LACOSTE SPORTSWEAR





French sportswear company

Founded: in Paris, 1933, by René Lacoste (1904-96); son Bernard Lacoste (born 1931), chairman/managing director since 1963. Company History: Manufactures tennis, golf, and leisure clothing, technical products for tennis and golf; launched first Lacoste shirts, 1933; sent first exports to Italy and addition of color range to shirts, 1951; first exports to U.S., 1952; established first collection for children, 1959; René Lacoste invented first steel racket, 1963; first exports to Japan, 1964; licensed deal with Patou for Lacoste Eau de Toilette, 1968; licensed L'Amy S.A. for Lacoste sunglasses and frames, 1981; opened first Lacoste boutique, Paris, 1981; launched new line of men's toiletries with Patou, 1984; developed Lacoste tennis shoes, 1985; developed Land and Eau de Sport fragrances, with Patou license, 1991 and 1994, respectively; opened Lacoste boutiques in New Delhi, Madras, and Bombay, 1993; opened Lacoste corners at Saks and Barney's in New York, Neiman Marcus in Dallas, 1994; opened first Lacoste freestanding boutique in U.S., 1995; launched men's Booster toiletries under Patou license, 1996; introduced Lacoste 2000 for men and Lacoste for Women, 1999; signed license agreement with Samsonite for bags, travel items, and small leather goods, 2000; licensing deal with Procter & Gamble Prestige Beauté for Lacoste fragrance and beauty products, 2001; designer Christophe Lemaire's first collection, 2001; Lacoste includes, as manufacturer and sales partners, Jean Patou for toiletries, Dunlop France for tennis and golf equipment, Roventa-Henex and Vimont for watches. Exhibitions: L'Art de Vivre en France , Teien Museum, Tokyo, 1985, Haus der Kunst, Munich, 1987; De Main de Maître, Grand Palais, Paris, 1988; Vraiment Faux, Fondation Cartier, Paris, 1988; Decorative Art and Design in France, Cooper Hewitt Museum, New York, 1989; Veramente Falso, Rotonda di Via Besona, Milan, and Villa Stuck, Munich, 1991; designer renditions of Lacoste sportswear, Pompidou Center, Paris, 2001. Collections: Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, Rhode Island; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Musée de la Mode, Paris; Musée du Sport, Paris. Awards: Design award, 1984; Innovation award, 1988; Global Recognition Trophy, the American Cotton Institute, 1995; Meryl award for sportswear, Venice, 1997; René Lacoste: Officier de la Legion d'Honneur, France; Bernard Lacoste: Chevalier de l'Ordre National de la Legion d'Honneur; Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Merité. Company Address: 8 rue de Castiglione, 75001 Paris, France. Company Website: www.lacoste.com .

P UBLICATIONS

By LACOSTE:

Books

Tennis, France, 1928. Plaisir du Tennis, France, 1981.

On LACOSTE:

Books

Cornfeld, B., and O. Edwards, Quintessence: The Quality of Having It, New York, 1983.

Chapais, B., and E. Herscher, Qualité, Objets d'en France, Paris, 1989.

Koda, Harold, and Richard Martin, Jocks and Nerds: Men's Style in the Twentieth Century, New York, 1989.

Duhamel, J., Grand Inventaire du Genie Français en 365 Objets, Paris, 1993.

A Historic Look at Izod Lacoste Sportswear, Southport, CT, 1993.

The Story Behind Izod, Southport, CT, 1993.

Le Dictionnaire de la Mode au Vingtieme Siecle, France, 1994.

International Directory of Company Histories, London, 1994.

Articles

"Le 'Crocodile,' Dieu des Loisirs," in Le Figaro (Paris), 5 July 1991.

Hartlein, Robert, "Izod Women's Changes and Drops Croc," in WWD, 29 April 1992.

"Real Men, Real Style, René Lacoste," in Esquire (Japan), October 1992.

"Les Mousquetaires: Down to Two, Still Riding High," in the International Herald Tribune, 21 May 1993.

"Bon Anniversaire Monsieur Lacoste," in Figaro Madame (Paris), 5June 1993.

"La Chemise Lacoste," in Marie-France (Paris), June 1993.

"Lacoste, Retour de Chine," in Le Figaro (Paris), 30 May 1994.

"Lacoste's Legacy," in the Financial Times, 14 October 1996.

"Lacoste Puts Teeth into Environmental Activism," in the Los Angeles Times, 20 November 1998.

Duffy, Tara Suilen, "Lacoste is Trying to Protect Its Crocodile in Hong Kong," in the Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), 14 October 1999.

