Michel Lacoste, the head of his father Rene's namesake fashion company Lacoste, sympathizes with Christian Louboutin’s legal fight over an alleged violation of a 2008 U.S. trademark of his red-soled shoes by YSL, which released shoes that also have red soles.
It took LACOSTE decades to finally get its iconic crocodile emblem trademarked in the U.S. "In 1907 a rainwear company had registered the trademark in the U.S. The conflicting trademark created a complex legal situation that took 42 years for us to solve. We went twice to the U.S. Supreme Court."
Although he's no legal expert, he stands firmly in Louboutin's court. “I know Christian well and I think he is a wonderful designer and his red sole has a strong identity. I cannot pass any legal judgment but for my part, I say he is the guy who had the idea of doing that and it should be his."
"Legal systems are complex," he acknowledges. "I only know that whenever I am in Paris and I see a red sole, for it, it is Christian Louboutin. But then I know that Hermes has created an identity with a particular shade of orange. And when I see a baby blue box or bag, I say, Tiffany’s.”
Tiffany’s is one of many luxury companies that could be negatively affected by the court’s recent ruling against Louboutin’s color trademark violation suit. The company supported Louboutin’s efforts and last fall it filed court papers on his behalf. Tiffany has already begun using its Tiffany blue color on scarves, gloves and handbags.
The LACOSTE trademark green alligator orginated from a nickname given to his tennis champion father by a sports journalist. Rene Lacoste won 7 Grand Slam singles titles. His French team also held onto the Davis Cup from 1927-1933. Lacoste had begun wearing cotton pique polo shirts with a tiny crocodile on the chest when he played. Then he decided to do the then-unthinkable; make a line of croc-labeled sportif tennis, golf and sailing cotton pique shirts.
“At that time, putting a logo on the outside of a product, especially on clothing, was considered quite gauche,” explained Michel Lacoste, with a smile.
His father was also one of the first companies to grasp the power of celebrity endorsement. In the early '50s, he sent an emmissary to Los Angeles with a suitcast of LACOSTE crocodile shirts to give to worthwhile, interesting and impressive people. "We don’t want to put our product on people who don’t feel comfortable with it," Michel Lacoste explains "We needed to -- and still do -- feel empathy with those who wear our product.”
The brand gained tremendous U.S. status after President Eisenhower wore an crocodile shirt on the cover of Life magazine. Other early LACOSTE devotees included President Jack Kennedy, Georges Pompidou, Bob Hope, John Wayne and Audrey Hepburn.
LACOSTE is a longtime sponsor of the Los Angeles-based Costume Designers Guild and their annual awards, which this year honored top designers in film, TV and commercials, including Trish Summerville (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Arianne Phillips (W.E.), Lou Eyrich (Glee). Other A-list celebs on hand: Chloe Grace Moretz, Tattoo director David Fincher and his star Rooney Mara.
Michel gave awards to this year’s special honorees Kate Beckinsale (Lacoste Spotlight Award) and Clint Eastwood and his longtime collaborator Deborah Hopper -- (Distinguished Collaborator Awards). Other A-list celebs on hand: Chloe Grace Moretz, Tattoo director David Fincher and his star Rooney Mara.
He also gave Eastwood a collection of photos of the Oscar-winning actor/director wearing LACOSTE shirts from 20-40 years ago. ““He told me that he had always worn LACOSTE because he liked it," Lacoste revealed.
LACOSTE has begun giving back to the scaly creatures that have given the company its fashion identity. “We are working with the French government, who are financing part of the crococile protection projects," Michel Lacoste explains. "We have five projects going on in Nepal, China, the Phillipines, Florida and Columbia. There are 25 species but thankfully, only about 6 are endangered. We hope to put our stone in the construction of a wall necessary to protect these creatures and help the human race live in better harmony with nature.”
LACOSTE now has an exciting new designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista, from Portugal, who came onboard after Christophe Lemaire – their designer since 2000-- left to replace Jean Paul Gaultier as Hermes women’s RTW designer. And Baptista's recent New York Fall-Winter 2012 show got rave reviews for reinvigorating the brand.
And as far as global expansion, they are not planning more shops. "We have 1100 boutiques and we have reached an appropriate number," Michel Lacoste explains. "Now our direction is to increase the size of the boutiques. Last September our New York Fifth Avenue boutique was increased by 50% in size."
LACOSTE does a limited edition with the Paris boutique Colette every year. But there are no current plans for LACOSTE to follow Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, or Marni's lead with an inexpensive collection at H&M.
"No, not in the present time,” says Michel. “But I can’t say it will never happen. I think it’s the situation where the brand brings more to H&M than the other way around. It might not be very interesting for us.”
What is very interesting is the LACOSTE's slick modern website complete with hip runway videos, a kids line, and video interviews with their new brand ambassador,Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody.
The website also features exclusive items not sold at their boutiques (one is conveniently located in Beverly Hills) or at fine department shops such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, and Neiman Marcus, where the line is also carried.