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While sportswear is one of the most successful styles in the fashion industry today, it used to be looked down upon. From the early to mid-20th century, the most respected and practically the only type of fashion that dominated the industry was haute couture in Paris. The strictly-tailored suits and embroidered dresses were the only pieces that a lot of people deemed worthy to be called high fashion, and anything otherwise was denounced as cheap. However, while haute couture was booming, another market was steadily gaining momentum, and by the latter half of the 20th century, became the most dominant facet of the industry: ready-to-wear.

The easiness and affordability of ready-to-wear were embraced by both upscale clients and mass consumers, making it the most lucrative market in fashion. And among those who gave credence to ready-to-wear is French-based sportswear label, Lacoste. Lacoste was a revolution in fashion—highlighting athleticism over decoration and becoming one of the first premier sportswear brands in the world. It’s quite ironic since the label is based in Paris, the home of haute couture and the exact opposite of what Lacoste helped propagate: casual and sporty fashions. Today, the French brand is one of the most successful and beloved in the whole world.

“The Crocodile”

Lacoste is known for their iconic crocodile logo which is usually embroidered on the chest of their famous shirts. It’s actually an ode to the founder, René Lacoste, and his nickname on the court which is “The Crocodile”. Even during the early stages of the label, the logo already left a mark on customers and spectators of people wearing the garment. It’s widely believed that when the brand released their shirts with the logo embroidered on them, it was the first time a label’s logo was seen outside the garment, instead of it being stitched in the lining. Additionally, a lot of companies have also attempted to copy and even steal the rights of the crocodile image from the French brand, but to this day, the iconic animal is still associated with Lacoste.

Creation and expansion

René Lacoste was one of the most famous players in the early 20th century. He won prestigious singles titles from the likes of the French and Wimbledon opens. He was even given the nickname, “The Crocodile,” for his agile and methodical style of play. In 1933, he ventured into fashion and retail be opening a sportswear brand he called “La Chemise Lacoste,” in association with knitwear manufacturer André Gillier, and thus started what is now the worldwide brand. He created the polo shirt, a short-sleeved collared garment which made it easier for the wearer to move about in them. He often wore polo shirts, specifically with the crocodile logo stitched on the bodice, during his tennis matches, gaining popularity for the brand as he won more titles.

In the 1950’s, Izod Clothing, a garment company in the United States, partnered with Lacoste to be the manufacturer of Lacoste items in America. Sold under the name “Izod Lacoste”, the partnership helped spread more awareness for the label worldwide. However, this partnership ended in 1993 and Lacoste has since been producing their own products themselves in the US market. In 2007, the company expanded into e-commerce by opening up their own online retail platform. They became one of the first fashion brands to go into this type of venture. To this day, the business is still run by the family, this time by René’s son, Michel.

Creative directors

In 2005, the brand hired French designer Christophe Lemaire to be their new creative director. Under his design leadership, Lemaire increased and improved the prestige of the brand among the fashion crowd. Previously, the French label was more regarded as a status symbol and as a uniform for Tennis, Polo, and Gold players. With Lemaire’s ready-to-wear collections, which have been shown during New York Fashion Week, the clothes became more fashionable and less commercial. In 2010, Lemaire stepped down and was replaced by Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who continued his predecessor’s design direction of creating a more upscale offering from the brand. He has moved the brand from showing in New York Fashion Week to Paris Fashion Week and continues to put a more youthful and edgier vibe to the label’s collections.

Tennis Court Muses

Since tennis is within the brand’s foundation, numerous players of the sport have become the company’s muses throughout the years. Among them have been American stars Andy Roddick and John Isner, who often wore Lacoste during their matches. Supporting homegrown talent, the brand has also sponsored the likes of Benoit Paire, Julien Benneteau, and Nicolas Mahut, among others. Additionally, Lacoste has also become popular in Golf, thanks in part to the founder’s wife, Simone de la Chaume, who herself was a premier gold player. Gold stars such as Daniel Berger and Alexandra Vilatte are known fans of the label, both on and off the field.

Sportswear is now a luxurious part of fashion, thanks hugely to Lacoste. What was once regarded as ordinary and cheap is now one of the most lucrative parts of the retail game. Lacoste has made athleticism fashionable, an achievement many premier sports superstars thank it for.

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