The book, the discreet side of luxury

The book, the discreet side of luxury
The book, the discreet side of luxury

Luxury shines and is displayed with brilliance, the book requires time to read and therefore a certain withdrawal from the world. On the one hand, fashionistas and other devotees of fashion designers are seen as superficial, even bling-bling; on the other hand, bookstore freaks and bookworms are caricatured as if perched in their bookish ivory tower. It’s ostentation vs. introspection. Economically, luxury and books are far from being on an equal footing. The contrast is obvious: one, flourishing, is the flagship of French industry and generates colossal investments; the other, although dynamic and quick to adapt to the contemporary world, thrives in a fragile biotope, threatened by the predators of the attention market.

The Colonnes bookstore in Tangier (Morocco).- Photo DR

Sometimes we even have the impression that books and luxury convey antithetical values. In the historic literary district of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, designer clothes and handbags have gradually taken the place of books. As Alain Souchon sings with melancholic irony “Left Bank in Paris / Farewell to my country / Of music and poetry / The ill-educated merchants / Who elsewhere have already taken everything / Come to sell their clothes in bookstores / In bookstores…”

Alexandre Sap with Jean-Pierre Trevisan at the concept Store at the Lutetia hotel, 45, boulevard Raspail (Paris VIe).- Photo LAURENT ZABULON

So even if worldly women and men of letters have not been lacking in literary history, imagining combining books with luxury is not wanting the marriage of the carp and the rabbit?

Bibliophile tradition

And yet in the world of luxury and fashion, individuals who love books have stood out. Let us remember that the trunk maker Gaston-Louis Vuitton (1883-1970), grandson of the founder of the house, a true bibliophile, had created bibliophile circles and forged privileged links with the publishers, writers and illustrators of his time. This bibliophile tradition is reflected by series of city ​​guides and other publications around travel, and for a long time through this emblematic “Traveling with” collection (Marguerite Yourcenar, Nicolas Bouvier, Walter Benjamin, Karl Marx…) in collaboration with The Literary Fortnight, anthologies combining extracts from the works and travel memories of great authors… The luxury industrialist Pierre Bergé, companion of Yves Saint Laurent, had taken over the Colonnes bookstore in Tangier, particularly frequented from the 1950s to the 1970s by authors of the Beat Generation.

Bookstore 7L, 7, rue de Lille (Paris VIIe).- Photo MATHIEU ZAZZO

But it was Karl Lagerfeld, the distinguished artistic director of Chanel in the 1980s, who inaugurated this discreet, no less remarkable, alliance between these two worlds by founding his own bookstore. With 7L which opens its doors at 7, rue de Lille in the VIIe district of Paris in 1999, the avid reader and enlightened bibliophile that is the German fashion designer created a bookstore of books on art, architecture, design, photography, certainly, to his taste, but leaving his booksellers in charge on board – he had poached three from the literature, art and cinema departments who worked in the former La Hune bookseller located on Boulevard Saint–Germain at the time. Today a Louis-Vuitton store, ironically, has set up where Lagerfeld compulsively stocked up on books.

Concept store of the Lutetia hotel.- Photo LAURENT ZABULON

Beautiful works that cannot be reduced to coffee-table books

Like the bookseller-publishers of yesteryear, 7L also publishes; we remember a lovely collection of poetry by Catherine Pozzi, in a trilingual French/English/German edition… The periodicity was irregular. 7L will suspend its editorial activity following the death of the master until Sleeping Beauty joins forces with Editions Seghers in the fall to publish the autobiographical novel by the eponymous socialite, writer and artist Marie-Laure de Noailles. “The idea came from the director of Villa Noailles, Jean-Pierre Blanc, who proposed it to 7L on the occasion of the centenary of the villa, Antoine Caro tells us. With Laurence Delamare, publishing director of 7L, we have set ourselves the ambition of rediscovering a work that is as fascinating as it is little-known through a series of publications. » This resurgence of 7L editions responds to a real need for beautiful works that are not reducible to coffee-table books, the beautiful being not the enemy of the content, and the pleasant not necessarily futile.

