Lacoste almost simultaneously announced the appointment of a new creative director and the signature of a new eyewear licensing contract with Marchon earlier this month.

The French brand's new partnership with Marchon follows about 25 years of collaboration with the French L'Amy Group, which has gone under new ownership (see the News Briefs) and five years with Lacoste's former eyewear licensee, Charmant of Japan. Officials of Lacoste said the choice of Marchon was not dictated by a promise of higher minimum royalties or from fear of a conflict with another sport-inspired lifestyle brand licensed by Charmant - Puma. They declined to provide recent sales figures for Lacoste eyewear, which were at around €25 million a year before L'Amy got a first territorial cutback in its licensing contract.

In a public statement, Lacoste said that Marchon's great expertise in design and R&D should «accentuate the innovative and fashion attributes of its eyewear lines,» while the international sales network of the American company will strengthen the global distribution of its eyewear. The company also said that the new collaboration should reinforce the position of the brand in the fashion world, while emphasizing the feminine element. With only 25 percent of its apparel bought by women, Lacoste brand wants to address more female customers in all its product segments. A new fragrance will be launched at the end of the year as part of this new strategy.

In appointing Claudio Gottardi as its new chief executive and boosting its European management after its recent change of ownership, Marchon had voiced a desire to sign more licenses with strong European brands. With special image of relaxed elegance and its heritage in the tennis sector, Lacoste will nicely complement other brands in Marchon's portfolio such as Nike and numerous others including Calvin Klein, Coach Fendi and Nautica, or, on the fashion side, Emilio Pucci, Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld.

Marchon's first Lacoste collection will debut at retail next January with 48 styles of sunglasses and 34 optical styles. Parts of the new eyewear collection were already shown at Lacoste's fashion show in New York a few days ago. The contract with Charmant ends on Dec. 31, but the Japanese company, which is working on new licensing deals, will continue to liquidate its inventories of unsold Lacoste glasses until next June and handle customer service for the styles already delivered.

The design of future lines of Lacoste eyewear will be supervised by a new creative director of the French company, Felipe Oliveira Baptista. With effect from last Sept. 1, the 35-year-old Portuguese women's wear designer took the place of Christophe Lemaire who has been with Lacoste for ten years and is moving to Hermès International. Oliveira Baptista will oversee an expanded design studio at Lacoste and his first full collection will be presented in September 2011 for the spring/summer 2012 season. Praised for his sense of color and his outgoing personality, he has been putting out his own ready-to-wear collections at the Paris Fashion Week since 2009. He has won several fashion awards. He has worked in the past for in the design studios of Max Mara, Cerruti and Nike.

Lacoste says his job will be to rejuvenate the Lacoste brand, reasserting its position in the casual elegant segment of the sportswear market and to assert the identity of new product

lines such as the Lacoste L!VE collection. Observers feel that he could also help in developing the women's segment and in internationalizing the brand further.

According to reports, Lacoste suffered a drop of nearly 20 percent last year in sales in the important U.S. market, where Marchon is very strong, while the group's total wholesale-equivalent turnover stagnated at a level of around €1.4 billion (more in Sporting Goods Intelligence Europe).