Menkes, Suzy, "Lacoste: How Doth the Little Crocodile," in the International Herald Tribune, 3 July 2001.

*

The only way we consider fashion is color. Beyond fashion trends, because of our historic roots in tennis and golf, because we design activewear which must be comfortable, we try to provide the consumer with basics he can wear for many years as our products are durable. A brand remains powerful if it has a strong concept and adds on new lines of products solely when it has something new and worthwhile to offer to its existing consumers.

The quality of our products and the optimum price-to-quality ratio is the result of the quality of the men who create, manufacture, and sell and—moreover, the quality of teams prepared to work together in the same spirit. Quality is not controlling but manufacturing.

Even if I assume the final responsibility in the Company, I believe we form a true team, and it is this point which I am especially proud of, that allows us to be what we are today.

—Bernard Lacoste

***

Lacoste's seminal fashion impact rests on the cotton knit tennis shirt with alligator symbol developed in the 1920s by Jean René Lacoste. Lacoste, a popular French tennis player in a sports-mad and style-conscious era, was nicknamed "Le Crocodile" for his aggressive play and long nose. Back then, spectators and fashion editors eagerly noted what sports stars and celebrities wore to and from the matches. On the courts, players wore the unexciting standard tennis whites of flannel trousers and woven buttoned shirts with their long sleeves rolled up.

Lacoste challenged this traditional uniform by playing in short sleeveed knit shirts with a crocodile monogrammed on them. He designed his shirts for comfort and good looks during the rigors of the court. The short cuffed sleeve ended the problem of sleeves rolling down. The soft turned down collar loosened easily via the buttoned placket. The pullover cotton knit breathed, and the longer shirt tail prevented the shirt from pulling out.

Not content merely to introduce the style for his own use, Lacoste turned to producing and marketing them, following his retirement from tennis in the early 1930s. The shirts he commissioned from friends in the textile industry included an embroidered crocodile on the left breast at a time when few clothes had symbols. Lacoste's renown and photos of Riviera and Palm Beach notables in this type of shirt popularized the style for recreational wear, especially in the United States.

Although white remained traditional on tennis courts, the Lacoste shirt went technicolor on the American golf links in the 1950s. The same characteristics that made it comfortable for tennis, especially the longer shirt tail, made it the sought-after style. Licensed to American manufacturer David Crystal Inc., the crocodile swam on colored piqué knit versions of the original model. Munsingwear came out with a comparable style, dubbed the Grand Slam golf shirt.

As memories of René Lacoste faded, the crocodile trademark was increasingly referred to as an "alligator." The alligator symbol, like the country clubs at which it was seen, acquired an upscale reputation. David Crystal further enhanced this image by melding the Lacoste and Izod names. Izod derived from a British tailor who outfitted British royal family members. To update and increase its appeal in the late 1960s, Crystal made the shirt in double knit, easy-care Dacron polyester, but cotton had perennial appeal. The colors followed current fashion's whimsy, including the worn and faded look. As the shirt settled into an enduring style for sport and casual wear, other companies, including U.S. mass merchandiser Sears, Roebuck and Co., brought out their own variations with two-to four-button plackets and their own symbols. Ralph Lauren's polo shirt is a notable successful upscale rendition.

The preppy look of the 1970s ignited the alligator shirt's popularity and sales and gave it cachet among men, teenagers, and children. They wore the shirt differently—shirt tails were out and the ribbed collars open and flipped up. In the 1980s, collars went back down and all buttons were buttoned. Women sported feminine versions or wore their partner's. The alligator appeared on related garments with the name Izod Lacoste. At times, the symbol was revamped or removed. The shirt, or a facsimile, was a staple of the American middle class wardrobe. The phrase "Lacoste shirt" came to be a generic alternative term for a tennis or polo-style shirt.

Ultimately, the shirt and its trademark were hurt by overmarketing, copies, and caricature in the form of a satiric upside down "dead alligator" symbol. Lacoste began turning toward other items with the launching of numerous perfumes, men's toiletries, and even luggage and travel items through a contract with Samsonite in 1999 and 2000. The expansion marked the company's willingness to innovate and explore items outside the sportshirt in order to maintain and grow the prestige of its distinct symbol. Another move in this direction was the appointment of designer Christophe Lemaire, who showed his first collection in 2001. Lemaire, who believes in "affordable elegance," wowed Parisians with a limited edition black Lacoste shirt with a silver crocodile, which according to Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune (3 July 2001), "sold up a storm."

—Debra Regan Cleveland;

updated by Carrie Snyder



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