Lacoste was founded by French tennis star René Lacoste in 1933. René was nicknamed 'The Crocodile' by his fans and the media due to his tenacity on the tennis courts. René embraced the nickname and used it to inspire the reptile logo he embroidered onto his signature white blazer which has since become synonymous with the Lacoste brand.
René created the Lacoste brand (originally known as La Société Chemise Lacoste) after his retirement from tennis because he found the attire associated with the sport in the 20s and 30s very restrictive. Tennis whites, as they were called, consisted of a white, long-sleeved button-down shirt, long pants and a tie.
To give players better freedom of movement on court, Lacoste first began producing revolutionary tennis shirts that René once wore on the tennis courts.
In 1951 they branched out from the classic tennis white and introduced new colours to the Lacoste clothing range, by 1952 they were exporting to the US where they were advertised as 'The status symbol of the competent sportsman'. But it wasn’t until the late 70s that Lacoste had its first big break. Around that time the “preppy wardrobe” really took off in the USA, causing a huge surge in demand.
But the Lacoste brand only wound up in the United States because it had licensed its brand to Izod (then called Izod of London), which had been seeking out an upscale product. This explains why you often see "Izod" on the labels of vintage Lacoste pieces. During this time period, annual sales reached $150 million just from the tennis polos alone.
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Info sources: Smithsonian Magazine and MasterShoe