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NEW YORK — Lacoste is getting in on the action at the U.S. Open this year.

The company has opened a 1,200-square-foot store at Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., marking the first time the brand has had a presence at the annual tennis event.

“We have always been close to the sport, but we have never had this level of involvement in the U.S.,” said Robert Siegel, chairman of Lacoste USA. “The U.S. Open has a huge attendance and we wanted to showcase our brand here.”

It’s a fitting development for the French-owned company, which has long had a connection with tennis. Lacoste’s founder Rene Lacoste won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open during the Twenties, and is also credited with inventing the ball machine and the first steel tennis racquet. The brand has had a renaissance in recent years and has stayed true to its preppy, tennis-inspired fashions.

The Lacoste store is one of a number of retail operations at the National Tennis Center, most of which are small booths that line the stadiums and areas where food is served. Fila, the apparel sponsor for the Open, has three shops there — two kiosks and a small store — while other brands such as Wilson, Bolle, George Foreman, Fila, Olympus and Nike also operate small retail operations. The U.S. Open has the biggest retail presence, with both large and small stores selling a large variety of U.S. Open-themed merchandise such as visors, T-shirts and even jewelry. All of the stores are open only during the two-week duration of the Open.

The Lacoste location, which occupies a spot formerly selling U.S. Open merchandise, sells Lacoste polos, T-shirts, jerseys, shorts, skirts and a selection of its licensed products such as eyewear and fragrance. There are also some T-shirts and other items that were created specifically for the Open, including a limited-edition polo shirt that has a stitched white tennis ball silhouette on the left breast that retails for $88 and is available in a range of colors.

“The U.S. Open store is designed to have the same look and feel as our other retail stores,” said Siegel, who declined to give sales projections for the Open boutique. Lacoste also for the first time has a suite at center court where it is entertaining retailers and others, Siegel noted.

This story first appeared in the September 2, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Still best known for its crocodile polo shirts, Lacoste has been expanding rapidly in the U.S. in recent years, and now has 24 stores here as well as a bevy of licensing deals.

Lacoste will also incorporate tennis themes into its runway show planned for Wednesday, Sept. 8 at The Waterfront on 11th Avenue. Lacoste held its first runway show in New York last September, but didn’t show in February.

“The overlap of the dates between the fashion show and the Open is interesting,” noted Siegel. “We plan to show some tennis fashions at our show since it’s a key part of our company.”

— Melanie Kletter