Shane Baum Interview
Text: Agi Habryka
Coco Chanel once said, “The art of living is the art of omitting the right things.” If she would have met eyewear designer Shane Baum during her lifetime, this eloquent motto may very likely have been inspired by Baum’s work ethos and philosophy.
Shane Baum has been on a mission. On a mission to reduce everything to its core, to the bare essence. In terms of stylistics, he has thrown out all flair and gimmicks. In terms of craftsmanship, he has stepped up his game to a new level. The results? A complete package: purist designs paired with the highest optical quality standards. Simplicity so timeless and elegant, it immediately conjures up the names of the True Greats; Greta Garbo’s signature cool, the divine elegance of Grace Kelly and the unmistakable beauty of Chaterine Deneuve. So, what is Baum’s secret?
Most of all, very high standards. Shane Baum admits that the Leisure Society collection, launched in 2010, is the most demanding line he has ever produced. He calls himself a devoted traditionalist and “down to earth”. From the ground up, his rise to success is one of the quintessential stories driven by luck and by pluck, and by staying true to his dreams and visions. Baum grew up in a small town and moved on to study Industrial Design, which failed to ignite his passion. However, he set out to discover and learn to appreciate the industry on his own path. At the company of his friend Mossimo Giannulli, Baum gathered invaluable experience and steadily worked his way up the ranks. At the mere age of 26 years, Shane was made Vice President of Mossimo’s eyewear division. Asked about the company’s untimely demise, Baum allows: “I’ve learned more on the way down than I’ve learned on the way to the top.” In 2001, he launched his own brand, Baumvision, and started working with the best of the best: a licensing deal with Paul Frank, a collection for Modern Amusement, collaborations with Original Penguin and Louis Vuitton. Piece by piece, Baum built his reputation, paving the way to the top stone by stone, while breaking down global boundaries.
His friends describe Shane Baum as well traveled and culturally literate. A Renaissance Man, cultivating a classical “Dandy” look in well-fitting, tailored designer suits. And lest we forget, Baum has also arrived at a position where he can define and shape the very realm of luxury in which he dwells according to his own will. Baum is in a position to not only redefine the meaning of luxury, but also make his ideals manifest reality through his company’s production chain. With Leisure Society, he is producing high-end goods at a quality level that is hard to match. As a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), Baum is in touch with the highest quality standards – and they are merely good enough for Leisure Society. Every single piece of his retro-style collection is handmade; crafted from 100% pure titanium, plated with 12k, 18k or 24k gold; hand-polished; and offered in limited runs of only 75 pieces for each model. Lenses are polarized (CR-39), 100% UVA/UVB protected and coated with anti-scratch Diamond Coat ™. To no surprise, the circle of avid Leisure Society fans already includes luminaries such as Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna and Kanye West. At price points between $500 and $50,000 (for customized built-to-order models), these shades and eyeglasses are luxury items in their own league. And if you ask Mr. Baum, they are investments that will last a lifetime. What it boils down to is that this is the new meaning of luxury. This is the spirit of purist design and timeless elegance, blended with a certain kind of romance. This is Leisure Society.
Mr. Baum, during my research I noted that you tend to be very open during interviews. You relate lots of personal information, which is of course every journalist’s dream. But where does this openness come from? Why are you willing to talk about your dreams, experiences and defeats?
Well, first of all: Life really is not all that complex, as many people make it look. And if we really had to break it down to one thing we can all agree upon – no matter if we’re Angelina Jolie, or some guy living in an run-down shack – it’s that we all have the same goal: happiness, satisfaction – and everything in between. With this in mind, it’s a lot easier to open up. It’s easier to call things by their name and tell the truth.
Then let’s start with a description of your character. What are you like?
Unapproachable, honest, immature, egoistical, loyal, content, loving, empathetic, dry, sarcastic, real, positive; very, very positive…
And how do you stay true to yourself?
Sometimes I imagine being someone else, someone who hates me. It’s only human to build someone up, only to disintegrate him in a way. And if you start looking at yourself from this negative human standpoint, you automatically start trying to better yourself.
How romantic are you, Mr. Baum?
Very! I’m an old soul, who whole-heartedly believes in the often-unrealistic romanticism of the past!
Is luxury a privilege?
Of course! Luxury is superfluous – things you don’t really need, but would like to have.
And is quality necessarily a luxury item?
That is the line I’m walking on. Luxury for the sake of luxury is ostentatious. Quality with a component of luxury can mean that you’re holding a better product in your hands than you may actually need. We have been focusing on creating incredibly wonderful products at outstanding quality levels.
