News last week that Lacoste president Bernard Lacoste had died didn't mean much to me at first. I've never owned one of the famous, crocodile-emblazoned polo shirts—or, in fact, any item of Lacoste. But that doesn't mean I never wanted to.
In the early '80s, when I was in middle school, the preppy look had trickled down to sixth grade—and I went to Newcomb Academy in Long Beach, very possibly the preppiest public school in the city. Which meant that, sure, there were throwbacks—Lightning Bolt, OP—to the surfer look that was then still not officially dead. Punk rock and the Mod revival made their presence somewhat known; one girl did a handy business selling band pinbacks.
But the chicest look—worn, of course, by only a select, relative few—was the preppy: madras shorts or shirts, crewneck Ralph Lauren polo sweaters, Topsiders, khakis, loafers and, of course, the Izod Lacoste polo. My friend Cameron seemed to wear one almost every day, and in middle school, I wanted an Izod polo just as badly as I wanted one of those puffy nylon ski jackets with the zip-off sleeves. Until eventually I grew up, and grew out of that, and yearned instead for a pair of creepers: high school.
And then Lacoste, who was the son of the founder Rene, died. And I realized, as I was doing research—glug, glug, glug—for this, that apparently at New York's recent fashion week, Lacoste showed not a single polo shirt. They showed lots of other items with the Lacoste logo: moon boots, shearling jackets, leather porkpie hats, but reportedly not a single polo. Clearly they don't need to; the polo very likely sells itself. It is their signature.
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But it occurred to me that this could become a very dangerous time for Lacoste, which, like Le Tigre and Munsingwear (Penguin), is clearly trying to expand both its line and its relevance—and not the least because Steve Lowery turns up for work in a Le Tigre jacket over an Izod polo. (He also drinks one cup of coffee a day. But whatever.) The challenge now for Lacoste—sadly, minus its president—is to keep the classics classic without second-guessing its own successes. I wish them luck; they are a tough act to follow, perhaps especially for themselves.