Howard Davidson Arlington, MA

Marketing Guy – Arlington, MA

Lacoste Crocodiles Aren’t the Only Preppy Wildlife

  • Sumo

Nothing said “preppy” when I was in high school like a Lacoste crocodile shirt. Lacoste was def the look at the time. Pop your collar, drape a sweater (arms tied) around your neck, slip on your loafers, then meet Biff and Buffy somewhere swank for cocktails. (Or at least, that’s what I imagined. I was in high school. Drinking the occasional juice box.)

Lacoste - Howard Davidson

As the Reagan years unrolled, preppies ruled. The Official Preppy Handbook said the Izod Lacoste crocodile was retail royalty. With tail curled and toothy jaw somehow smiling more than snapping, the brand conquered the world.

Preppy came naturally to the brand. It was invented by French tennis star Rene Lacoste in the roaring twenties. Seeking to unencumber himself from the baggy court garb of the time, he had a British tailor emulate shirts worn by polo players. (Because tennis wasn’t foo-foo enough with pressed white pants, long-sleeved shirt, and a tie.) Lacoste had acquired the nickname “the Crocodile” at the 1923 Davis Cup by trying to talk his coach into a prize of an alligator suitcase. That’s why he had the tailor add the crocodile to the bespoke shirts in which he played.

(No, crocodiles and alligators are not the same thing but were conflated for fashion purposes. As far as I know, caimans were never involved in the brand story.)

The Lacoste shirts were popular in Europe, but needed help here in the US. It wasn’t until folks like Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Bing Crosby received swag from Lacoste’s American licensee, Izod, that the brand took off here. (Good thing they didn’t pick Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon.)

As with all conquerors, there was a downfall. Licensing issues affected quality. The natural selection of competition – from tigers, ponies, marlins, eagles, and even a Chinese crocodile – took the smile from the fashion reptile for a while. In 1993, Lacoste split with Izod. Since then, a new generation of celebrities has been wearing the Lacoste crocodile.

But why stop with a croc? Remember your dizzy cousin Lizzie who started with a cat? The longer she stayed single, the bigger her menagerie got – first a ferret, then a parrot, finally a pot-bellied pig. (I hear she’s looking at pygmy goats now.)

Ditto Lacoste. In a partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Lacoste now is making endangered species preppy. Still want a Lacoste reptile on your chest? Get an Anegada ground iguana. But there are birds – the California condor and the kakapo. There are sea creatures – the Burmese roofed turtle and the vaquita. There are land creatures large (the Javan rhinoceros and the Sumatran tiger) and small (the Northern sportive lemur). There are animals you’ve sort of heard of (the Cao-vit black crested gibbon) and animals you’ve never heard of (the saola).

The whole gimmick is to make people who can afford a $185 polo shirt feel like they’re saving the planet. Each shirt is issued in a limited quantity, one for each actual animal on the planet. Note to collectors – there are only 30 vaquitas swimming in the Gulf of California. Note to competitors with fishing boats – there are only 30 vaquitas swimming in the Gulf of California.

It’s a great way to extend the brand. In its own way, it’s like what the US Mint has been doing with our pennies and quarters. I’m not sure that preppies care about the environment, however. Perhaps Lacoste would be better off decorating its shirts with things its audience truly misses as they disappear. Things like housewives who stay home and clean the house in pearls and heels. Or doctors who smoke.

I guess we’ll see.

-Howard Davidson



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Howard Davidson Arlington MA