The little crocodile that conquered the US

French “sports chic” label Lacoste wowed the crowd with a ski-themed show on Saturday at New York Fashion Week, kicking off the 75th year of the little crocodile that conquered the United States.

Under a sprinkling of fake snow in central Manhattan’s Bryant Park, models stepped out on to a covering of white sheep fleeces on the second day of the 2008 autumn and winter collections event.

Warm grey flannel trousers with white cashmere pullovers set a classic note for the ski slope, while shorts and stripy dresses over thick tights for freezing weather and white windbreakers drew applause from a packed hall.

The multicoloured show also conjured the music of 1970s in a homage to the decade when Lacoste, according to its external relations chief Philippe Lacoste, sold nearly 30-million garments a year in the US.

Lacoste, 65% owned by the Lacoste family and 35% by the Devanlay firm, was one of the first designers to put its logo—the iconic green crocodile—on the outside of its garments.

It’s a reference to its founder, French tennis ace Rene Lacoste, nicknamed the “Crocodile” by the US press after his tenacious play impressed them at the Davis Cup, Philippe Lacoste said.

“The label is French, but its roots are American,” said Philippe Lacoste.

Lacoste, which claims the player registered the logo in 1933 in France, has gone to court in several countries to defend its right to the logo against rival manufacturers using crocodile images.

It also pioneered the fusion of sportiness with French elegance, a winning combination in the US that also distinguishes another leading designer, Ralph Lauren.

“The United States is the number-one market in the world for Lacoste, with 16% to 17% of turnover compared with 13% in France,” said Philippe Lacoste.

Lacoste’s distinctive tennis shirts and sweaters have been sold in the US since after World War II, but disagreements with its American partners in the 1980s held up distribution there for several years.

It opened its first boutiques in Florida in 1995, and a store in New York the following year.

It moved its factories for the region to traditional cotton and wool producer Peru. “Manufacturing in the United States had become too expensive,” Philippe Lacoste said.

Among the hundreds of fashion houses descending on New York this week are all-American favourites such as Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors and Vera Wang, and young, relative unknowns such as Carlos Miele and Iodice from Brazil.—Sapa-AFP


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