Rene Lacoste's Fashion Legacy

by Sarah Clark
Fashion School Review Columnist

April 5, 2006

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Most everyone recognizes the famous alligator logo, the enduring symbol that makes one polo shirt stand out from the others. But learning how Lacoste came to symbolize youth and preppiness is a lesson in apparel marketing.

To understand Lacoste's success as a clothing brand company, one needs to look at its roots. The company began with a celebrity, a tennis champion named Rene Lacoste who had assumed the moniker of "crocodile" for his competitive spirit. The nickname stuck and Lacoste eventually started wearing polo shirts embroidered with a small crocodile.

Lacoste's popularity was strong and he seemed to have a knack for fashion design, so he decided to manufacture his crocodile shirts. In 1933 he founded Lacoste and began selling polo shirts with the now famous crocodile logo (Americans call the logo an alligator while those on the other side of the pond refer to it as a crocodile).

The company was hugely successful and in the 1960s it went global, partnering with apparel manufacturing companies that created the shirts for its own market. For decades Lacoste continued to be the brand of choice for fashion-conscious people keen on the preppy look.

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It was this mass apparel manufacturing, however, that threatened the integrity of the once rock-solid brand. The company licensed its trademark alligator logo to untold numbers of apparel manufacturers, which made the logo more accessible, but less exclusive, diminishing its cachet. It is also more difficult to control production standards and distribution channels when licensing agreements are not strictly controlled.

But the fashion design company remade itself in 2000, when it hired a new fashion designer, Christopher Lemaire. Lacoste began to reign in its liberal branding arrangements and take more control over which companies manufactured and which stores sold its clothing. Lacoste again became a symbol of style among the go-getting fashion elite.

Today Lacoste sells more than its trademark polo shirts. Its clothing designs are still sporty, but include more variety in active wear for both men and women.

About the Author
Sarah Clark is a freelance writer specializing in career development and postsecondary education.

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