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How Baccarat's Gay Rock Star CEO Is Making Crystal Cool Again

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For many of us, crystal has been associated with a “look, don’t touch” policy. Though gorgeous to observe and feel, my family treated crystal as a special affair meant only for weddings and holidays, tucked away in my grandmother’s display case. But, thankfully, that was then and this is now.

Jim Shreve, the gay president and CEO of Baccarat, North America, has spent the last five years rejuvenating the 257-year-old French-based company to bridge the gaps between old and new, luxury and necessity, niche and mainstream. A former executive at Diesel and Façonnable, Shreve has used his fashion background as well as his own life experiences with his partner of 25 years, Mark Brashear, the first gay executive at Nordstrom, to create new lines of products, marketing campaigns, and internal business structures that appeal to younger customers and a more “cool” crowd.

Still, despite the shift in creative direction at Baccarat, including exciting collaborations with Martha Stewart and a few unnamed 20-something superstars set to announce later this year, Shreve almost didn’t take the job when he was first offered it in 2016. It wasn’t until he received encouragement from Brashear that he accepted the position, which was fitting given that Shreve’s plan to reshape Baccarat mirrors the couple’s own trajectory with the brand.

“Mark and I have owned Baccarat for many years,” says Shreve. “We bought it 25 years ago and all we could afford were six glasses. Then at the next dinner party, we had eight people and were like, ‘Oh my god, what do we do?’ I wanted new champagne flutes and I didn’t want Baccarat because I felt it was at Macy’s and it was overexposed and you could get it marked down. I didn’t want it. So [in 2016] I said to my boss that I really wanted to put some shine back on this brand and wake the Sleeping Beauty up. I look at it as a consumer, what’s desirable to us, so I started doing stuff that made it desirable for me and made it desirable for my friends.”

jim shreve

Baccarat’s Pride promotion “Color of love” utilizes the rainbow across several categories including décor and glassware

For Shreve, it was not about changing the integrity of the product itself, but rather how we use it. Two years ago, for example, the company joined forces with Lady M for the world’s first luxury cake truck, with stunning Baccarat chandeliers hanging from both sides. New shifts of high-end events (pre-pandemic) to switch from glass plates to Baccarat plates have also helped those efforts as well as recent promotions introducing bold new designs.

Though Baccarat products have been associated with the wealthy for over 250 years, Shreve’s plan is to make luxury more accessible to the everyday person by intersecting the concepts of splurging on expensive gadgets and accessories with that of crystal décor.

“As Americans we are very good at exposing our passions,” he says. “My shirt today is a name brand and we’re not afraid to wear that. We have fancy cars. We have the gold and nice jewelry and all this stuff. We’re not afraid to show this, but within our homes we don’t take care of ourselves. Coming from fashion, I wear sweats at home that aren’t designer sweats because no one sees me. Who needs designer sweats? Why waste money? It’s the same with our plates and our glassware. I have an obsession for fashion and clothes. I used to work at Diesel so I have a lot of denim. But why do we have one set of plates? Some days I don’t feel like eating off white. Some days I want to eat off blue. The answer is always space, so I get it, but our closets are also space constrained. Yet, we have one glass and one plate and one fork. I don’t need variety; I need change. So I think how we look at ourselves in the home should [evolve].”

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baccarat

The company’s recent pieces — light fixtures, sculptures, and more — unite the past, present, and future in a dignified, refined way

Shreve is making big changes behind the scenes as well, hiring a forward-thinking team that reflects today’s cultural mindset and society — from the processes in which they hire internally to how they’re directing their inclusive visual campaigns.

“It’s having an open mind,” he says of the creative process. “Whether we’re talking about a social issue, whether we’re talking about a like or dislike or a comic book or a sweater, let’s not judge everything. Let’s learn. Let’s have a desire to learn in new, different ways.”

“I don’t care how old you are. I don’t care how tall, how short you are. If you like beautiful things, you are our demographic. And because you like beautiful things, you can aspire and desire,” Shreve says. “For me, if I can help impact one person by showing them and exposing them to something that they didn’t think about before, we’ve done a good job.” @baccarat

This story is part of Out's 2021 Pride Issue. The issue is out on newsstands on June 1, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News. 

Tags: Print, Design

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