The cute green crocodile lives on

N the world of fashion, constant change is a fact of life. Trends change by the season and so does our taste and style of dressing. Yet in the course of 20th century, many elements of style and clothing not only remained the same but are as appealing now as when they first appeared in the market. The pique, polo shirt that the French tennis champion Rene Lacoste first launched – along with knitwear manufacturer Andre Giller – in 1933 tops the list of «steady clothing values.» The little green crocodile, a sign of indomitable strength that symbolized Rene Lacoste’s championship performance (apparently Lacoste’s coach promised him crocodile luggage if he won the Davis Cup. Lacoste did and the label was born, earning the champion the nickname «Le Crocodile» from the American press) is proving to be as powerful as the great athlete for which it was made. Worn for more than 70 years, is remains a statement of classic, sportswear elegance. For millions of people around the globe, the little green crocodile – which back in the mid-30s marked the first time that logos were made visible on clothing – is a statement of good taste in sportswear and leisure wear. «Relaxed elegance» is the word that Philippe Lacoste, grandson of Rene Lacoste and external relations director of La Chemise Lacoste uses to describe the style of Lacoste. An elegant man himself, Lacoste may not continue the family’s athletic tradition (his grandfather was the famous tennis champion, but what is less known is that his grandmother and aunt were both golf champions) but has a sound sense of what sport is: «Sports in my family were never about winning but about fair play, team spirit and making friends,» Lacoste told the English Edition of Kathimerini on the occasion of his visit in Athens for the opening of the «Lacoste Project 12.12» exhibition at the Benaki Museum. The exhibition presents the works of 50 Greek artists on the theme of the Lacoste polo shirt. If fair play suggests a spirit of class in sports, then Lacoste clothing is designed as the expression of this quality. Sports values and the Lacoste style are inseparable. Somehow it shows: Lacoste does not have the aggressive look of other sportswear and is rooted in the traditional, clean and preppy clothing worn on the courts of Wimbledon, especially in old times. Yet, in the past decade or so, Lacoste has significantly revamped its style. After a short lapse into conservatism, it has re-emerged with a fashion-conscious, youthful line with modern cuts, new color ranges and a lifestyle image. The blend of sportswear with fashionwear that has been a trend in fashion for the past decade, provided the impetus for changes. «One of the biggest changes in fashion over the past 15 years has been that sports and fashion started to mix together. It was a big opportunity for us to change… To begin with there was already this very natural bridge between Lacoste and elegance. That helped a lot. I think we realized that we needed to modernize. We did several things, and one of them was to get, in 2000, Christophe Lemaire as a designer.» (Lemaire has worked for Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint-Laurent and Jean Patou). «We also started having fashion shows for each season and completely revised the concept of our boutiques. We tried to change everything, but by still staying true to our roots and keeping our authenticity. I still do not believe that we are fashionwear, at least not in the sense of couture,» Philippe Lacoste said. Of the roughly 500 items produced each season, only about 100 are continuing styles. Everything else revolves around changing looks: for example, the preppy chic look that underlies the spring-summer 2006 collection. Another way in which Lacoste has moved closer to the creative spirit of fashion is by organizing collaborative projects. An example is the recent collaboration with the Japanese fashion designer Junya Watanabe and the limited edition Lacoste polo shirts that Watanabe designed. They are available only in some of his boutiques. The exhibition at the Benaki Museum is another project that shows Lacoste’s experiments with new creative ideas. The company’s new strategy has been profitable. Since the changes, Lacoste has almost doubled its sales (33 million at the end of the 90s and almost 55 million today). When Rene Lacoste founded the company, those figures were probably unimaginable. «There was no market for sportswear at the time. It would not have been decent for anyone to wear something like a polo shirt to go to work or even for holidays. Anyway, few people had holidays.» In spite of the expansion which mainly occurred during the 70s and 80s, Lacoste remains a family owned and run business. Furthermore, it never fell into the trap of licensing. «The way Lacoste is built is a federation of partnerships, meaning that there is a head office of Lacoste in France that controls everything,» explains Lacoste. The company’s partners are the manufacturing companies, one for each of the seven categories of products that Lacoste launches in the market. Throughout the years, Lacoste has managed to keep a pure profile. There have been times when Lacoste clothing seemed conservative and outmoded but this has completely changed in recent years. Real crocodiles can live 60 or 70 years. The cute, green crocodile of Lacoste has outlived them. It is over 70 years old, but still at a young, creative phase. Benaki exhibition auction proceeds to go toward new museum For «Lacoste Project 12.12,» appointed curator Iris Critikou asked 51 Greek artists from different fields (participants include visual artists, fashion and jewelry designers, and photographers. French Ambassador in Greece Bruno Delaye, the puppeteer Evgenios Spatharis and actor Lakis Lazopoulos are also participating) to make a work on the theme of the Lacoste shirt. Lacoste has conducted similar projects all over the world as a marketing tool and with the goal of opening up the company to creative expression. The works are up for auction (bidders should place their bid during the course of the exhibition). Half the proceeds from the auction will go toward the building of a new annex for the Benaki Museum: the Museum of Toys and Childhood that will house the collection of Maria Argyriadis. Bidders should call 210.623.1868. The exhibition is organized by Notos Com (representative of Lacoste in Greece). Designers are Stamatis Zannos and Sotiris Stelios. At the new wing of the Benaki Museum (138 Pireos, tel 210.345.3338) to 31/5.