René Lacoste and the iconic crocodile Featured

75 years on, the brand is powering into the 21st century with its "contemporary retro" winter 2009 collection

It has already been 75 years since the Lacoste crocodile first paraded its green body across the world. Slender, delicately stitched, instantly recognisable anywhere: its success is a result of French expertise. Its story has become a legend.

Let’s start with René Lacoste, its creator. In 1922, aged 18, the young René preferred to dedicate his time to tennis rather than to his studies, a risky yet realistic move, given that the young man had what it takes to succeed. A passionate player, he enlisted the services of an instructor, working his body flat out to improve on his technique. He even invented a ball machine. This commitment saw him dominate the world tennis scene for years. A pillar of the French team, along with Borotra, Cochet and Brugnon, he was one of the legendary Musketeers.

It was in 1927, during a Davis Cup match that the real story of the “crocodile” was born. René Lacoste loved to recount the way in which his surname became a famous name the world over.

“The American press nicknamed me ‘The Crocodile’ following a bet I made with the Captain of the French Davis Cup team. He promised me a crocodile bag if I won an important match for our team. The American public retained this nickname due to the determination he displayed on the tennis court, never letting go of his prey. My friend Robert George, therefore, designed a crocodile which was embroidered onto the blazer that I used to wear on the courts.”

In 1929 with his last victory at Roland Garros, René Lacoste ended his sporting career to general surprise. It was the start, however, of another career, one that would make Lacoste an international household name.

Then, as a prudent businessman in 1933, René Lacoste, along with André Gillier, founded a company aimed at endorsing the shirt embroidered with the logo that the champion had created for his own personal use. The finely stitched white cotton shirt, code name 1212, immediately caused a revolution amongst tennis players. White, short sleeved and stretch collar, in light and airy “fine stitched jersey” and 75 years after, still in fashion.

And how far it has come! After a pause in company activities during the Second World War, the pace of development and above all of creation simply accelerated.

Lacoste enriched its collections with colour and stripes. More inventive than ever, in 1961 René Lacoste patented anti-vibrations strings. In 1963, he revolutionised tennis when he invented the first metal racquet.

Lacoste launched his first perfume in 1971 and opened his first Parisian boutique in 1981. New shop concepts proceeded to flood the whole world. Worn by Jackie Kennedy, Eisenhower and the greatest champions, Lacoste became one of the best-known labels in all four corners of the world.

Concerned about promoting a forever modern and young image, in 2000 the brand appealed to Christophe Lemaire to become his artistic director. Chic and attentive to detail but also fresh and original best describe this designer. Since 2003 Lacoste has presented its shows in New York. Though faithful to tradition, Christophe Lemaire exudes a young, colourful and casual image taken from multiple sources of inspiration, such as the Winter 2009 collection inspired by the chic snowy pistes of Megève that will never go out of fashion, punctuated with Rasta touches. According to Lemaire this “current retro” is a beautiful way to bring Lacoste into the 21st century. The saga continues…

Related articles:
The incredible story of Globe-Trotter
Luxos meets Tommy Hilfiger