Trotter Trots On

Louise Trotter@Lacoste.jpg

We have always been partial to Joseph under creative director Louis Trotter’s watch. We learnt that she had left the British brand around the same time we were told of the closure of Singapore’s only Joseph store (at the ill-fated Capitol Piazza), in early August: two pieces of bad news. Now with reports that she has joined Lacoste, things are looking up, not only for those of us who have enjoyed Ms Trotter’s work, but also for the Swiss-owned French brand Lacoste, somewhat languishing under Portuguese designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who succeeded Christophe Lemaire in 2010.

Miss Trotter may seem like an odd choice for Lacoste, given her latterly not-too-commercial work for Joseph, but she had been at sportswear-oriented Gap and Hilfiger before, as well as the British high street label Jigsaw. Joseph, founded by one-time hairdresser Joseph Ettedgui, was initially a multi-label store before it branched into the highly successful knitwear line Joseph Tricot. When Ms Trotter came on board in 2009 from Jigsaw, she immediately positioned Joseph’s ready-to-wear as a wearable, several-notches-above-basic label that moved towards the fashion-forward, but not in an alienating way. This came a year after Phoebe Philo’s appointment at Céline, allowing Joseph to move in tandem with the French brand’s aesthetic that was clearly coming on apace.

Ms Trotter kept to Joseph’s reputation for championing young designers by infusing a youthful vibe into clothes that have always been associated with the British wardrobe, such as the trench coat and the fisherman jumper. She’s not shy of extreme proportions, pairing boxy jackets with wide-legged pants, nor of eye-catching details, such as pleated ruffs, oversized pilgrim collars, and pockets large enough to house an iPad. Her solid hand with shapes and an eye for the unusual will be advantageous in restoring Lacoste the edge it had lost with the departure of Mr Lemaire. The alligator needs a new keeper.

Photo: Cyril Masson/Lacoste

The Shoe Inspired By A Shirt

Lacoste L 12 12The new Lacoste L.12.12 premium leather sneaker. Photo: Jim Sim

For so many sportsmen and not-so-sporty individuals, the Lacoste polo shirt is an iconic garment. Having crossed the backlines and sidelines of a court to live large in every corner of our urban spaces, the Lacoste polo shirt is no longer restricted to the game of tennis for which it was designed to be worn. Despite its many reiteration and fits and the staggering plethora of fabrications, the original polo shirt, born in 1933 and code-named L.12.12, remains one of the most popular in the brand’s selection of sport tops.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Lacoste would create a shoe inspired by the shirt that has placed the brand on the world’s fashion map. The L.12.12 as footwear is every bit as sleek as the polo shirt, with a purity of design that articulates the same sense of what is logical and practical in terms of wearability. There are no superfluous elements in the shoe. From the padded collar (surprisingly sans pull-tab) to the PU insole (unsurprisingly moulded for extra comfort and cushioning) to the 5-hole perforation at the top of the toe box (to improve internal ventilation), every detail serves a specific purpose.

Lacoste’s introduction of the L.12.12’s is, to some, a little belated, since Adidas’s Stan Smith has staked out a huge chunk of the tennis-shoe-as-fashionable-footwear market of the past three years (not to mention every other luxury brand’s take, including the near-facsimile of those by Saint Laurent). Still, we’re partial to Lacoste’s refined version in monochromatic washes of very handsome hues (there are six colourways, but only five are available in Singapore). The silhouette, with a toe box that’s neither too rounded or pointy, is flattering on wide Asian feet and the Derby construction—characterised by quarters with eyelets for shoelaces sewn atop the vamp—lends the shoe an elegance that can easily make the scene outside the tennis court.

L 12 12 shirt and shoeThe classic L.12.12 polo shirt and the shoe that is named after it. Photos: Lacoste

The L.12.12, interestingly, is not just a style number. L, as you guessed it, is for Lacoste. The 1 “represents the uniqueness of the petit pique material used for the polo” and the 2 is the code for short sleeves. The following 12 (rather than 1 and 2) is the number of prototypes developed before the version we see today is designated for sale. The L.12.12 has spawned not just a pair of shoes, but eau de toilette too.

For those with a penchant for details, a kick may be derived from the knowledge that the shoe is lined with a piqué that is akin to that used in the polo shirt. The piqué is a weaving style—usually used with cotton yarn—woven lengthwise with raised yarns or what fabric technologists call ‘ribbing’. The result is a fairly loose weave that makes the fabric ‘breathable’. Lacoste’s piqué was originally developed with Andre Gillier, the co-founder of La Chemise Lacoste. Mr Gillier was France’s largest owner–manufacturer of knitwear at that time; who had, prior to Lacoste, produced his country’s first men’s underwear label Jil, known for its slip kangourou (or kangaroo slip, a pouch-crotched brief).

