The History of Lacoste
René Lacoste founded La Chemise Lacoste in 1933 with André Gillier, the owner and president of the largest French knitwear manufacturing firm at the time. They began to produce the revolutionary tennis shirt Lacoste had designed and worn on the tennis courts with the crocodile logo embroidered on the chest. Although the company claims this as the first example of a brand name appearing on the outside of an article of clothing, the “Jantzen girl” logo appeared on the outside of Jantzen Knitting Mills’ swimsuits as early as 1921. In addition to tennis shirts, Lacoste produced shirts for golf and sailing. In 1951, the company began to expand as it branched from “tennis white” and introduced color shirts. In 1952, the shirts were exported to the United States and advertised as “the status symbol of the competent sportsman,” influencing the clothing choices of the upper-class. Lacoste was sold at Brooks Brothers until the late 1960’s. It is still one of the most popular brands in the United States, sporting the “preppy wardrobe”
In 1963, Bernard Lacoste took over the management of the company from his father René. Significant company growth was seen under Bernard’s management. When he became president, around 300,000 Lacoste products were sold annually. The Lacoste brand reached its height of popularity in the US during the late 1970s and became the signature 1980s “preppy” wardrobe item, even getting mentioned in Lisa Birnbach’s Official Preppy Handbook of 1980. The company also began to introduce other products into their line including shorts, perfume, optical and sunglasses, tennis shoes, deck shoes, walking shoes, watches, and various leather goods.
In the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, Izod and Lacoste were often used interchangeably because starting in the 1950s, Izod produced clothing known as Izod Lacosteunder license for sale in the U.S. This partnership ended in 1993 when Lacoste regained exclusive U.S. rights to distribute shirts under its own brand. In 1977, Le Tigre Clothing was founded in an attempt to directly compete with Lacoste in the US market, selling a similar array of apparel, but featuring a tiger in place of the signature Lacoste crocodile.
More recently, Lacoste’s popularity has surged due to French designer Christophe Lemaire’s work to create a more modern, upscale look. In 2005, almost 50 million Lacoste products sold in over 110 countries. Its visibility has increased due to the contracts between Lacoste and several young tennis players, including American tennis star Andy Roddick, French rising young prospect Richard Gasquet, and Swiss Olympic gold medalist Stanislas Wawrinka. Lacoste has also begun to increase its presence in the golf world, where noted two time Masters Tournament champion José María Olazábal and Scottish golfer Colin Montgomerie have been seen sporting Lacoste shirts in tournaments.
Bernard Lacoste became seriously ill in early 2005, which led him to transfer the presidency of Lacoste to his younger brother and closest collaborator for many years, Michel Lacoste. Bernard died inParis on March 21, 2006.
The Wikipedia article on Lacoste can be found here.