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Lacoste Eyes U.S. Growth

Brand's designer search targets U.S. consumer.

PARIS — Calling all fans of Uncle Sam — Lacoste wants you.

The sportswear brand, which is searching for a successor for its departing creative director Christophe Lemaire, is favoring applicants with a strong affinity for the U.S. consumer as it bids to boost sales in America, its number-one market in volume terms.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be an American, but a strong vision and knowledge of the style and profile of U.S. clients will certainly be a plus,” said José Luis Duran, chief executive officer of Devanlay SA, Lacoste’s global apparel licensee.

In an interview with WWD, the executive outlined the brand’s other strategic objectives as conquering the 20-to-25 age segment; improving the presentation of the collections and appealing more to women, who represent just under 20 percent of the client base.

He is giving himself until the end of 2010 to pick the right candidate. “I won’t rush things. It’s important to remember that the decisions we are taking now will define the structure of the group for several years to come,” said Duran.

The former Carrefour ceo, who was hired last year, praised Lemaire’s work, noting sales had tripled since the designer joined the company in 2000. Lemaire will present his last collection for Lacoste in New York in September, before leaving to take the reins of women’s ready-to-wear at Hermès.

Lacoste, known for its iconic crocodile-logo polo shirt, posted sales of some one billion euros, or $1.4 billion, in 2009, roughly stable versus 2008. In the United States, however, sales slid 20 percent last year after averaging growth of 20 to 25 percent from 2006 to 2008, Duran noted.

“Our first objective is to recover in the medium term this growth rate we lost in 2009,” he said. “Ideally, we should do even better.”

The brand will today launch an e-commerce site in France, with Germany and the U.K. set to follow in September and October, and Asia in early 2011. It sees the French Web site as a pilot space for reviewing the marketing and distribution of its products going forward.

“After all, it is the store where we will present the greatest number of products, styles and references. We are going to start playing with this product segmentation on-screen,” Duran explained.

In particular, he wants to put forward Red, a ready-to-wear and footwear collection aimed at a younger, fashion-driven customer that launched last spring in Lacoste’s own stores.

“I think it’s a good idea, but that its expression — in terms of collections, visibility and presentation — is a little too timid,” the executive said.

“Clients going into our stores today are not always able to distinguish between sportswear and the Red collection. It’s up to us to clarify that segmentation and the product presentation — and to demonstrate that Lacoste is much more than one iconic product.”

Devanlay will terminate the brand’s leather goods license with Samsonite at the end of the year and replace it with French manufacturer Tolomeï as part of that effort, he said.

Duran confirmed the brand would continue to focus retail expansion on Brazil and China, where it is opening on average 250 points of sale a year. “By 2012, we must double our volumes in each of those two countries,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lacoste refuted speculation on Tuesday that Catherine Malandrino would join the brand, following the upcoming exit of artistic director Christophe Lemaire, who is headed to Hermès in September to replace Jean Paul Gaultier. “Catherine is not going to be the new designer at Lacoste. We are currently undergoing the search for a new designer, but don’t expect to announce a new designer until the end of the year,” said a representative for the French sportswear maker. Web site WGSN, citing French press reports, posted a story that Malandrino could be tapped by Lacoste.