Lacoste has been doing some stylish soul-searching lately. France’s chic alligator is at home on the tennis court, as we know, but what if there was more to it than that—much more? Just what would a Lacoste surfboard look like? Or how about a Lacoste bike, or a pair of skis?
Multi-faceted French designer Christophe Pillet, who has put his stamp on everything from boutique hotels to chairs and lighting all over the world, has also quietly headed up Lacoste’s in-house design department in Paris for the past two and a half years. Pillet began his tenure there by asking himself these kinds of questions. The fruit of his research, a chic, limited-edition, all-white, black-edged series called Lacoste Lab, includes a bike made in collaboration with French brand LOOK, skis by Black Crows, and a surfboard shaped by J.P. Stark and engineered by NOTOX in France. The line currently fills the windows of Colette in Paris, where it will be available exclusively through January before hitting select Lacoste stores and e-commerce sites worldwide.
Lacoste Lab began simply as an exercise in style, because, as Pillet puts it: “I’d rather see a real piece of design than read a 10-page brief on what a Lacoste product should be.” The results of its series of dreamy, experimental design collaborations with state-of-the-art sport brands—on everything from a boomerang and a motorcycle helmet to soccer and rugby balls and the aforementioned skis, bike and surfboard—turned out so good, Lacoste decided to produce small series, from 100 to 500 pieces, of each item. “The fact that we didn’t have to engineer the products ourselves freed us to do our job as designers, to project what Lacoste should be in the future,” says Pillet.
The Lacoste team made a short list of rising, state-of-the-art sport brands in France and the rest of the world and proposed collaborations. “We asked ourselves: ‘If we were going to do skis, who would we do them with today?’ We looked for the most innovative brands, the ones that could offer us real, contemporary technicality, but also the modern ones which are open-minded and enjoy collaborating. The choice wasn’t so hard, because when you look at something like a motorcycle helmet, here’s only about five or six brands that really stand out.”
Pillet is quick to add that the Lacoste Lab project differs from fashion co-branding where two big names morph to create one must have T-shirt for example. “These are Lacoste products,” he says. “They’re sold, promoted and designed by Lacoste, but produced by experts.” A tech style tune-up for the perennially fashionable French tennis brand might seem a bit superfluous, but Pillet disagrees. “Lacoste has always had style, but we can’t design for tomorrow based completely on our past.”
René Lacoste, the French seven-time grand-slam tennis champion who came up with the brilliantly chic idea of embroidering an alligator (inspired by his nickname) on to the chest of a piqué-knit polo shirt he devised to keep cool on the court and first wore back in 1926 at the U.S. Open championships, was more than stylish and sporty. He was also an inventor who patented the first tubular steel tennis racquet in 1963 (previously racquets were made mostly in wood) and the ball-launching machine.
“Lacoste has been building its name in fashion for years,” says Pillet, “but we must also get back to our roots as inventors.” Trying to explain to its license partners across the world exactly what Lacoste’s style is, and isn’t, has been a conundrum for Pillet and his team. “How do you express simplicity, joie de vivre, technology and timelessness in words?
“It’s so much easier to understand what makes a pair of sunglasses great when you’re looking at the perfect surfboard.”