How Jim Shreve Turned Baccarat Into A Fashion Player
Baccarat’s North America President and CEO Jim Shreve might not look like your typical executive, but he’s the first to tell you his approach to business is still old-school. With a seasoned background in fashion, he’s bringing out-of-the-box partnerships to the luxury crystalware brand and turning the French company into a bona fide fashion player. How does he do it?
You had a career in fashion before landing at Baccarat. What were some of the highlights?
My whole career was in fashion prior to this, and I look at this as fashion. My last job was overseeing global product merchandising for Diesel, and I lived in Italy doing that. Prior to Diesel, I was with Façonnable, which at the time was owned by Nordstrom. And I oversaw its merchandising and buying operations for Europe. I was also with Gap for 13 years.
Why did you want to bring fashion into the Baccarat world?
It’s what I knew. It’s all I know. I’ve learned many different things in my past jobs. I was with Banana Republic when we were safari and we transformed it into a sportswear brand, and it was an amazing education at that time. One of the things that many brands do is ask, “What’s your impact?” When you walk into a store, a company tells the consumer what they stand for. I looked at Baccarat and I looked at the industry and there was not that message. You walk in and you have beautiful things, but what are we supposed to buy? I’m fascinated with grocery stores because grocery stores direct us—you always enter in produce, and you end in chips. It’s interesting for me, when you look at different industries, how we’re supposed to be told what to buy. It’s fascinating.
Your U.S. executive team is also made up of former fashion executives. My team is all from fashion.
It’s people I knew. My partner [Mark Brashear] also comes from fashion. It was easy for me to hire people in fashion because we all spoke the same language. We say something like, “This has no hanger appeal.” But a glass might not have hanger appeal until it’s set on a table or until you put a drink in it. We talk about the mannequin look. And [for] tableware, no one talks about a mannequin look, but when you look at a table when you go into a department store and look at the way something is set up, that should be our way of expressing a mannequin. We speak the same language; we all understand each other. It’s been an interesting injection into the tableware industry in America. We look at it as fashion for the home. There’s a lot of things that we do with fashion in terms of the shoes we wear, the accessories we wear, the clothes we wear. When we go home, we don’t necessarily take care of ourselves in the same way. You look in your cupboards and it’s like, that wine glass I’ve had for 10 years serves a purpose. A belt serves a purpose, too, but we don’t keep a belt for 10 years.
Tell us about some of the collaborations that you’ve brought to Baccarat.
We’ve done some fun ones. Supreme is probably the one that we were very excited about. I challenged my team to do something creative. I can’t do an interview without mentioning what an awesome team I have. Someone on the team went to Supreme without telling anyone. And he was like, “Hi, do you want to do a collaboration?” It took about two years to land on something. One of the topics is also about innovative marketing or innovative ways to show. Another collaboration we did was with Lady M [Cake Boutique]. They came to us after they had seen some of the creative things we had been doing. They said, “We want to work together, and we want to do a food truck.” And I’m like, “Okay, let’s do a food truck, and we can hang chandeliers from the food truck.” You have to think about how the consumer is going to see and use your product. That’s what you should go after.
How did the collaboration with Virgil Abloh of Off-White come together?
In 2019, Virgil launched his Spring/Summer Louis Vuitton menswear collection at Chrome Hearts here in New York. As we are partners with Chrome Hearts, we loaned them the glassware for this event, and Virgil was like, “Oh, my God. The chandeliers and all the background is beautiful, and now we’re drinking out of them. I want to work with Baccarat!” He went back to France and he called our global CEO and said, “Let’s do something.” Later this year, we’ll be launching four vases, and there is also a $450,000 chandelier that he designed that is available and would probably look fabulous in your apartment!
What’s new with the longtime Baccarat and Chrome Hearts partnership?
It’s an amazing collaboration. We just announced the Pyramid Plus collection with them. We’ve had about a 20-year partnership with them. We make their crystal, but we’ve never done an exclusive suite. We usually adjust something customized for them. This is the first time we’re doing, completely from scratch, something special for Chrome Hearts. We’re excited about it.
What’s coming next?
We have a new collaboration coming out in October with Martha Stewart, which I am thrilled for. Martha is an icon for many of us, and I’ve followed her for 30 years. She approached us. We’re doing a suite of tableware with her, and it will be called the Martha Pattern. It’s the first time in our 257-year history that we’ve named a pattern after a person. She’s very honored. In November, we’re launching a collaboration with Pokémon for its 25th anniversary. We’re very busy.
Are you finding that brands are coming to you now?
The other night, we had three people come to us in one night. It’s fashion brands, particularly. They want something different. You know, you just have to always think outside of box and think differently, [with] new and different ideas. We also go to other companies and say, “We want to work with you.” I would love to do something to capture the sneaker trend. And so we’re working on something like that.
You’ve been pushing the concept that people should be using Baccarat every day and not just for special occasions.
