Growing up in a tiny Iowa town surrounded by cornfields and tractors, where imported beer was a rarity and wine-from-a-box a delicacy, Shane Baum never dreamed he’d tee off at St. Andrew’s, shack up at the InterContinental in Cannes or hunt pheasants with British Royalty. “When you’re sitting in a town of 2,500 at 12 years old, you don’t fathom those kind of things happening,” he says. But having a choreographer mother and travel-obsessed salesman father instilled Baum with an appreciation for the arts and a serious case of cultural wanderlust. He traveled out west for college, studying engineering at San Jose State before heading south to the beaches of Southern California.
While hanging out in Laguna Beach, Baum met a young designer Mossimo Gianulli and eventually landed a job in Mossimo’s warehouse at the height of the brand’s craze. “I had a college degree, but on my first day of work a 14 year old kid showed me how to fold shirts,” Baum says. His warehouse days quickly led to a position within the company’s newly launched eyewear division and four years later, at only 26, Baum became the Vice President of the three million dollar division. The company went public on the NYSE in the spring of 1996 and Baum found himself among a peer group of seasoned fashion executives with an intense plan to grow the business. As Baum reflects, “We went from about 10 people in 1991 to over a hundred in ‘96. It was nuts; corporate jets, egos, and lots of chaos. The stock dropped from $52 to $26 in a day. Says Baum, “I learned way more on the way down than the way up.” Baum headed to Optical Shop of Aspen, where he worked under Bill Barton before finally deciding the time was right to break out on his own.
Initially unsure where his entrepreneurial vision would lead, Baum headed back to the beach where he lived in a house on the Newport Peninsula for a summer drafting two different business plans and working on projects for MTV and the Australian clothing company Mooks. Between surfing and brainstorming sessions, Baum brought on a young employee and started drafting a plan to enter the eyewear business.
In 2001 a licensing deal was struck with Paul Frank. Baum was to design a line of eyewear and Baumvision was officially born. With its playful image and sophisticated mid-century modern sense of design Paul Frank was an ideal fit for Baum’s equally design-driven aesthetic. “At that time, everyone was wearing shield glasses, but we really believed in colorful plastics and double bridges on the nose…things we thought were uniquely Paul Frank,” he says. Early on, Baum earned a reputation for being daring when it came to design and he’s built Baumvision around a unique philosophy that favors creative satisfaction over immediate commercial success.
While playing a round of golf with longtime friend Mossimo, shortly after the Paul Frank license was secured, “Moss” asked Baum to create an eyewear collection for his new company Modern Amusement. Baum agreed, the pair shook hands on the 8th hole and Baumvision had its second license. “We made a gentlemen’s agreement in the old fashioned way,” he says.
With two solid licenses under its belt Baumvision began thinking on a global level; eventually launching Baumvision Europe in 2003 out of an extra room in a Berlin apartment. The headquarters has since relocated to Vienna and grown to a staff of 12 with 17 sales reps throughout Europe. In 2008 Baum signed a distribution deal with 4th generation New York optician Kenny Moscot to distribute his classically inspired collection of Moscot Originals throughout Europe. Says Baum, “We sensed a global trend towards authenticity and all things Americana. Moscot has been an institution in New York for over 90 years. It’s the real deal and people are responding to that.” In the summer of 2009 Baum signed another distribution deal with his former boss and ex-Oliver Peoples president Bill Barton. Explains Baum, “When the VP of sales, the VP of marketing, the CFO and the head designer leave a company the caliber of Oliver Peoples to start a new one, it’s as close as you can get to a ‘sure thing’. I could not bear to not be involved.” Baumvision products are now distributed throughout all major European countries, Asia, Australia, and South America. “We’re building the empire one brick at a time,” Baum jests.
A zealous proponent of the leisure lifestyle, Baum has been dubbed a “culture vulture” because of an intense passion for the arts and luxury pastimes. An evening with Baum may include the opera, followed by a set from Kings of Convenience, that concludes in a dive bar or the type of casino where jackets are required. These outings evolved into a social club from which the Leisure Society namesake was born. Baum reflects on what he now considers to be a watershed moment in the Leisure Society’s annals, “I was making an invitation to Opening Day at Del Mar, one of Southern California’s most storied and historic horse racing tracks. My intention was to invite an intimate group of friends to the event that has traditionally been held every July since the 1930s. I created this very formal itinerary that included a detailed account of the day’s events: breakfast at the Four Seasons, limousine transfers, first class train coaches, preferred seating at the Diamond Club, and a formal dinner in Rancho Santa Fe. It was all upscale and quite proper, a world not so familiar to my friends and I. So a ‘from Shane Baum’ note of address didn’t seem to do the event justice. I thought about it for a few moments and quickly wrote at the top of the invite, ‘by Order of the Royal and Ancient Leisure Society...’ From that point forward all of our social gatherings from wooden racquet tennis tournaments, to Tyrolean tobogganing trips, or an odd impromptu BBQ in the backyard have subsequently become Leisure Society outings.” It’s this mixing of high and low culture that helps define Leisure Society both in the U.S. and abroad.
An integral component to Baumvision’s success has been the unwavering commitment and dedication of the company’s skeleton crew that handles the workload of a staff twice its size. Baum compares his team to the Army’s Green Berets, “This is the special forces. You have to be better, more focused and willing to work harder so we can pull this off,” he says. Baumvision’s staff is young (average age 28), intelligent, motivated, and part of the new generation of dialed-in luxury purveyors who knows that hard work is what will ultimately secure their spot amongst the indie luxe jet set.
Everyone who works at Baumvision shares a love for music that ranges from indie-rock to hip-hop, with a little of everything else mixed in between. The company boasts a roster of seminal bands that it works closely with, including Death Cab for Cutie, The Hold Steady, Mars Volta, Spoon and Pavement. Because music is such an influence and inspiration to the Baumvision creative process the company is eager to have bands they revere wearing its eyewear. “We’re honored when bands we respect enjoy our art the way we enjoy theirs,” Baum says.
After 10 years of making frames and designing in the shadows, Baum decided to go it alone by creating his own brand, Leisure Society. Says Baum, “I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most respected designers in high fashion. For the first time in my career, I am able to create on a more simplified and honest platform. One that lives in a pencil, a blank piece of paper, and an earnest desire to create.”