The Fashion Folk S01 ep12 : Bernard Lacoste, Lacoste Fashion, [Paris]
Interview with Bernard Lacoste
I was only 32 and I had the cheek to say to my father " I'll only take over the business it if I can really do what I want". He looked at me and said "What are you saying?". He said after thinking it over a little bit, "On two conditions. I want the name of our family and the crocodile emblem surname to be always well considered. that means only high quality products, sold in the right shops and the right boutiques, First condition. Second condition, I will not give you any family money to invest so you must manage without asking the family for the money. O.K?" I said to him "O.K".
KM What is Lacoste?
Lacoste was a way in the beginning for my father to make it possible for him to
supply all his tennis shirts, which his friends wanted to wear
My father was an inventor, he was basically a technician on all his tennis
opponents, he had books, and books, and books of information about them.
Also my father was also a bit fragile with respect to his health and he used to
catch colds very easily and of course when you perspire in a woollen fabric
shirt it is much more dangerous than when you perspire in a knitted fabric.
After he had finished playing, one day he met by chance, the three largest
knitted fabric manufacturers in Europe and in France, a gentleman called Mon.
Andre Giglie and together they started a joint venture to produce and sell on an
industrial basis what had been made custom order for him previously. And our
company started La Chemin Lacoste in 1933.
I have a little catalogue which I can show to you, which was printed in 1933
where there are five shirts basically made for tennis and golf because my
father had married a golf champion, my mother, and later they had my sister
Catrine, who in 1967 was the No. 1 golf player in the world, including the
professionals, she even won the USA Pro Golf Championship.
He was really doing it as a weekend hobby, his main business was a joint
venture with Bendix Aviation Company and he had a friend of his, who was in
charge of this little company, which by the end of the decade, was
manufacturing about 300,000 units of shirts.
I was offered the opportunity by my father in the early 1950's of going to finish
my studies in the United States - finally I chose Princeton University and they
KM So you must of been one of the first Frenchmen to go?
Yes after the last world war, and I think that year there were only 15 French
students studying in the United States.
I spent 7 years in General Motors but mainly in automobile accessories and
also in France we were making iceboxes and washing machines, it was
industrial problems of being strong interest for me also we were in a very fast
programme of expansion.
KM What were the important lessons you learnt over that period of 7 years
with General Motors?
I think one of the most important things is the word "Quality" and the second
thing it taught me very well that you also must do things with medium term
You have to start with a strategy and what is absolutely essential is to be able
to make the right evolution at the right time, today, perhaps even more than a
few years ago. One cannot be successful if it doesn't really satisfy consumer
demands and that is perhaps why we must make evolutions, and we should
never have to make a revolution because that means that you have started to
move too late.
It was in 1963 we started to feel that there was a strong development in sport
and leisure related activities and my father called a meeting between my two
other brothers, my sister and myself, and said to us, look, my weekends are
getting more and more spoilt with the time I have to spend on La Chemise
Lacoste. There are two solutions, either one of you wants to eventually to take
over the responsibilities of managing it or I am going to sell it, is there any one
who has an interest? I said to him, O.K. I am ready to try.
I was only 32 and I had the cheek to say to him look I'll only take it if I can
really do what I want. He looked at me and said what are you saying. I want to
be able to do what I want, and he said after thinking it over a little bit, ok on
two conditions I want the name of our family and the crocodile emblem
surname to be always well considered. That means only high quality products,
sold in the right shops and the right boutiques, first condition. Second
condition, I will not give you any family money to invest so you must manage
without asking the family for the money. O.K. I said to him O.K.
After careful analysis and thinking it over I felt that to meet my fathers
requirements there was only one way in which to do it, and that was through
KM But how did you know about licencing, how ... I mean this was...
Through General Motors and I can tell you that our first agreements were
made using a lot of the contents of a licence agreement wording that he had
I had already three partner licensees at that time, a French company, an
Italian company and an American company.
When I arrived we were only making 6 shirts in 4 or 5 different colours. I
increased first of all the range of the colours and step by step did what is now
nowadays what is completely normal, not only selling shirts but also selling
everything that a tennis player would use: shorts, sweaters, socks. After that,
a few years later we added to our line, optical frames, sunglasses: a few years
later, we started making Swiss watches with a licence.
At a wholesale level the total added sales of all our licensees today is about
750 million dollars.
KM Are there Lacoste sardines?
No, well I say no when I get this kind of offer. I am considered by some people
as Mr. No, because it is very rare
KM Not Dr. No?
No, because very often people come and visit me and say, Look I can make
you earn a lot more money if you give us a licence. You must have the
strength to say No to this kind of proposals.
KM What are the tell tale signs for you that a market is mature enough for
For many many years I had a very simple barometer, how many private cars
were being sold every year in the country, and my analysis is somebody...
KM Ah General Motors days again?
....it is a big problem because of that. But it really was about if somebody has
enough money to buy a car, he should have enough to buy a few shirts.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Bernard Lacoste, Lacoste Fashion, Paris