Paris’s Philippe Starck-designed Baccarat House is currently celebrating the 170th anniversary of its iconic Harcourt stemware with an unmissable exhibition. HL’s assistant editor Leigh Robertson discovers why Baccarat epitomises the essence of opulent French living...
The word ‘iconic’ is possibly the most over-hyped of all in the design lexicon, yet it is a wholly deserved adjective when describing not only the wares of haute French crystal house Baccarat but also the brand itself.
With a history dating back to 1764, during the reign of King Louis XV, when a glassworks was established in the village of Baccarat in eastern France, the emblematic brand has long been associated with royalty and luxury. But Baccarat is also recognised for the bold artistic vision and playful reinvention of itself that it has displayed especially over the course of the past century.
Baccarat’s HQ in Paris’s 16th arrondisement is a must-visit for anyone who loves design, beautiful spaces and beautiful things, and it’s impossible not to be completely bowled over by this ravishing space (even after having dragged yourself through room after room in the Louvre). It is housed in a former private mansion belonging to the late socialite and artist benefactress, Marie-Laure de Noailles, whose legendary, avant-garde parties with the Surrealist set are hinted at throughout the lavish, sprawling space.
For its 21st century incarnation, lauded designer Philippe Starck was given carte blanche to transform it, incorporating a gallery-museum, a boutique and a restaurant, and the result (in true Starck form) pays homage to the modernist spirit of its previous owner and the luxe yet wholly progressive artistic identity of the brand. Visual delights lie in wait around every corner, through every doorway that leads to yet another enchanting space…
On a private tour with Baccarat curator and archivist Michaela Lerch (fittingly Parisian-chic in head-to-toe black and with sharply bobbed hair), we were whisked through a regal foyer bathed in crimson light, up the very grand spiral staircase (along a sparkle-edged red carpet), and into the original ballroom, in which one of many dramatic installations spread throughout the building’s upper level elicited the first in a series of gasps and sighs. Thus began a glimpse into the journey of the brand’s Harcourt stemware – a true design icon if ever there was – which this year celebrates its 170th anniversary.
On show until January 2012, the magnificently curated ‘L’Harcourt Toujours’ exhibition follows the evolution of the brand’s signature, chalice-shaped glass – first issued in 1841 and today still Baccarat’s top seller (more than 10 000 Harcourt glasses are sold yearly). Versions of the Harcourt have been (and still are) commissioned for kings and statesmen, and more recently it’s been reinterpreted by contemporary designers such as Tsé & Tsé, Vincent Dupont-Rougier, Arno Billault, Inga Sempé, Florence Deygas and Olivier Kuntzel – all on display in magnificent illuminated glass cases in the otherwise pitch-black gallery space.
But my favourite was Starck’s sexily sleek, dark version in black crystal, ‘un Parfait’, designed in 2005. Lerch explained that it is exceptionally difficult – ‘a fine art’ – to produce black crystal, to obtain both the darkness and the pureness to the acceptable level of perfection required by Baccarat. Paying homage to the Surrealist, Jean Cocteau, Starck played with the notion of there being only one perfect glass in his ‘artist set’ of six pieces (inscribed with a quote from Cocteau).
The height of fashion in the 1920s, Starck can be wholly attributed to bringing black crystal back into vogue – he was also responsible for designing Baccarat’s magnificent black chandelier, another true (and much imitated) icon. I could have spent days gazing at it in the restaurant, while sipping café crème and nibbling my rather excellent (and surely another Parisian icon) tarte tatin…
Galerie-Musee Baccarat, 11 Place des Etats-Unis, 75116, Paris, baccarat.com.