Please explain the essence of Leisure Society.
It’s been the fulfillment of my life. I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I’m convinced that there are three things you think about on your deathbed: your family, your friends, and the time you’ve spent with them. And everything else will no longer be important. This is the basic premise for Leisure Society. It’s about the special moments with the people you love, moments of bliss and recreation. One more thing: you shouldn’t try to define yourself according to class. Leisure Society is not specific to any type of class or income level. Sure, flying in a private jet is great, but so is skinny-dipping in a mountain spring.
What is the unmistakable characteristic of your collection?
Traditional design. We have closely examined every single decision along the way with an aim to make products that will last an eternity. They are crafted from titanium plated with gold, with polarized lenses and packaged in a leather case. All of these are valuable materials. And if you manufacture something from these materials, it somehow feels like “more”. The best of the best! It’s a really basic concept.
What is important to you as a designer?
Integrity, progression and good cooperation.
How much of a perfectionist are you in your work?
It’s important for me to do a good job. But nothing is ever perfect.
Which also means there is no such thing as THE perfect shape?
There are many people who believe that the Aviator is pretty close to being THE perfect shape. Actually, it looks pretty good on quite a lot of people.
I’ve heard that you’re a great music enthusiast. How important is music for your creative process?
Extremely important! Our company is full of music lovers, and I don’t mean subtle love, either. Many of our company events are held at concerts and there’s a steady stream of independent music filling our company headquarters all day long. We name our frames after our favorite songs and try to invite pretty obscure musicians to wear our glasses. At least half of our employees are making music or even play in bands – which is why it’s working out so well.
If you were to choose a soundtrack for your life, what would it be?
It should sound like “True Love Ways” by Buddy Holly.
How important is the combination of optical craftsmanship and fashion in your designs?
It’s really difficult. There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the industry in that sense in the past decades. I believe that there is something fascinating about vintage eyewear. It’s in the elaborate details and the specialized manufacturing processes that were used in the past.
How did the collaboration with Louis Vuitton come about?
I have to be careful explaining this one. Marc Jacobs is a designer at Vuitton. I was only allowed to keep the drawings of my sketches for my portfolio. And that’s almost all I can say. At first, they inspected my work very closely and examined everything very carefully. This company is very elegant, full of wonderful individuals. I have the utmost respect for each of their employees.
Where do you draw the line between Fashion and High Fashion?
It’s only High Fashion at a certain level of originality and proficient quality. I’m personally shocked by how many things are being copied in this industry. I’m very shocked, actually…
Who do you share your vision and ideas with, Mr. Baum?
Mostly with my team. I listen very closely to my employees. Most of them are highly talented and very involved with what they are working on, so it would be arrogant on my part to ignore their objections. The consciousness of a collective is better than that of a single man. But at the end of the day, it’s the individual man who has to make that decisive call.
Who are some of the most inspiring personalities you’ve had the pleasure to work with?
Bill Barton at Barton Perriera has taught me a lot. My agent Phillip Tison is a very inspirational person with his dedication, work ethic and commitment.
Who would you like to work with sometime?
Okay. And currently? What’s on your creative agenda right now?
A collaboration with Rebecca Minkoff. She’s an incredibly gifted designer and beautiful person! We have already worked together successfully before.
When you get to working creatively, what’s your thought process?
I try to imagine what the others are creating, just to make sure to do something different. Originality is our most important goal.
How does your creative process usually start?
We always search through our archive and work on existing ideas. There are thousands of sketches in our archive, so there are lots of untapped possibilities. We also try to get a good overview of what is out there: colors, textures, shapes, icons… We gradually renew our basic idea, until it gives rise to a new collection.
Do you have any regrets? Anything you would do differently if you were given the chance?
I am very satisfied with the evolution of my company. We have taken our time until we were certain that our decisions were the ones that felt right. With every single line we have put on paper…
Do you feel your work is appreciated? I mean, besides the appreciation reflected in sales.
Well, there’s an incredible amount of great products out there. I believe that the people who pay attention will recognize that I work very hard and innovatively, and that I commit to the design process with integrity.
In 20 years…
…I will hopefully be surrounded by people who love me!
Do you feel like you are privileged?
Far more than that! To make it from a small town of almost 2,500 souls into the (shrugs) Jet Set, and to travel the entire world while working with the funniest and most talented people, all at a certain level of comfort… it’s really a dream come true!
Does that mean there aren’t any unfulfilled dreams left for you?
Oh yeah, many! Every time I approach something new, it feels exactly as if I was just getting started.