Lacoste kicks off 2011 with a bold new international media campaign that gets right to the heart of the brand’s special heritage. Lacoste is, after all, the first sportswear manufacturer to have elevated sportswear –once something that was a pragmatic necessity rather than something to wear when not competing- to a chic wardrobe must-have to be worn in far more places than simply on the tennis court.
Like a number of other iconic sportswear brands, Lacoste’s history is bound up with the needs of a champion sportsman, in this case French tennis player René Lacoste, who was one the famous ‘Four Musketeers’, a group of French tennis players that dominated the French efforts to master the international Grand Slam championships in the 1920s. In 1929, Lacoste introduced his iconic L.12.12 polo shirt, designed in response to his own needs as a player. Produced in collaboration with garment manufacturer André Gillier and made of a knitted fabric known as ‘jersey petit pique’ his now iconic polo shirt proudly showed-off its crocodile insignia at the chest, a reference to Lacoste’s nickname of ‘the crocodile’ for his tenacity on the court. His friends worried that the design was a little too vulgar for the refined Ivy League sensibilities of the tennis circuit at the time. Lacoste, however, knew better. In 1933, the garment went into production through a company founded by Lacoste and Gillier.
Lacoste’s success grew steadily within the somewhat niche world of sports. Quite apart from the fact that his garments were far better suited to playing the increasingly vigorous game of tennis than what else was on offer, Lacoste himself remained something of a highly-visible sportsman turned inventor. In 1936, for example, he revolutionised racquet design by discarding the traditional use of wood as a racquet material in favour of his innovative steel racquet.
But, it was in the 1970’s that Lacoste really showed its killer serve. The 1970’s were an era during which tennis was once again in the international public eye; top tennis players were turned into jet set playboy sex symbols that everyone desired or wanted to emulate. Lacoste, with impeccable game strategy, was the first company to understand the notion of a ‘heritage’ company as a mainstream marketing strength. Positioning its product perfectly as the first ‘designer sportswear’, it effortlessly became an object of desire amongst the fashionable and trendy influencers in the public eye. Worn by top players and keen amateur tennis players amongst the film and media icons, it wasn’t long before the millions wanting to associate themselves with the superstar status of international professional tennis players snapped it up. Lacoste was in exactly the right place at the right time, understanding the overall trend for a more relaxed approach to men’s day wear. It intuitively understood the influence of the desirable California lifestyle –increasingly visible in the mass media- in which comfort in the warm sporty sun and a relaxed informality was paramount. It understood the coming of sportswear as de rigueur daywear. And, it’s never looked back.
The brand new global campaign that will be rolled out internationally early in 2011 cuts straight to the heart of the brand’s identity with its ‘Unconventional Chic’ strap line. Capturing the brand’s heritage of having both a blue-chip history and also playing a key role in influencing fashion’s shift to a more relaxed affair, it features models – such as Noah Mills, Liya Kebede, Anja Rubik and Jon Kortajarena- each wearing the iconic white Lacoste polo shirt over formal evening wear. Shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, the campaign is the first substantial change of direction in Lacoste’s media strategy in ten years. What is clear is that this new campaign has moved away from focussing on the numerous individual products offered by Lacoste to, instead, remind us of its particular identity, its place in fashion history as an influencer prepared to swim against the grain of convention.