February 10, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Rene Lacoste

Rene Lacoste was 10 years old and searching desperately for a way to beat his older sister at tennis. Hour after hour he beat balls against a wall, chasing each one down. Of course he became one of the greatest players in the world, acquiring the nickname “The Crocodile” both for his tenacious retrieving style, learned against that wall, and his countenance, dominated by a strong nose.

Lacoste became an integral part of the fable French tennis team known throughout the world as the “Mosquetaires.” When the Mosquetaires brought the Davis Cup home to France in 1927 they were accorded a reception rivaled only by Lindbergh’s at Le Bourget. In 1929, at the age of 25, Lacoste retired, partially on the advice of his doctor and partially because he considered the “play” phase of his life over. He had won two Wimbledon titles, three French championships and two U.S. Nationals.

Of frail constitution, Lacoste was especially susceptible to colds during tournaments. He suspected the culprit to be the “floating” shirts of the day - long-sleeved white shirts with cuffs and collars and buttons. Lacoste had a shirtmaker take shirts favored by polo players, with soft material and short sleeves, and attach a collar. He attracted attention wearing the shirt and some “Lacoste shirts” appeared on the market but Lacoste didn’t give it much thought.

After tennis Lacoste joined his father’s automobile company in France.
Anxious to work on his own Lacoste forged Air Equipement, a company which grew into a mammoth automobile, aerospace and parts corporation. Meanwhile, in the early 1930s a friend approached Lacoste and pointed out that it was foolish to allow companies to sell Lacoste shirts without any compensation.

Lacoste and his partner started a shirt business. It was a small proposition that ended altogether with World War II. After the war they started again, exporting the shirts to America. At first the shirt was considered odd-looking; it was given away to celebrities to help lure Americans to the new style. By the 1970s the craze hit. The shirts with the tiny crocodile emblem - called an alligator in the United States - were so popular 50 manufacturers were soon making them.

Lacoste could never understand it. The shirt with the crocodile was all the rage. Sports shirts, however, were a tiny part of his far-flung industrial interests. He had been nicknamed the Crocodile on the tennis court and it turned out to be a wildly popular identifying mark - all by chance.

A French tennis hero, Lacoste was never allowed to forget tennis. Late in his career he merged his sport and business. The lightweight steel and new plastics used in his aerospace endeavors seemed to have logical applications in tennis rackets. Steel had been used in rackets before, most notably by the Dayton Company in the 1920s but the steel strings that had to be used tore balls apart.
It was Lacoste who figured out a way to string steel rackets by wrapping gut strings with wire around the frame instead of punching holes through it.

In many ways tennis equipment in the 1960s was virtually indistinguishable from that used in the 1890s. The steel racket had nearly every advantage over the traditional wood racket but acceptance was slow. Until swashbuckling Jimmy Connors burst onto the tennis scene brandishing a lightweight steel racket.
In little more than 15 years the wooden racket was an antique.

Lacoste had once again reshaped the tennis world. But there was always more to turn ones attention to: tennis balls that became worn too soon, tennis elbow, racket shape, heavy shoes...


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