Infotainment Factory: The surprising Aussie link to iconic tennis brand

Trending

>

Post Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The surprising Aussie link to iconic tennis brand


//

In the tennis world there’s a handful of brands which have become synonymous with the sport itself. One such brand is Lacoste, and the story behind the crocodile which at this year’s Australian Open adorns the chest of world no.1 Novak Djokovic dates back nearly 100 years, with a surprising connection to Australia.

It’s a story of a Davis Cup semi-final, a Boston cricket club, window shopping, a sneaky bet and a clever journalist’s turn of phrase which gave birth to the iconic tennis brand we know today.

The year was 1923 and the Australian national team – then known as the Australasian team, encompassing New Zealand and Australia – were in Massachusetts in the USA to play France in the Davis Cup semi-final.

Lacoste, one of France's 'Four Musketeers'

The tie would take place at the Longwood Cricket Club, the site where Harvard student, tennis player and future US politician Dwight Davis first invited a British team over to play on the grass courts in 1900 in the International Lawn Tennis Challenge, later named the Davis Cup – the very same club that in 1999 would host Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, Mark Woodforde, and Sandon Stolle when they defeated USA’s Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Todd Martin and Alex O’Brien 4-1 in the Davis Cup world group final on the hardcourts at Longwood.

The 1923 tie would see either France or Australia progress to the Davis Cup final against the formidable USA team.

Rene Lacoste, a future seven-time grand slam champion, was at the time just a 19-year-old up-and-comer, who one month earlier had reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, then a career-best performance.

The 1923 Australasian Davis Cup team

In Boston before the first scheduled match against Australia, he went on a walk through the city with French captain Alan Muhr and an American journalist who was known to befriend athletes he interviewed, George Carens.

The story goes that as the trio window-shopped and discussed the upcoming matches against Australia, Lacoste was drawn to a crocodile suitcase at an up-market luggage store.

Then he made a bet – win the match, get the suitcase.

Though there remains some conjecture between the Lacoste and Carens families about whether Muhr offered to buy Lacoste the suitcase if he won a match, or if Lacoste proposed his captain should buy the suitcase if he won a match, the wager was definitely made.

As it happened the emerging clay-court specialist Lacoste did not play in the tie, with Andre Gobert and Henri Cochet eventually losing to Australians Pat O’Hara Wood and Gerald Patterson.

Rene Lacoste in 1925 at Wimbledon

Lacoste never did get the crocodile-skin suitcase, but the story of the Summer afternoon stroll through Boston was not forgotten.

Carens nicknamed Lacoste ‘The Crocodile’ in his tennis reports, making comparisons between the large reptile and the Frenchman’s fighting spirit.

“Tenacious on his grip, flashing an omnivorous, toothy grin. He was relentless, and chewed up his opponents slowly,” Carens’ grandson Tim Clapp recited from an old article in an interview with NPR podcast Only A Game.

Before long, Lacoste’s new nickname stuck within tennis circles, and the Frenchman embraced the animal as his mascot.

A friend of Lacoste’s Robert George came up with an illustration and had it embroidered onto Lacoste's blazer which he wore to every event he played at, and just like that, the name Lacoste and ‘Le Crocodile’ was now a distinctive brand.

The rest - as they say - is history.

The original Locoste crocodile illustration

The crocodile was now on Lacoste's sweaters and the then-revolutionary polo shirts too.

After he retired from tennis, in 1933 he founded La Societe Chemise Lacoste which manufactured and sold to the public the short-sleeved tennis shirts with the crocodile motif that he made so famous. In a time when long-sleeve shirts were the norm in tennis and everyone wore dull shades of white, this was a bold new look.

More than fashion, it was functionality for greater performance on the court.

Soon Lacoste was being worn by tennis players in clubs around the world.

Jim Courier greets Rene Lacoste at the French Open

In 1996, at the ripe old age of 92, having lived to see tennis legends Jimmy Connors and Billie Jean King wear the crocodile over their heart, Lacoste passed away in France.

In 2018, the Lacoste brand is now owned by Swiss company Maus Frères, bringing in global sales in the billions. It is among the most lucrative fashion brands in tennis and even today is worn by the biggest names in the sport.

And to think, it all started with a cheeky bet on the Davis Cup.

