A conversation with Marlene Taschen
On a rainy Thursday morning the phone rings in Amsterdam:
“How are you?”
“Pretty good, quite busy right now with the holiday season coming up.”
“Yeah same here, but that’s great. It’s what we work towards all year long, right?”
It’s quite a hectic week at MENDO, as it is for Taschen. A week in which Marvel’s iconic founder Stan Lee past away, Taschen (coincidentally) published The Stan Lee Story; a limited edition book that had been in the making for nearly fifteen years and evidently sold out within two days after his passing. You could say that this signifies the magnitude of a publisher like Taschen. They work with the absolute greatest artists in the world, and are able to bring them to everyone’s home. How do they do it? To catch a glimpse of the secret behind Taschen’s success, we had a conversation with Marlene Taschen, Managing Director at the namesake company she runs with her father.
This year alone Taschen has published over 60 titles. Varying in all kinds of subjects; from nudes, to cars, to music, photography, and art, Taschen does it all, and all on a high level. Since early 2017, the company’s iconic founder Benedikt Taschen is supported by his oldest daughter Marlene, with whom he now forms the head of the company. “I love working with my father. It’s sometimes a bit difficult because we live in different continents and time zones, but we are in touch regularly. I think we’re a good team. Even though we have two different personalities, we have a unified vision and it feels good to have someone on your side who understands you and supports you. When there are things I don’t know, I have the best person to ask for advice. He is very inspirational.”
That inspirational figure started with a comic book shop in Cologne in 1980 and has transformed that company into one of the most prolific publishers of today. Benedikt Taschen has become a Hollywood star himself ever since he moved into the iconic Chemosphere house in the Hollywood hills. With highs and lows, Benedikt Taschen developed the company to what it is now, with a clear vision, and an all star line-up. “We are quite aligned in the way we see things and what we value for the company. Our goal is to produce the best possible books on whatever subjects we choose. We like to have great variety on subjects and pricing points, but we want to make sure that within every segment we produce the best. The artists and creators of our time are the people we want to work with. We want to make books we are proud of and happy about.”
Taschen was one of the first to produce the great limited edition books. With prime examples being the Helmut Newton SUMO and GOAT, the most expensive production for a book ever. It seems like a huge step from when Taschen first started selling art books for an accessible price. But in Marlene’s eyes the philosophy is not that different. “Our strategy is to create exclusive editions for the collectors, and then create trade editions that are accessible for everyone. We have books that are worth €25.000, but these are more than just books. We want to give people something that holds value. Whether that’s a €25.000 Marc Newson sculpture with a limited edition book, or a €15 art book from our Bibliotheca Universalis. We want it to bring joy into peoples homes, just like we experience joy when we’re making it.”
In Marlene’s eyes it’s all based on passion, enthusiasm, and a little luck. As said, Taschen, as one of the leaders of this industry, has almost managed to create a league of its own. “Part of our success is the unique talent and vision of my father. But I should stress that it is also due to fortunate circumstances. If you don’t have the support and circumstances to use your talent, than it would be a lot harder to achieve something like this. So it is fortunate how things developed from one thing to the next, but of course, it all started with the enthusiastic and unique way my father is. How he combines his understanding of the collector’s world with his artistic vision and his eye for commerce provides for a unique mix that few others have in my opinion.”
‘I think the book as a format is an enduring format.’
‘I think the book as a format is an enduring format.’
A unique mix that has resulted in an array of books on subjects as diverse as can be. When asked about a favorite title Marlene names a seemingly endless list of recent publications like a book on Basquiat, Rem Koolhaas Elements of Architecture, and Sneaker Freaker’s Ultimate Sneaker Book. MENDO has been selling Taschen’s books for many years, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed at the Taschen’s. “Of course we keep an eye on the industry, and we were really impressed with the way you present the books. I spoke with my father about it and we both had to agree that you present our books basically better than we do! You have a great approach, and I like how the editorial work is intertwined with the products. You guys do everything with a human touch, and even though I’ve never been to your store, I still sense that. It’s very personal and contemporary, showing a new way of approaching this industry.”
After kindly receiving these compliments, it’s interesting to see what this “new way” could mean for the future. In an ever-evolving industry, with the symbolical battle between print and digital, do books still have a future? “Certainly. I think the book as a format is an enduring format. If you look at photographers, artists, and designers – they all still see the book as the holy format. The fact that this medium holds such a value among them, says a lot. The great thing about these books is that they’re made with editorial decisions. They are made by someone, for you, and not by an algorithm. And if you have good people working on it, you’ll get a story which you could not have found if you would do it otherwise.”
Taschen works with some of the best artists and editors in the world, which has provided us with, indeed, some great books that could have never been as great digitally. Marlene actually thinks that Taschen has had the best year thus far. “We’ve had a lot of exciting projects going on. So in terms of program, yes. I hope the numbers will back that,” she adds with a laugh. Her enthusiasm works contagious. And come to think of it, we might very well be working in the most fun industry. “It really is, especially this holiday season. It’s a lot of work, but it’s going really well, so I’m happy. It’s a challenging business, but it is also a privilege to work in an industry that has so many enthusiastic, appreciative, and interesting people. It really is a beautiful world to work in.”
We couldn’t agree more.
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