It’s game over for Lacoste and Felipe Oliveira Baptista.
The heritage French sportswear brand on Wednesday said it has parted ways with the designer, who has been creative director of the brand since 2010 — an impressive run in today’s revolving-door era. It’s a move that reflects the desire of Lacoste chief executive officer Thierry Guibert to refocus the brand on its sports roots.
The next collection, for spring 2019, will be designed by Lacoste’s creative studio. “A new organization of the creative direction of the brand” will be announced in the coming months, Lacoste said.
Guibert in a statement tipped his cap to Oliveira Baptista for his contribution to “the writing of a key chapter in the history of Lacoste” and the artistic and commercial development of the brand.
“A new stage will now open and I am extremely confident in the future successes of our brand, emblematic of French know-how and elegance,” he said.
Best known for its iconic crocodile logo polo shirt, Lacoste, which this year is celebrating its 85th anniversary, recently relocated its show back to Paris from New York after 13 years presenting Stateside.
Pascal Collet, the brand’s longtime international press and public relations director, parted ways with the house in mid February. Among other changes, Lacoste plans to move into new headquarters in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, with details yet to be confirmed.
In a recent interview with WWD, Guibert said he found the label unfocused when he took over the helm of the company — owned by Swiss retail group Maus Frères SA — in 2015.
“One of the main tasks when I arrived was to give the brand a clear direction,” he said, noting it had turned too much toward fashion and away from sports. “Sport-inspired and French elegance, these are the two pillars we are leaning on.”
Under Guibert’s watch, Lacoste has revved up its marketing efforts on sports ambassadors, notably tennis star Novak Djokovic, and sponsoring new tennis tournaments as well as creating capsule collections carrying a Made in France label.
Guibert has also been busy overhauling the distribution network around the world, particularly in the U.S., Lacoste’s largest market, where it generates 15 percent of group sales.
Lacoste, whose link to tennis goes back to its founder René Lacoste, a French tennis legend nicknamed “the crocodile,” is also looking to revive its tennis racket business. The brand, which sponsors tennis tournaments including Roland Garros, the Miami Open and the ATP Finals, last August acquired Tecnifibre, a French company that specializes in tennis and squash equipment. Its first premium racket is set to launch in early 2019.
Under Oliveira Baptista’s tenure, revenues at Lacoste grew from around 1 billion euros in 2009 to more than 2 billion euros in 2016, the most recent figures released by the house. The designer was building on the momentum set by his predecessor Christophe Lemaire, who was credited with reviving the brand, tripling its sales during his decade-long tenure there.
Known for his avant-garde, experimental creations, Oliveira Baptista, who was a self-described niche designer when he arrived at Lacoste in 2010, put his namesake brand on hold in 2014. The Portuguese, Paris-based designer had created the label with his partner Séverine Oliveira Baptista in 2003, a year after winning the main fashion prize at the Festival d’Hyères. He was the subject of a solo exhibition at Mude, the design and fashion museum in Lisbon, in 2013.
During his time at Lacoste, he collaborated with designers and houses including Maison Lesage, Jean-Paul Goude, Yazbukey and Supreme.
Oliveira Baptista’s swan song collection for Lacoste, presented in Paris in late February, featured 10 looks inspired by endangered species, based on a partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
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