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Coffee-Table Book King Prosper Assouline on Collecting Hats and the Harley-Davidson That Got Away

The French businessman opens up about his collection of extraordinary books, wine choices and more.

Prosper Assouline Weston Wells

Prosper Assouline is impatient for a return to normality. Normality, that is, of a very French and rarefied type, for the 64-year-old luxury-book publisher really embodies the brand that bears his name. Founded with his wife, Martine, in 1994, Assouline issues jewel-hued, fat-paged tomes that express the couple’s devotion to all things nonpareil. Beginning with an homage to their favorite hotel on the Cote d’Azur, Assouline has since published more than 2,000 monographs on topics including panama hats, Venetian synagogues and the official history of Formula 1, doused in rubber-scented perfume. “What I like is to make books alive and tactile,” says Prosper. He enthuses about a recent two-kilo doorstopper on Versailles, “a special edition with the seal of Louis XIV… huge, gold, the cover is in velvet, it’s just unbelievable. When you buy the book, you can have a private visit with the curator and the president of Versailles. We just made 100 copies.”

While eye-popping books remain the core business, the Assoulines also curate private libraries and operate boutiques. Prosper, Martine and their son, Alexandre, the company’s global vice president, divide their time between New York’s Upper East Side and Paris’s 1st Arrondissement.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

I open my iPad to look at the news. Every morning I read Le Figaro, Les Echos, The New York Times and the Financial Times.

What do you do in your life that is still analog?

It’s the only thing I do. I write a lot; I draw. Each time I have an idea, I draw [it] immediately, so I always have pens with me. Digital is not very important for me.

Prosper Assouline

Vintage photographs of artworks, including Florence’s Duomo, in Assouline’s office.  Weston Wells

What in your wardrobe do you wear most often?

A white jean by Incotex. I have a ton of that; it’s like the black dress. Cashmere T-shirts from Hobbs and Loro Piana shoes. This is my day-to-day.

What song is in your head?

Philip Glass when I want to work calmly, and Lenny Kravitz when I need energy.

What is your exercise routine, and how often do you do it?

A little bit of bicycle at home, squash, and each time I am in an elevator, [I] put my back on the wall very straight, like in the army. So I take elevators as exercise.

What is the most recent thing that you have added to your collection?

I am a big collector of books. I just bought at Christie’s in Paris an extraordinary book. It was [one of] just six copies made by an artist in the 1960s. The cover is in plexiglass, with a lot of different colors. It’s the first book I ever saw with a light; there’s a battery inside.

What is the most recent thing that you regret not buying?

I dream to buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle from 1947. I saw one that was beautiful and red; it was amazing. People are going to think I am completely crazy, but I want to have that in my office as a sculpture.

Aside from books, what do you collect?

I have a big collection of strange old handmade musical instruments from the 18th and 19th century, some made by Shakers. They are all unique.

Where do you buy your clothes?

For 30 years I bought custom suits from Caraceni in Milan. And now [I go to] a nice Italian guy in America, Denis Frison.

Prosper Assouline

A Denis Frison suit.  Weston Wells

How do you get to sleep?

Wine. Pomerol for French wine, Amarone for Italian and pisco sour for cocktails.

What do you most regret?

That I did not spend more time with my brother, who passed away five years ago.

Do you like to drive or be driven?

When I am in Paris, I have a beautiful Jaguar sports car and I love to drive. Here [in New York], I take Uber. It’s impossible to drive in this city.

Where are your regular tables in London, New York and LA?

Alors, in London I always have dinner at a club, 5 Hertford. In New York, it’s only at Il Buco. In Paris, I go to L’AmiLouis. I never go to LA.

Are you wearing a watch? How many do you own?

For years my son stole my watches. Now he has his own watches; I have taken mine back. Right now on my hand I have an old gold Patek Philippe, which I love. And on the weekend I wear an old Tag Heuer.

Prosper Assouline

Prosper Assouline wearing his gold Patek Philippe.  Weston Wells

How would others describe your look?

Fun. I have a collection of handmade hats, maybe 50, in different colors. I love them. Un petit chapeau rigolo. Just a little hat that’s part of me.

What is your favorite hotel?

In Kyoto there’s a small hotel that I love called Tawaraya. It’s absolutely amazing, from the 19th century. The Surf Club in Miami, the Connaught in London and the Plaza in Paris.

What person do you admire most?

I love artists who don’t compromise, like Brâncuși and Lucio Fontana. People who want to push boundaries and make a new world—I really admire them so much.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

I will tell you immediately—at the Fontelina restaurant in Capri.

What is your most treasured possession?

Family. I have one son. It’s so expensive, one is quite enough. I want to create a rental company, where you can rent a kid for the weekend if you need another one, just like you rent a car.

Prosper Assouline

Assouline’s collection of handmade hats.  Weston Wells

And what is your favorite neighborhood and your favorite city?

In Paris, we live in the garden of the Palais-Royal, and I love this area. I walk, and I don’t do anything else. It’s absolutely perfect.

What are you afraid of?

To have no wine at home. If you want to have a dinner and you have no wine and everything is closed, it’s a disaster.

What is your vice?

Details. Looking only at the details. This is my vice; it’s horrible. You show me something big, and I’m only going to see a mistake.

David Bowie or Bob Dylan?

Alors, no hesitation, Bowie. I would like to see a picture of the person who’s going to say Dylan, seriously.

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