Byline: Robert Murphy

PARIS — The Lacoste crocodile has a new trainer.
Paris designer Christophe Lemaire has been named creative director of the French sportswear company, replacing Gilles Rosier, who had served as Lacoste creative director since 1992. Rosier resigned from the firm to concentrate on his design duties at Kenzo, which he took over last year following the retirement of house founder Kenzo Takada.
“We were attracted by Christophe’s strong conceptual vision for the brand’s future,” said Guy Latourette, president of Devanlay, the French apparel manufacturing group that produces Lacoste.
The 35-year-old Lemaire, who is known for his sleek, street-inspired designs, said he plans to concentrate on streamlining the line, founded in 1933 by tennis legend Rene Lacoste.
“There are too many products in the line,” explained Lemaire. “I want to clean up house a bit and bring more coherence to the product range.”
The designer, a former assistant in the studio of Christian Lacroix, will oversee the men’s and women’s design teams and will also play a role in global merchandising strategy and image. His first collection for the firm will hit stores for spring/summer 2002.
Lemaire said his vision for Lacoste boutiques includes streamlining merchandising to give the stores more of a signature look.
“In the near future, we want to concentrate on improving our distribution web,” said Latourette of the firm’s wholesale strategy.
He cited South America and North America as key markets for growth. In Europe, however, Latourette said the firm will cut points of sale in an attempt to make the brand more exclusive.
Latourette stressed that Lemaire was not hired to revolutionize the brand.
“Lacoste is successful,” Latourette said, adding that he expects the brand to evolve under Lemaire’s guidance.
Lemaire said he wants to “rework” classic Lacoste products in order to give them a “modern twist.”
“Lacoste is a very specific brand,” said the designer. “Unlike other sport brands, like Nike or Adidas, Lacoste is not a technical product. The brand is about laid-back style and should not have an aggressive ‘Just Do It’ side.”
Citing the recent vogue the brand has experienced among young people here, Lemaire called Lacoste “fashionable, but not trendy.”
“A Lacoste polo assumes different meanings in different contexts,” said Lemaire. “It’s a transversal product that is worn at the country club, by a truck driver or a rap star.”
In the last few years, young hipsters have appropriated Lacoste’s signature polo pique, following the example set by such high-profile rock groups like Oasis and myriad French rap groups.
“That the product is popular among young people shows that the Lacoste crocodile still has a lot of snap,” Latourette said.

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