My first week, we had introduced a set of everyday Baccarat, which is a set of six glasses, and the intention was to use it every day for orange juice, water, whatever. I’m walking down Madison Avenue in my first week to catch the subway, and I walk past RIMOWA. Its luggage is expensive, and you spend anywhere between $500 and $1,000 on one piece. And you go on an airplane and you bring it back, and it’s beat up. And I can show you, the metal gets bent and everything, but I still buy it and I still use it. People say, “Oh, no, I have Baccarat, but I only save it for special occasions.” Why? “Because I’m afraid to break or chip it.” But you just spent 10 times that amount on a piece of luggage, and you weren’t afraid to damage it? Why aren’t we using our beautiful wine glass that costs $150? That week, I came home and I got rid of all my glasses. The only thing here is crystal. You can go through my cupboards to confirm that!
Baccarat has had a successful year, which we aren’t hearing a lot these days from other companies. People being home has surely helped you, but what are the other factors that you attribute this success to?
We’ve gotten support from France to do regional marketing. Some of our regional marketing is “The love of my light,” which was only for the U.S., and it was a focus on our lighting. People didn’t know that we have lamps and a huge array of candlesticks and votives. We focused on that and it exploded. The next one will be “The color of love,” which is focused on all our beautiful color products, but it also has a subliminal message that we want to show our support that love comes in all colors. We did this when we opened back up in July, and we had all come out of pandemic and France wanted to say “Stay home with Baccarat.” And we were like, “No! We don’t want to stay at home. We’re tired of being home.” And so we introduced “Bring Harmonie,” which is named after one of our patterns. But it was also about bringing joy to this world that we’re living in. We have to remember to focus on positive things and nice things, and stop being so set in our ways and so judgmental.
What are some marketing moments you’re proud of?
I’m excited about the food truck. I’m proud of some of the celebrity endorsements that we’ve developed and worked with, such as the Martha Stewart collaboration. I think working with the generous Kardashians is up there. They’ve been huge ambassadors for the brand for many, many years. They’re very special people and love the brand. That’s been nice.
What are you doing with the family?
Nothing, we’re just friends. I met Kris [Jenner] at an event and she loves Baccarat, so we’re fueling her passion for it.
What about the other collabs?
We did a marketing activation with Ines Di Santos for Bridal Fashion Week. Two or three years ago, we had her post-show event in our store. At the time, we were debuting a Baccarat shoe that was designed but never came to production. Recently on Instagram, Scott Campbell, who’s a tattoo artist in L.A., launched a set of glasses that he designed and we made for him, which we hope to sell in our boutique in the future. I love the creative ones. The Woodford Reserve bottle we did was super fun. It’s the first bottling project we’ve done in the U.S. We’ve worked with the Kentucky Derby to do launch events and partnerships. When I think of what we’ve done, it’s important to understand we go where our customers go; we don’t want our customers to come to us.
You don’t look like the typical CEO. Are you sick of hearing that by now?
No, not at all. I’m not sick of hearing that because now I’ll get on my soapbox. We live in a judgmental world and country. People look at me, and I have tattoos. I love telling the story of one of our customers, who’s very traditional and she’s been in the business a long time, and she looked at me and said, “How can you be the CEO? One, you’re too young, and two, you have tattoos.” I said, “Well, I just got out of prison.” To this day we’re dear friends. I have dyed hair. I have tattoos all over. But my head is very traditional. The way I approach business is very old-fashioned.
How do you define your style?
Broad. Some days, I’ll go to work in a matching tracksuit, so I feel like Sue [Sylvester] from Glee. Other days, I’ll wear glitter and glam, and it just depends on what I feel in the mood for. I think it’s important that we take care of ourselves. I never go out of the house not taking care of myself. Even going to the gym, which is right downstairs, I dress. My trainers always make fun of me, but I think it’s important to have pride in how we look and how we feel. Growing up, I had every color of Ocean Pacific pants when they launched in the 1970s. I love fashion, and it’s not going to die.
What designers are your faves?
I love Christian Dior. I’ve been a longtime fan of Dsquared2. I bought my first Dsquared2 like 20 years ago in France, and I’ve always been committed to that brand. Right now, I love RtA brand, I like Nike. I just like an array. I love Neil Barrett. This year I bought my first piece of Gap in 20-some odd years. So it’s the high-low. I have Topman, and I wear Topman with Dior. I love the mix.
Do you like to entertain at home?
My partner and I have been together for 20-some odd years. I think it’s like 100 in gay years! We’ve always enjoyed entertaining. We bought our first Baccarat 28 years ago. We always like to have dinner parties. I love to have people over. We’re starting to entertain again. I love to bring different groups of people together and have interesting conversations. Our friends, I would say, are international. We have a group that, whether you’re American, Italian, French, it doesn’t matter, you come with a diverse background with topics to discuss. And the conversations are amazing. And we’ll sit around and have lots of wine, and I cook, so I’ll have a five- or six-course meal. One of my favorite things ever is to set a table. I don’t do it to impress, I do it because it brings me joy.
What are you looking forward to this summer?
We will be traveling. We’re starting to make plans. We’ll go spend time with family, who we haven’t seen in a year, in California. We’re going to go to Mexico with some friends to Playa del Carmen. We can’t wait to get to Europe soon. That’ll be fun!
Everybody learned some lessons from the pandemic. What did you take away from this experience?
I learned to appreciate being at home, my family, my friends, my partner—and how we stand by one another is super important and fun. I didn’t have challenges. It was joyful to have this time with my partner. Our lives have been go, go, go for 25 years. We had never been together for a year. Calm New York, quiet New York—I loved it.