Tuesday 12 December 2017

Paul Galvin: The legacy of Lacoste

Lacoste striped
polo shirt, €100, Arnotts
Lacoste striped polo shirt, €100, Arnotts

Paul Galvin

The tennis player saw the harmony between sport and fashion, says Paul Galvin, and the brand's new designer has added extra bite to the little green croc

There are three clothing brand images that are burned in my brain since I was a bairn. Farah's "F" motif, Levi's red tab and Lacoste's little green croc. Iconic in fashion to the point where they become part of the social fabric, so to speak.

You see them on the street, in your school, in your dad's wardrobe at home, in the gym, on that guy, on that girl, or on TV. You recognise them. You remember them. They become part of society.

I want to talk about Lacoste. I love exploring the relationship between sport and fashion. Two cultural juggernauts. Whilst there's harmony between the two, there is also a disconnection.

Every sport you think of has a recognisable uniform, a look, a style, a fashion. You can't play sport naked, in other words. Unless you're big into naked mud-wrestling of course.

Clothes are an intrinsic part of what makes a team. Sporting apparel is big business and has long since left the arena and strode down the high street to the catwalk. From the players on the pitch to the fans in the stand, you can associate clothes with certain sports.

Tennis, rugby, golf, cricket, basketball and sailing are all identifiable by way of the clothing associated.

Why, then, the disconnection between sport and fashion in another sense? Particularly in relation to football, where interest in fashion or the temerity to wear clothes that are not the same as everyone else's is suspicious.

I find that interesting. It's a cultural thing. Cultural behaviours and belief systems are subtle. They operate invisibly until someday someone says the wrong thing, does the wrong thing or wears the wrong thing. Then we see culture come to life through opinions, attitudes, actions or lack of actions.

At the same time, I see changes happening. Men are seeing the opportunities that might lie in fashion. Nothing like the sniff of opportunity to help an attitude along. But cultural shifts are another decade's work.

Rene Lacoste saw opportunity in the symphony that exists between fashion and sport many years ago. In 1929, he launched his own tennis shirt on the back of a stellar playing career -- three French Opens, two Wimbledons and two US Opens. He was nicknamed The Crocodile for a pugnacious and aggressive playing style, and the croc become the symbol of his clothing. A little green croc with his tail raised and his teeth showing.

Lacoste teamed up with Andre Gillier and together they founded La Societe Chemise Lacoste to make Rene's playing gear.

Today's Lacoste has evolved into a full lifestyle range. I bought some green croc Lacoste last week from the S/S12 Lacoste Live collection. Felipe Oliveira Baptista is the brand's new designer.

This S/S, he took inspiration from vintage Americana.

Speaking of cultures and the like, the 1990s hip-hop scene was one such inspiration. Pops of multi-colour on white or black tees almost had me reaching for my beat-box as well as my new white tee.

An indigo-blue chest-stripe plus a forest-green neckline and a yellow pocket-detail appealed to my primary instincts, so I bought it.

The new designer's work is in keeping with the brand's democratic heritage. It's meant for everyone. Iconic signature pieces like the polo and rugby shirts remain.

Pique cotton is still the predominant fabric. Mother of pearl is still used for buttons and the sizing is still demarked by numbers. To bring his own stamp to his work, Baptista has tampered slightly with the imagery.

The use of the word Lacoste on some pieces is a move I like. It is sewed on the back of the tee I bought, below the waistline where it is still visible. Touches like this make the brand more cerebral and more appealing to a man who is considered in how he dresses.

The advertising campaign "Unconventional Chic" was what redirected my attention towards Lacoste in the last year or two.

The company has a standalone store on Dublin's Wicklow St and Arnotts has a selection of Lacoste pieces that are young and funky, if it's trainers, accessories or aftershave you want.

So this is my salute to Rene Lacoste. A cultural game-changer. A man who once said winning is nothing without style.

When he passed away, the French advertising agency Publicis, who handled the brand, printed a newspaper ad with the Lacoste logo followed by the words in English, "See you later..."

You can draw your own conclusions.

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