For sure, Rene Lacoste, whose last name is now sometimes used as synonym for the polo shirt, was a far bigger legend. However, not many people these days know or remember that Mr Lacoste was a tennis player and a world-famous one too. The ignorance is understandable since France no longer dominates the world of tennis. But in the Twenties, specifically 1925, the sport was roaring with the triumphs of the then 20-year-old Rene Lacoste’s win of the French Open and Wimbledon just a month apart. Within a mere four years, he would claim seven major singles titles together with three doubles championships, securing the status as France’s most eminent tennis star.

As for the crocodile association, let’s leave that to another post. The reptile, however, is definitely sported on the L.12.12 shoe.

Lacoste L.12.12 premium leather sneakers, SGD199, is available in black, white, grey, red, and dark green at Lacoste Wisma Atria

Going (Pea)nuts!

Peanuts 65th Anniversary collaboration

Clockwise from top left: Lacoste X Peanuts, Uniqlo X Peanuts, and Peter Jensen X Peanuts

The original normcore bunch strikes! It’s the 65th year of the Peanuts gang, and fashion brands aren’t going to let the occasion pass without injecting some Snoopy cuteness into their select pieces. And it isn’t just the usual mainstream labels that are celebrating this anniversary. From Japan’s Digawel (the Joe Cool shirt!) and Porter (Snoopy as a porter!) to the Lausanne-based Bata (tennis shoes with Woodstock and Snoopy on each foot!), Charlie Brown and company are taking worldwide wardrobes by storm.

However, here in small-time Singapore, we have to count our blessings: three brands are releasing their collaborations with Peanuts. One of the most anticipated is Lacoste’s. A smile comes to our face when seeing that Lacoste, as with its first collaboration with Peanuts in 2010 to mark the latter’s 60th Anniversary, has revisited Charles Schulz’s characters with a sense of humour. Snoopy fishing a crocodile from above his kennel? Yes, the Flying Ace dares!

Not one to miss out on the action, Uniqlo, too, has released a range of Peanuts merchandise as part of their UT Graphic T-Shirts collection and is put together to coincide with the screening of the upcoming 3D animation, The Peanuts Movie. Typical of their T-shirt designs, the Peanut characters are basically comic-strip delineations made for the shopping crowd less concerned with wit and irony.

Then, there’s Peter Jensen’s take. Here, installed unusually large on the chest are two of the world’s most famous BFFs (even before that abbreviation caught on): Charlie Brown and the security blanket-totting Linus Van Pelt. Linus, with security blanket in hand, is seen turning his back on Charlie Brown, who is holding baseball bat. We don’t know what transpired, but we’re sure neither is walking away from friendship.

Lacoste X Peanuts, SGD179—SGD219, is available at Lacoste, Vivo City (from 3 December); Uniqlo X Peanuts, SGD29.90, is available at all Uniqlo stores; Peter Jensen X Peanuts, SGD139, is available at Tangs @ Tang Plaza

Embroidered, And “Couture” It Is

Two Sundays ago, at the start of the Paris Haute Couture Week Autumn/Winter 2015, Lacoste teamed up with Lesage to create what has been dubbed “couture polo shirts”. Are they really?

Lacoste X Lessage G1Left: actress/singer/model Emmanuelle Seigner wears ‘Without Style, Playing and Winning is Not Enough’ Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt. Right: model Constance Jablonski in a long-sleeved ‘René Graffiti’ Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt

Lacoste is so associated with tennis and polo shirts that few know it is also the name of a mountain village-commune in the south of France. It is here that one of the country’s most notorious literary mavericks resided for awhile—in a family castle named after the place where it was built. Chateau de Lacoste, destroyed during the French Revolution of 1789, was home to the Marquis de Sade, pornographer-in-residence of the Bastille, where he was later imprisoned for 10 years. Lacoste is where many believed the Marquis began his career of wicked debauchery involving an affair with his wife’s sister and orgies with nuns and teenaged servant girls, not mentioning the collective act associated with pain and shame that is named after him. This genesis may have been forgotten if not for a benefactor who has turned Chateau de Lacoste into a platform for art: Pierre Cardin.

The present-day Lacoste of the piqué cotton polo shirt fame, too, has met a giant of French fashion: the venerable embroidery house of Lesage. When Lacoste pairs with Lesage, you get embroidered or beaded polo shirts. That’s what we thought until reading the initial press reports: “couture polo shirts…” If you thought that sounds implausible, we’re on your side. Does a polo shirt, made in a mass-production factory (even if sewn in the sampling room), becomes a couture garment by virtue of surface embellishment from a couture embroiderer?

