“Many people describe Baccarat as a sleeping beauty,” says Daniela Riccardi, the French heritage brand’s recently appointed CEO, when we meet at the new Baccarat lighting showroom in Downtown Dubai. “I want to wake the sleeping beauty, from a business point of view. I think the brand could be bigger – probably twice as big. I want to make sure the shareholders are happy with the investment they have made. And I want to make the brand more top-of-mind – bring back the allure, which I think never went away, but could be dusted off and really made to shine.”
Baccarat, which will celebrate its 250th anniversary next year, is one of the oldest and most established luxury brands in the world. The crystal manufacturer was founded in Lorraine, France, in the mid-18th century, under the authorisation of King Louis XV, who wanted a “crystallerie” where he could buy beautiful, superior-quality pieces for his own palaces. By 1823, Baccarat had become one of the leading crystalworks in France and its fine crystal stemware, barware, candelabras, perfume bottles, jewellery and chandeliers have been firm favourites with the rich and illustrious ever since – including emperors, tsars, sheikhs, maharajas, politicians, celebrities and aristocrats the world over. Think of some of the most memorable occasions in history – the weddings of Jacqueline and John F Kennedy or Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, for example – and the chances are that Baccarat was present in some way.
The brand’s place in history is eloquently highlighted in a new book, Baccarat: Two Hundred and Fifty Years, which was published in October. The authors describe one of the house’s most iconic pieces: “A drinking vessel, created in 1841, named Harcourt, that has toasted kings, emperors, popes and poets alike for over 170 years, and continues to do so today.”
But how difficult is it to keep a brand that’s so steeped in history relevant, I wonder? Can such a long and illustrious history be a burden as well as a blessing? “I think it is in the mind of many people and it was certainly in my mind before I joined the company – is the brand too old to be interesting and relevant to everybody, particularly the younger generation? It’s not,” Riccardi says. “It is kind of a paradox, but some of our heritage collections and vintage pieces are in very high demand. There is an incredible vintage market for Baccarat. In fact, we have made a conscious choice that, while we will maybe have one designer every ‘x’ period of time trying to reinterpret a certain product or a certain design in a bit more of a contemporary fashion, the vintage part is what is of more interest today, even for the younger generation.
“I think our heritage is really not a burden. And probably today, more than a few years ago, people are looking at genuine, authentic luxury, as opposed to bling. We are timeless and we have always been in fashion, and I think, by just staying on that course, we will continue to be very relevant.”
That is highlighted in the new Dubai showroom. Enormous, unimaginably intricate chandeliers hang overhead, with old favourites, including the ever-popular Mille Nuits collection, sitting alongside more contemporary pieces, such as Philippe Starck’s jaunty Marie Coquine chandelier, which takes the classic chandelier and juxtaposes it with – of all things – an umbrella. The focus is very much on the lighting, but there is also a table dressed with Baccarat’s trademark tableware, along with ornate candelabras, vases, bowls and other highlights from the house’s extensive collection.
“The lighting showrooms are part of a project that started maybe a couple of years ago,” Riccardi explains. “I think we realised that people do not have many chances to see our magnificent chandeliers – and this is still a very important part of the business. They are quite sizeable and really need their space to shine. Of course, there are many placed in palaces around the world, but not in places where people had the chance to go and see and choose and bring their architects and designers along with them. Globally, we started opening a number of these lighting showrooms, most of which are still in their first year of life.
“The showrooms started mainly with lighting, but we are now learning that when people visit, they want to see more – when they choose a chandelier, they also want to choose accessories to go with it. The idea is to offer the opportunity to see different things. And as people have had the opportunity to see more, they have realised that you don’t need a palace and there are many different styles. And although it is still Baccarat and it still carries the heritage elements, there are some pieces that are more modern and there are some that are more classic.”
What they all have in common is the exceptional craftsmanship that has been the cornerstone of the brand’s success for the last two-and-a-half centuries. This, says Riccardi, is what has always set the company apart.
“It’s the savoir faire. We are the company in France with the highest number of maîtres that have 30 or 40 years of experience in cutting and engraving and shining and polishing and creating the most amazing objects. These are people that have been with the company for 30 to 50 years; who have grown with the company. They have an unbelievable artistry that cannot be replicated.
“Through history, wars, revolution, different ownership, different shareholders, different CEOs, the savoir faire of the company has been extremely stable and [the craftsmen] are the heart of the company. They are the ones that have the brand in their veins and are constantly inheriting from their predecessors and transmitting to the next generation.”
Moving forward, Riccardi will be very protective of the brand, she says. There will still be collaborations with big-name designers, who will always be called upon to present new and fresh interpretations of the brand, but, essentially, the focus will be on preserving and staying true to the true essence of France’s “sleeping beauty”.
“I will be very protective of the brand – and mindful of taking it too far from its roots and heritage.”
Follow us @LifeNationalUAE
Follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.