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Shattering the Crystal Ceiling — Baccarat’s New Rock Star CEO Makes an Iconic Brand Cool for the Instagram Age

Appealing to Younger Customers Means Edgier Events and Celebrity Love

BY // 11.15.19

On a recent Saturday afternoon, The French Room bar inside Dallas’ Adolphus hotel was quiet. Lights were dimmed, casting a faint glow onto the lacquered-mahogany paneling and Old Master paintings. Tucked in a back corner, a man lounged in a velvet banquette as clicks from a camera shutter broke the silence

A small crowd had gathered. The man’s leopard jeans, glittering black cowboy boots, platinum hair, and tattoo-studded arms gave him a bad-boy aura — like a rock star hiding out before a performance. The subject of all this attention was Jim Shreve, Baccarat’s North American president and CEO.

With freshly bleached hair and a wardrobe of labels like DSquared2, Shreve is injecting the centuries-old crystal manufacturer with a jolt of cool. He was in town to host a private Baccarat dinner that night at The French Room for Neiman Marcus’ home decor managers.

Guests sipped cocktails from Baccarat, but there was nothing stuffy about the evening. Entertainment was via 19-year-old American Idol and country western star Colby Swift, who is from Texas. They also played poker — Baccarat is a sponsor of the World Poker Tour — with winners taking home Baccarat loot.

Shreve joined Baccarat in 2016 and has been rethinking the traditional crystal house since he arrived. A former exec at Diesel and Façonnable, he’s appealing to younger customers with his unexpected product collaborations and edgier events. One of the first things he did was hire a dynamic team with fashion backgrounds, including vice president of sales Sally Burnside, who worked for Theory and Michael Kors.

Marketing and PR vice president Ward Simmons’ background included Hugo Boss and Carolina Herrera, and Ralph Lauren. Visits to the company’s factory in France inspired the Boys of Baccarat, a stylish campaign of beefy young third- and fourth-generation glassblowers photographed like supermodels, outfitted in the French brand 13 Bonaparte.

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An infusion of fresh blood has also helped generate new creative strategies.

“The tableware industry has always operated so differently from apparel, and I didn’t understand why,” Shreve says. “With apparel, you have mannequins dressed to show customers what to buy.

“With crystal, there’s one of everything on display, and you have no idea what to purchase. So we created impact tables to show our customers what we believe in. And, like apparel, we change the focus often.”

Success has been immediate: A customer who walked into Baccarat’s Greenwich, Connecticut store fell in love with everything on its impact table, including the tablecloth.

“She bought 10 of everything,” Shreve says. “It works.”

Baccarat for the Everyday

Shreve’s goal is to get Baccarat in the hands of more people — more often.

“If you like beautiful things, why not drink orange juice in the morning from a $100 Baccarat glass.” he says. “Think about how much we spend on cellphones every year, on the latest upgrade — a new iPhone costs $1,000 — and how many people do you know with cracked screens?

“We’re not afraid to use our phones every day, and yet we’re afraid to use our good crystal. I want to change that.”

To reach a broader audience, Baccarat has focused attention on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. The company’s social media pages teem with a beautiful red-carpet crowd. Shreve, who collects designer sneakers and fine watches, packs his personal Instagram account, @justjim13, with photos of Baccarat fans such as Kris Jenner, and daughters Kylie Jenner and Kourtney Kardashian, who love to entertain.

In the world of social media, a crystal glass can be as important as a pair of shoes — but a picture of Kourtney Kardashian sipping from a Baccarat Harcourt whiskey tumbler only tells half the story. To truly appreciate the crystal’s quality, Shreve says, you have to touch and feel it.

He has devised a broad array of events and collaborations that create those tactile opportunities — and the company’s online business is exploding because of it.

“Once they feel and touch the product, people go online and buy it,” Shreve says. “We’ve been running double-digit growth for three years.”

In July, Baccarat unveiled a luxury cake truck in partnership with Lady M Cake Boutique, famous for cakes composed of 20 layers of handmade crêpes and pastry cream. The truck, which debuted at Baccarat’s Manhattan boutique, traveled to the West Coast before setting up service in Northern California.

It’s a chance for a wide range of people to become acquainted with the luxury brand, Shreve says. Large Baccarat chandeliers and sconces are mounted on the outside of the truck, and people eat cake on Arabesque dessert plates and drink from Everyday Baccarat tumblers. Custom iPads give access to Baccarat’s digital catalog, in case diners want to buy on the go.

Baccarat Passion Collection, designed by vintner Jean-Charles Boisset
Baccarat Passion Collection, designed by vintner Jean-Charles Boisset

Baccarat announced a raft of additional partnerships, including cult-revered Supreme, whose drops cause an Instagram sensation (13 million followers) and lines around the block at their stores in New York City, London, Paris and throughout Japan. Availability of Supreme Baccarat/Dom Pérignon flute sets will be announced sometime this fall, with a drop occurring unannounced, per usual.

In addition to new products such as Boris Tabacoff’s edgy, asymmetrical Narcisse glassware, baccarat has launched a collection of games in clear and black crystal with marble boards by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, including an $18,000 backgammon set and a domino set for $8,200. And hot off the presses: Baccarat just announced its Red Diamond Creators Award with YouTube to members with 100 million subscribers.

“This is huge for Baccarat as the brand recognition reaches hundreds of millions of potential clients,” Simmons says.

The World of Baccarat Boutiques

In September, Baccarat’s first U.S. boutique with cafe and bar opened in Miami. A similar Baccarat boutique with a bar opened in May in Milan and is already getting rave reviews. Five more U.S. boutique locations are under exploration, but that’s hush-hush for now. (Baccarat has seven boutiques in the U.S., including one in Houston.)

Inspired by the Baccarat Hotel in New York, which opened in 2015, hospitality and cocktails are the wave of Baccarat’s future.

“Every new experience we open that is run by Baccarat will have a bar attached to it,” Shreve says. “It will be a space you can chill and put your bags down after a long day of shopping and have a glass of champagne or light lunch.

“It’s all run internally by Baccarat, so the quality’s there. I’ll even bartend, if you want.”

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