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Lacoste President Talks Stability

Sophie Lacoste Dournel took over the role of non-executive president at the brand in late September.

PARIS — Despite the drama surrounding her September nomination as nonexecutive president of Lacoste SA, Sophie Lacoste Dournel said it’s business as usual at the firm best known for its polo shirts with a crocodile logo.

This story first appeared in the October 22, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Her principal focus going forward will be to grow the brand’s women’s business and improve synergies between Lacoste’s manufacturing partners, she said.

Lacoste Dournel’s election made headlines in France due to a conflict between the family that controls the firm — some 20 members of the Lacoste family from three generations make up the advisory board, and own 65 percent of Lacoste SA — pitting her head-to-head with her older cousin, Marie-Beryl Lacoste Hamilton, and dividing the family.

It seems the conflict was largely generational. The 36-year-old Lacoste Dournel has been on the company’s board since 2005, is part of the second generation of the current family shareholder structure and is a granddaughter of founder René Lacoste. Her father, Michel Lacoste, who was the previous president, has resigned from the board and is threatening to take legal action against his estranged daughter’s nomination. He had taken over from his brother Bernard in 2005, after the latter, who had been at the helm of the firm since 1963, became ill.

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Asked whether the conflict and resulting attention bother her, she replied: “I am concentrating on the company, so that our employees and our partners are reassured, and so that the brand can develop in the most stable, continuous way possible.”

Her plans include a continued focus on building the brand’s women’s business, for which Felipe Oliveira Baptista was named creative director in September 2010. His first collection for the brand was presented in New York in September 2011.

“Felipe’s collection has had a real impact, creating impulse purchasing,” she said. While the designer’s role is principally about clothing, he is also involved in its image as a whole. “Felipe is at the heart of the system, creating synergies for women. The result is something very Lacoste, for which we had been searching for some time.”

Other growth priorities include the Live! franchise for younger consumers, and an increasingly premium positioning.

Going forward, Lacoste Dournel — who will work hand-in-hand with chief executive officer Christophe Chenut in his more operational role — hopes to increasingly reinforce synergies within different segments.

This is not a straightforward task, given Lacoste’s unusual business model, in which all its product categories are licensed out to different partners. The largest of these is apparel licensee Devanlay (owned by Switzerland’s Maus family), which owns 35 percent of Lacoste SA.

“We want to solidify the licenses we have and allow them to work together to give more harmony and efficiency to our system,” she said.

Lacoste is already performing well: The company expects 2012 wholesale turnover of 1.8 billion euros, or $2.3 billion, up 12.5 percent year-over-year, Lacoste Dournel said. Its apparel sales in the first half increased 20 percent, while shoes climbed 50 percent and watches 60 percent. Clothing accounts for about 60 percent of group sales.

About 90 percent of Lacoste’s business is done in international markets, with its largest country being the U.S., accounting for around 18 percent of revenues.

As to media suggestions that supporting Lacoste Dournel’s nomination was a covert takeover attempt by the Maus family, she seems convinced that Lacoste will remain a family firm.

“Our results of the past few years are strong and encouraging, and our aim is to go even further, all the while ensuring the continuity of the family’s control over the company,” she said.