Lacoste celebrated its 75th birthday this year as it continues to offer high-end clothing to the world. Founded by French tennis legend Rene Lacoste in 1933, it marked the beginning of sports branding, with the now-synonymous crocodile logo appearing on all of its products.
On the back of its success in the fashion world, the company announced recently it has secured a further two-year sponsorship of the Dubai Tennis Championships, which took place earlier this month at the Aviation Club.
The French fashion group provided all of the apparel for tournament officials and organisers, and went one step further when its own Andy Roddick picked up the title when he defeated Feliciano Lopez in the final.
In 2005, it was reported that the company sold nearly 50 million products in more than 110 countries worldwide, making it one of the biggest-selling sports brands on the planet. Emirates Business caught up with Lacoste Director and grandson of Rene, Philippe Lacoste, to ask him why the brand continues to go from strength to strength.
What are the advantages of having a family-run business?
We find that working in a family business has enabled us to have a long-term and trustful relationship and vision. Working in a family controlled and managed company also means we never pretend to be something we are not.
A clear vision of what you stand for and what values you want to promote is needed to be successful.
How much of an input does the family have?
In day-to-day life, the Lacoste family owns two thirds of the company’s shares, in Lacoste SA, and therefore owns the brand Lacoste. The Lacoste SA company animates, controls and co-ordinates the different partners, which were given the brand for specific activities.
Why use the symbol of the crocodile?
My grandfather was nicknamed “The Alligator” by the American press, after making a bet with the captain of the French Davis Cup Team concerning a suitcase made from alligator skin. He promised to buy it for him if he won a very important match for their team.
And although he did not win the match, the public became fond of the nickname that conveyed the tenacity he expressed on the tennis courts, never letting go of his prey.
Why do you use tennis as your primary sponsor?
We are a brand that owns true tennis history and roots. My grandfather entered the legend of tennis when he and his team-mates “The Musketeers” stole the Davis Cup away from the Americans for the first time in 1927 and again in 1928.
You mustn’t also forget his three French Open victories [1925, 1927 and 1929], his two victories in Great Britain at Wimbledon [1925 and 1928] and two US Open titles at Forest Hills [1926 and 1927]. Therefore it was more than logical to continue the brand’s traditions and values through new tennis events and players.
Who do you see as your main rivals?
Instead of constantly glancing at our competitors, we prefer to focus on our development and our creation by combing tradition and innovation. Moreover, as I said before, our strength is that we naturally and precisely embody relaxed elegance, which is one of the few precise definitions in the fashion field.
As a matter of fact, I’d say our crocodile is unique on the market and addresses men and women – whether they are young or not – who want to be casual and elegant at the same time, with a touch of colour and style. Generally, it’s people who are looking for fresh, modern and classic clothes and accessories. I also see Lacoste as an international brand with French chic.
How do you stay ahead of your main competitors?
As you might know, the Lacoste brand started in 1933 with a single white polo shirt for playing tennis, but today it’s a global lifestyle brand.
Seventy-five years after its creation, our brand’s key to success is remaining faithful to the authentic heritage of Lacoste; respecting our roots without being anchored in the past. We design fresh, modern classics and contemporary lifestyle apparel, fragrances, shoes, bags and other accessories for our crocodile to stay 75 years young.
Lacoste addresses men and women who have an active lifestyle and want traditional but contemporary products, comfortable and of quality, to accompany them in the various moments of their lives. The Lacoste lifestyle is characterised by respect of the traditions, elegance, refinement, comfort and quality.
We are an authentic brand of high-quality products that are nice to wear in the pleasant moments of our lives. Hence, it is relaxed elegance.
Lacoste uses sportstars to raise the profile of its brand. How do you choose which players to sponsor?
All of our Lacoste players are true ambassadors of our brand and reflect the same values that my grandfather did, inside or outside their playing field: tenacity, elegance, fair play and – most important of all – heart.
Fake Lacoste goods are often readily available on the black market. What are your views on counterfeit and how do you combat that?
Lacoste, as with many other companies and fashion houses, has been touched by this phenomenon and has always been fighting against counterfeiting.
As a matter of fact, we’ve engaged actions in traineeships and information programmes. Lacoste has also set up – from the very beginning – a selective distribution of our products to protect final consumers and to secure their buying.
A Love Match
The Lacoste sports brand is rooted in tennis history. Jean Rene Lacoste, founder of the company, was one of the Four Musketeers, a collection of great French tennis players who dominated the sport during the 1920s and the early part of the 1930s. He was world No1 in both 1926 and 1927.
Lacoste claimed seven Grand Slam singles titles – bettered only by nine players – including three French Opens at his native Roland Garros stadium, two Wimbledon titles and a couple of US Open wins. He never had the chance to complete the quartet of Grand Slams as he decided against making the long trip around the globe for the Australian Open.
In 1933 Lacoste branched out from the sport to set up La Societie Chemise Lacoste. The company produced a tennis shirt for Lacoste to wear on court, adding a crocodile logo on its chest.
The shirt was as far removed from the contemporary tennis dress as it abandoned the stiff, woven, long-sleeved Oxfords and replaced them with a short-sleeved light knitted-fabric. The material reduced the amount of perspiration attached to the shirt and can claim to be the first example of performance clothing in sport.
Once retired, the Frenchman continued to use his knowledge of the game to make advancements in tennis technology. In 1963 he pioneered the first tubular steel racquet, replacing the wooden racquets that had been used.
In Europe the racquet was marketed under the Lacoste brand but it rose to prominence in the US when American tennis legend Jimmy Connors became world No1 using the Wilson T-2000, a version using Lacoste’s patented technology.
Sporting prowess ran through the family as Lacoste married golfer Simeone de la Chaume and their daughter Catherine Lacoste went on to win the US Women’s Open in 1967. At 22 she was playing in her third professional golf tournament.
Today she is still the only amateur to have won the title. Rene Lacoste was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976.
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