Lacoste X Lessage G2Left: ballet dancer Marie-Agnès Gillot in a ‘Attention aux Crocodiles’ sleeveless Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt. Right: actress Karidja Touré wears a ‘Crocodile Story’ Lacoste X Lesage polo tunic

Industry bible WWD’s online report was a little more restrained, describing the limited-edition tops in the body text as couture only twice. The French press were ardent in their nationalistic fervour. Both online Paris Vogue and French Elle called the special-release Lacoste tennis wear “les polos couture”. Only Le Monde was more careful in their headline, announcing that Lacoste and Lesage “célèbrent la street-couture”. Most intriguing, however, was Glamour’s standfirst: “Les maisons françaises Lacoste et Lesage associent leurs savoir-faire pour créer huit polos haute couture” or “The French houses Lacoste and Lesage combine their expertise to create eight haute couture polos”.

Couture is already stretching it. Haute?

If the major titles believed what they were told, then maybe these are couture polos. Since we at SOTD have not seen them, we can’t entirely negate their couture value. If we go by so-called traditional practices, especially those among self-proclaimed couturiers in Asia (where the word ‘couture’ has a long history of abuse in designer branding), as long as a garment is embroidered, beaded, sequinned, it can be considered a couture garment. There is, after all, handwork involved, just as in the Lacoste polos, which are stitched by the brodeurs of Lesage, a storied atelier that is known for its embroidery used by couturiers as early as Charles Worth. Lesage is now owned by Chanel, but continues to supply to other couture houses, and now, sportswear producers.

Lacoste X Lessage G3Left: actress/model Laetitia Casta wears ‘La Véritable’ Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt. Right: model Cora Emmanuel wears ‘Games, Set, Match’ sleeveless Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt

To us, however, no matter how much of Lesage’s embroidery appears on a polo, even a Lacoste-branded one, the final garment is, at best, half-couture, and no way haute. There are perfectly good reasons why the haute couture business is regulated by the Chambre de Syndicale de la Haute Couture, based in Paris. The Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, founded in 1973, and under which the Chambre de Syndicale de la Haute Couture operates, stipulates that “Haute Couture is a legally protected and controlled label that can only be used by the fashion houses which have been granted the designation by the French Ministry of Industry”. And yes, we’re rather stitched-up about that too.

For a very long time, couture has been a craft about skills applied on garments, inside out. Craft is the operative word since couture clothes involve sewing by hand as much as crafting by hand. The foundation on which the clothes lay is as vital as what appears on the surface. In simpler term, construction is critical. Quality is stitched into seams as well as on sequins. True, what is considered beautiful surface embellishments changes with time, just as with the silhouettes of the couture clothes, but what constitutes a quality make has not changed. We can be seduced into believing that a polo shirt is couture-blessed, but does it bear all the hallmarks of the haute?

Lacoste X Lessage G4Left: disc jockey Clara 3000 wears ‘René Did It First’ Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt. Right: actress/model Audrey Marnay wears ‘Fair Play’ Lacoste X Lesage cropped polo shirt

Le Monde was not wrong to discern Lacoste’s attempt as “street couture”, an oxymoron, and an aesthetic that can be traced to the Nineties, when a sweatshirt-and-track-pants maker had the gall to call their label Juicy Couture. For street fashion brands, nowhere is hallowed ground. Couture can include embroidered T-shirts associated with apparel at the lowest end of the market. Those mindful of semantics will point out that ‘couture’ really means ‘sewing’. There’s nothing wrong, therefore, to attach the word to a brand. Truth is, even sans the adjective haute, couture is always evocative of something higher, itself a branding not distanced from the ateliers where everything is done by hand and elevated to an art form. Couture always has a certain ring: costly, exquisite, uncommon.

Even though they’re termed “couture polos” by Lacoste, the marketing description is more humble: “Eight polos, eight inspiring French women, eight tributes to René Lacoste.” The octet of women are the usual mix of models and actresses, except the DJ, Clara 3000, who is the most likely lass to don the embroidered Lacoste outside the ad campaign, given that her wardrobe is, by her admission, home to T-shirts she has been collecting for years. In fact, these Lacoste polo shirts and tunics, designed by creative director Felipe Oliveira Baptista (who, interesting to note, is a member of the Chambre de Syndicale de la Haute Couture), are in tune with what’s worn among the music-making set and are likely to score many likes. You’re not wrong if you think we have hip-hop stars in mind, going back to Missy Elliot and those blinked-out Adidas tops! Sometimes, it is cachet, more than couture, that sells a chemise.

Lacoste x Maison Lesage Couture polos will not be available in local stores. Photos: Lacoste