Published: 6 January, 2017
by ALINA POLIANSKAYA
WITH no shop window to show passers-by what’s inside, Maison Assouline is a bit of “a hidden gem”, according to manager Martyna Dargiewicz.
The international flagship store of Assouline Publishing – the “luxury” French brand, famous for their high-end coffee table books on all aspects of culture, art, fashion and travel – is based in the heart of St James’s in Piccadilly.
The store opened two years ago in the Grade II-listed former bank building, to mark the 20th anniversary of the brand.
As well as an array of intriguing books, there are vintage items and other artefacts on offer, all displayed in the elegant surroundings of limed oak and walnut panelled interiors – all in all, the store “paints a picture of the cultured life,” says Martyna.
“It is incredible how many people still value the printed book and cannot imagine their homes without them. I think the ‘old fashioned’ is the new ‘new’.”
Next door to St James’s Church, you could easily miss Maison Assouline as you go by, caught up in the area’s hustle and bustle. Tucked inside the 1922 “Wrennaisance”-style building, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, visitors can find the “Gatsby-esque”-style Swans Bar serving up a plethora of cocktails and French platters.
Martyna says: “St James’s has a certain aura of nostalgia about it, which I really love.
“The mystery of private members’ clubs and lodges dotted in between famous tourist landmarks such as the Royal Academy gives it a feeling of almost a parallel world happening alongside the camera-wielding, backpacked tourists.
“Maison Assouline is a perfect example of this duality. It can be bustling with guided tours just outside our door but once you step in it’s like you have gone back in time.
“I believe in preserving the beauty of the past and incorporating it in our future. It’s good to see that Westminster is looking after its heritage, we still have a lot to learn from it.”
Martyna recalled her own, rather eclectic career that led her to the store. She first worked at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in the box offices, at the bar and in operations management.
She then gained two degrees in fashion and worked as a seamstress for Hackney Empire pantos, as well as an in-house designer for a range of fashion houses. Next, she became a floor manager at lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret before combining all her interests and starting her role as “Global Flagship Store Manager” at Maison Assouline.
“It’s a perfect match,” she says.
They have branches the world over, but Martyna explains why this one, in the heart of London, is so special.
“Assouline has several stores across the world from New York through Paris, Venice and Geneva all the way to Istanbul but Maison Assouline in London is the only store that is dedicated to and embodies the exquisite vision and spirit of owners Martine and Prosper Assouline,” she says. “Being located in an incredible, historical listed building in the heart of Piccadilly is yet another way we reflect their style and aesthetic”.