Lacoste's collection at Paris Fashion Week

In the tennis world there’s a handful of brands which have become synonymous with the sport itself. One such brand is Lacoste, and the story behind the crocodile which at this year’s Australian Open adorns the chest of world no.1 Novak Djokovic dates back nearly 100 years, with a surprising connection to Australia.

It’s a story of a Davis Cup semi-final, a Boston cricket club, window shopping, a sneaky bet and a clever journalist’s turn of phrase which gave birth to the iconic tennis brand we know today.

The year was 1923 and the Australian national team – then known as the Australasian team, encompassing New Zealand and Australia – were in Massachusetts in the USA to play France in the Davis Cup semi-final.

Lacoste, one of France's 'Four Musketeers'

The tie would take place at the Longwood Cricket Club, the site where Harvard student, tennis player and future US politician Dwight Davis first invited a British team over to play on the grass courts in 1900 in the International Lawn Tennis Challenge, later named the Davis Cup – the very same club that in 1999 would host Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, Mark Woodforde, and Sandon Stolle when they defeated USA’s Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Todd Martin and Alex O’Brien 4-1 in the Davis Cup world group final on the hardcourts at Longwood.

The 1923 tie would see either France or Australia progress to the Davis Cup final against the formidable USA team.

Rene Lacoste, a future seven-time grand slam champion, was at the time just a 19-year-old up-and-comer, who one month earlier had reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, then a career-best performance.

The 1923 Australasian Davis Cup team

In Boston before the first scheduled match against Australia, he went on a walk through the city with French captain Alan Muhr and an American journalist who was known to befriend athletes he interviewed, George Carens.

The story goes that as the trio window-shopped and discussed the upcoming matches against Australia, Lacoste was drawn to a crocodile suitcase at an up-market luggage store.

Then he made a bet – win the match, get the suitcase.

Though there remains some conjecture between the Lacoste and Carens families about whether Muhr offered to buy Lacoste the suitcase if he won a match, or if Lacoste proposed his captain should buy the suitcase if he won a match, the wager was definitely made.

As it happened the emerging clay-court specialist Lacoste did not play in the tie, with Andre Gobert and Henri Cochet eventually losing to Australians Pat O’Hara Wood and Gerald Patterson.

Rene Lacoste in 1925 at Wimbledon

Lacoste never did get the crocodile-skin suitcase, but the story of the Summer afternoon stroll through Boston was not forgotten.

Carens nicknamed Lacoste ‘The Crocodile’ in his tennis reports, making comparisons between the large reptile and the Frenchman’s fighting spirit.

“Tenacious on his grip, flashing an omnivorous, toothy grin. He was relentless, and chewed up his opponents slowly,” Carens’ grandson Tim Clapp recited from an old article in an interview with NPR podcast Only A Game.

Before long, Lacoste’s new nickname stuck within tennis circles, and the Frenchman embraced the animal as his mascot.

A friend of Lacoste’s Robert George came up with an illustration and had it embroidered onto Lacoste's blazer which he wore to every event he played at, and just like that, the name Lacoste and ‘Le Crocodile’ was now a distinctive brand.

The rest - as they say - is history.

The original Locoste crocodile illustration

The crocodile was now on Lacoste's sweaters and the then-revolutionary polo shirts too.

After he retired from tennis, in 1933 he founded La Societe Chemise Lacoste which manufactured and sold to the public the short-sleeved tennis shirts with the crocodile motif that he made so famous. In a time when long-sleeve shirts were the norm in tennis and everyone wore dull shades of white, this was a bold new look.

More than fashion, it was functionality for greater performance on the court.

Soon Lacoste was being worn by tennis players in clubs around the world.

Jim Courier greets Rene Lacoste at the French Open

In 1996, at the ripe old age of 92, having lived to see tennis legends Jimmy Connors and Billie Jean King wear the crocodile over their heart, Lacoste passed away in France.

In 2018, the Lacoste brand is now owned by Swiss company Maus Frères, bringing in global sales in the billions. It is among the most lucrative fashion brands in tennis and even today is worn by the biggest names in the sport.

And to think, it all started with a cheeky bet on the Davis Cup.

Lacoste's collection at Paris Fashion Week http://bit.ly/2FTDO7m
//

No comments:

Post a Comment