblazoned on Zara T-shirts, jeans, and jackets in an Assouline x Zara collaboration and sold all over the world.
As a hobby, Alex has designed libraries for some of Manhattan’s most prominent buildings, including Philip Johnson’s “Chippendale” tower, thought to be the first postmodern skyscraper, at 550 Madison, as well as the controversial Billionaires’ Row tower 432 Park. His signature is sprawling bookcases and a healthy mix of titles. “Not just ours!” he adds—though those do make an appearance from time to time.
Elena Clavarino is an Associate Editor for Air Mail