The Rupture & Imbernon bookstore, Le Corbusier housing unit, 280, boulevard Michelet, 3rd floor (Marseille VIII). – Photo DR

This is what Saint Laurent Babylone intends to do, the new concept store which has been set up not far from Bon Marché, a department store on the left bank belonging to the LVMH group, a competitor to the Kering group of which Saint Laurent is a part… If le Bon Marché can pride itself on having its own bookstore, Saint Laurent Babylone does not confine itself to books (especially contemporary art, photography, design, as at 7L), but mixes vinyls with printed works, objects and even gourmet collaborations… Inspired by the late Colette boutique, the very first Parisian concept store, on rue Saint-Honoré, right bank – the space was bought by Kering -, Saint Laurent Babylone “under the curation of Anthony Vaccarello”, the artistic director of Saint Laurent (understand: a selection of products made by him), wants to go beyond the book, always according to the brand’s communication, “a cultural destination”, through a “book signing” notably from the great fashion photographer Juergen Teller and soon events with DJ sets…

The Rupture & Imbernon bookstore.- Photo DR

The question that torments the skeptical mind remains how the book – very unprofitable compared to the profits reaped in the world of luxury ready-to-wear, perfume, accessories – can be of interest to an industry such as luxury. As we have seen, there are always literary people and book lovers like the aforementioned great Karl or the legendary couple Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé… Vidya Narine, author ofOrchidist (Les Avrils, 2023) and founder of the literary review Sap, who worked for fifteen years in fashion, preferred not to solicit brands or call on advertisers from this sector “to be more editorially free”, favoring subscription as a Source of financing, that’s for sure, by publishing in its new issue a text by Joseph Andras, author of Literature and revolution, with Kaoutar Harchi (ed. Divergences, 2024); the editor of Sap maintains a certain coherence with its vision of creation…

The Rupture bookstore in Venice.- Photo DR

Symbolic capital

But without lending any cynical intention to the big brands, there is one thing that the book brings which adds value to luxury: symbolic capital. This notion theorized by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is this intangible cultural value which adds prestige and distinction to those who possess it. Luxury stands on a crest, playing on two contradictory lines of force: aristocratic singularity, the inaccessible that makes you dream, and the insatiable conquest of market share through a global offering… Money can buy any designer handbag, but is not enough to read Proust. By associating themselves with the world of books and by themselves publishing books on their creators, their heritage, their collections… the great fashion houses claim to be artists and hoard symbolic capital, by showing that among the happy few there is still an elite who not only have wonderful means, but also possess treasures of knowledge. Thus an advertising campaign, for which the Celine house posed the cult novelist Joan Didion, or Dior Homme which was inspired by Jack Kerouac for its fall 2022 collection.

The Rupture bookstore in Venice (Italy). – Photo DR

Alexandre Sap took over the Colonnes bookstore in Tangier and that of the Cité radieuse in Marseille, a bookstore with an “architecture and urban planning” tropism, installed within the exceptional housing unit designed by Le Corbusier. He also opened a bookstore in Venice, a mecca for contemporary art with its biennial which opens today. While cherishing his good relationships with luxury brands where he regularly launches events around the editions of the said brands in his network of bookstores called Rupture (a name which marks the break with his former career with the advertising company Jacques Séguéla). great care in the content of the works he offers, because as he recalls, half profane figment, half sacred grape: “The book is the basis of everything, remember, “In the beginning was the Word…””

The Colonnes bookstore in Tangier.- Photo DR

Cultural hubs

The ex-pubard and passionate about books and music, after an experience in Paris, chose this Mediterranean region – soon Athens, Istanbul… he hopes – to reinvent the very concept of bookstore with Rupture & Imbernon – “bookstores beyond the bookstore”. A hybridization between the pioneering boutique Colette where we found books, clothing, accessories, records and the American chain Barnes & Noble which, after the announced decline, was able to be reborn by creating, in addition to a bookstore service, real convivial spaces, cultural hubs where you can have a coffee.

The former director of Colette, always in tune with the times, is now an editor and has just organized the exhibition Layout At the good market. Alexandre Sap dreams of developing like a chain, but of concept stores. Regretting that the book was treated so poorly, he wanted the case for the books or works of art that he exhibited and sold to be beautiful. And to rebel: “Why call on the greatest architects for handbags and not for books? » Each Rupture boutique is designed and exudes its own aesthetic conducive to calm time for leafing through, paying attention to the written word… Because isn’t that, deep down, true luxury? Which is not what is necessary for survival, which is life to the fullest. Time that is no longer counted. Time for reading, for beauty.



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