PARIS — Lacoste is making a stronger push toward fashion.

This story first appeared in the December 24, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The French sportswear brand founded by tennis legend René Lacoste has started a global makeover that will see its casualwear and runway collections highlighted in flagships around the globe while giving the backseat to sportswear and Lacoste Live, which launched in 2010 to target a younger consumer.

“We are upgrading the store concept and, step by step, also the collections,” said chief executive officer José Luis Duran. “You will see no sports line and no Lacoste Live in most of our stand-alone stores, unless it’s a big location, such as our Champs-Élysées unit. Brand positioning is really my number-one priority, and the idea is to make Lacoste more premium.”

Lacoste’s most premium element is the runway collection designed by Felipe Oliveira Baptista. “But we don’t want to showcase it in a separate setup. We want it to be the natural prolongation of Lacoste’s casualwear, not a strange object,” Duran said.

At the new flagships, which boast a cozier and more elegant ambiance with wooden panels and framed archive images, little tags discreetly hint at which item belongs to which collection.

Displayed more prominently are leather goods and footwear, two categories that have driven the brand’s performance via double-digit growth, according to Duran.

The sportswear firm also is reassessing its network to align with the gradual image makeover. “We have asked our country managers to identify new opportunities and will open 60 stores in 2015 in China, Russia, France and the U.S.,” the executive revealed, adding that around 40 units will close during the same period.

He noted that, in 2014, the firm saw its turnover increase by a midsingle-digit figure, which is less than in previous years as a result of a challenging economic environment, but that it gained in desirability and experienced a positive sales development in countries such as France, where many brands are having a tough time.

“We are well ahead of the fashion industry. Our best-performing countries in 2014 were Japan, Argentina, Turkey — even Russia has had a good year,” he said, listing the U.S., Italy and South Korea as more “difficult.”

“The United States is still our number-one market, but we have been too promotional there. As a consequence, we have decided to sacrifice part of our revenue to work harder on brand visibility and credibility. It’s short-term pain for medium-term gain,” Duran explained.

Lacoste remains, for the most part, a man’s universe. Although the woman’s category accounts for more than 30 percent of sales in some countries, including Germany, France and China, the women’s collections stand at 20 percent globally, and 6 percent are kids.

“Lacoste was born as a man’s brand — that’s part of our DNA,” Duran noted, “but in three, four years time, I would like to see that [women’s] figure grow to 23 or 24 percent,” he said.

For spring 2015, Lacoste will venture into underwear with a new collection — for men only.

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