Updated May 7, 2019
Louis Émile André Gillier, the little-known co-founder of Lacoste fashion, was a French textile manufacturer. He was born on December 11, 1882 in Troyes, France, a town which “dominated the knitwear production industry in France for more than a century, manufacturing items such as stockings, socks and undergarments.” In the early 1900s, Troyes’ textile manufacturing was dominated by twenty families, of which the Gillier family was one of the top five (the others were the Valton, Poron, Vitoux and Lebocey families).(1)
He was a graduate of the École Polytechnique, and became the manager of the family knitwear company Établissements Gillier in 1908. During his management tenure, he acquired the soubriquet of “the industrial philanthropist” for his progressive salary policies, which included the introduction of the first paid holidays for workers in France. Ironically, he was also a pioneer in the creation of a new system of distributed rural workshops in the 1920s, which tended to subvert the new eight-hour work day established after the war.(2) He also oversaw the construction of a new factory in Troyes, which contained the largest cotton hall in all of Europe. The factory is still in use today by the Devanlay group.(3)
In addition to being a philanthropist, Gillier was also a great innovator in the fashion industry. In 1929, he created Jil, the first branded men’s underwear. He is best known, though, for partnering with René Lacoste to create the Lacoste brand. Gillier met the tennis player while looking at a Hispano-Suiza car that was for sale at René’s father’s garage. As an expert in breathable, loose-knit fabric, André Gillier was the perfect collaborator for Lacoste in designing the first polo shirt. Together they created the famous piqué cotton used in the original Lacoste shirts, and still manufactured in Troyes today.
Gillier died at the age of 52 on May 16th, 1935. The Gillier family is still active in French fashion with Thierry Gillier, the founder of the luxury brand Zadig & Voltaire Brand being a notable example.(4)
(1) See https://en.tourisme-troyes.com/shopping/factory-outlet-shops/from-the-hosiery-industry-to-brand-outlet-centres for a history of Troye’s knitwear.
(2) See Helen Chenut, Fabric of Gender: Working-Class Culture in Third Republic France, p. 275.