The Classicist: Lacoste's Elements of Style
Lacoste: The Element of Style, a smashing new book dedicated to the famed French brand about to be published by Assouline, covers much more than just sport shirts; it's about savoir vivre and savoir faire, literally "how to live" and "how to be" with plenty of style. It's designed to illuminate the contemporary relevance of the legacy of René Lacoste, the brand's founder who was the best tennis player in the world at the end of the Roaring Twenties. Nicknamed "Le Crocodile" for his tenacity on the court he began sporting an alligator patch on his blazers starting in 1927, which then became the basis for the sportswear brand he founded in 1933, one of the first labels to marry American functionality with European elegance. He also designed tennis rackets and other equipment, filing 25 patents during his lifetime.
The logo was applied to the easy breathing piqué sports shirts Lacoste favored, which helped him to cope with the heat on American tennis courts. It was a major revolution for players, who until then had worn starched, long-sleeve dress shirts even on the hottest days. The book comes in various different colors, a nod to the fact that Lacoste began producing its shirts in dozens of different shades well before anyone else caught the color bug. Until the 1950s, only white polos and shirts were allowed on tennis courts, but beginning in 1951, the company dared to add contrasting elements in navy blue, then red. That helped revitalize fashion both on and off the courts and presaged the color explosion of the 1960s.
Gallery: Lacoste: The Elements of Style
The author, Olivier Margot, chief editor of French sports daily newspaper L'Equipe, notes that the tennis ace was "a conqueror, an innovator and a designer [who] always displayed a certain flair. And those qualities endure." As Christophe Pillet, designer of the Lacoste eyewear collection, declares, "The Lacoste brand has persevered in modesty, in generosity, almost in innocence. Lacoste has earned the right to say, 'It has been seventy-five years. Look what we have invented.'" Arranged something like an encyclopedia, the book traces the history of the brand, its many collections, and the various items designed under its aegis over the decades. It's a "story about fluidity, softness, comfort, the sun and the sea, endurance.... about a sensation, a light, a color, a texture, a pattern, the freedom of a body in motion and at rest. A world of design with a human dimension."