Image: Courtesy of Lacoste
Felipe Oliveira Baptista - Creative Director of Lacoste
Nordic Man, Copenhagen August 2013
Lacoste is a brand of traditions. Founded on a mind-set of freedom and wholesomeness in 1933 the spirit is still ongoing and relevant for today. The man responsible for everything in the creative process, runs his own label in his own name as well, showing his collections during the haute couture fashion week, even though it’s ready-to-wear. As he describes it himself: a real luxury brand. This man has the honor to be the creative director while Lacoste celebrates their 80th anniversary, the anniversary of a groundbreaking invention of the polo shirt and the creation of an unforgettable symbol of passion and identity: the crocodile. Indisputably linked to the business founder, René Lacoste chose this as the leading logo back in 1923 as he was named “The Crocodile” through his tennis career. He made a bet with the captain of the French Davis Cup Team, and if he won he would win a suitcase made by crocodile skin. In 1933 the industrial production of Lacoste began. The world of Lacoste is so much more than the polo shirt and the crocodile logo – it is now an empire. Every season Lacoste presents five different collections (LACOSTE Sportswear Men and Women, LACOSTE Fashion Show Men and Women, LACOSTE L!VE Men and Women, LACOSTE Kids and LACOSTE Leather Goods collections, red.).
This history obviously brings a lot of varied and unseen challenges, needing to be balanced as a father and a husband. We caught the busy man behind it all, Felipe Oliveira Baptista, born 1975, creative director of Lacoste since 2010.
PS: Monsieur Felipe.
PS: How are you?
FOB: I feel good; I’m working on the new collection.
PS: Do you feel calm?
FOB: Well. It is not that hectic. Right now is not the hectic part of the process. This is an exciting moment creatively.
PS: But isn’t it stressful to start a new collection?
FOB: No, I think the stress comes when we are about to run out of time in the end. The beginning is the best part. Now everything is open and possible. It is an interesting journey. You create work and you make it workable. Ideas start to materialize.
PS: So what do you do to get new ideas?
FOB: We kind of hit an arcade and study the design, the architecture and photography… It id all about finding images that tell a story.
PS: What do you look for in photography?
FOB: Not necessarily fashion photography. Sometimes a photographer with a good sense of colour inspires me. It is a batch of things that we are trying to put together. We can find inspiration in people on the street as well as finding inspiration in the texture of a certain fabric. What is interesting is to find inspiration in a lot of external things.
PS: What is the biggest challenge when reinventing a brand of such powerful traditions?
FOB: This is what is exciting about it - you have to put something completely new into it and still stick to the true DNA of the brand. When designing and working we have to invent something new and people should get surprised but still be sure of the fact that it is Lacoste. It is about knowing what the brand stands for.
PS: How does your own story influence the brand?
FOB: On a personal note I have always been interested in clothing, I have always been interested in sports, I have always thought that clothes should have a function, a meaning, a purpose and that is very important for Lacoste. It is more about design than about fashion in a way. There is no rational value in what I can bring or what I cannot bring. I always want to keep things upbeat and what I bring in depends on what interests me. My mood can be darker. It is always the same spirit but with different initiations.
PS: Is it hard to do that when you run your own label as well?
FOB: It’s hard to find the time to be dedicated to both. The hardest part is to find the time. Some things come quite naturally.
PS: So you don’t have that much time – and you have a wife and two kids. Is it hard to find time for them?
FOB: Yes, it is. I have to find a lot of discipline in myself.
PS: What makes you different than the previous creative directors of Lacoste? For example – what do you bring to the label that Christophe Lemaire (previous creative director of Lacoste, red.) was not able to?
FOB: This is tricky for me to answer cause it makes the previous directors sound negative. I suppose we’re inspired by different periods of time. When I arrived I really wanted to focus on womenswear and to really push it, which is a big change. I wanted to be more urban and focus on putting Lacoste into daily life and not just focus on the weekends – that’s the main thing we are working on - and still stay true to the DNA. That is an important aspect.
PS: Does sport plays an important role when you design?
FOB: Of course, it is the essence of where we come from; even when we are designing casual wear. There is always a technical element in the clothes that makes it into Lacoste.
PS: I am from Scandinavia, I am young, and I am curious – why should young people in Scandinavia wear Lacoste?
FOB: We are trying to create a crossover between ages. We’re not thinking about age of country or market. Lacoste is sold worldwide in 1200 different shops so we’re trying to stay open and not think of a particular woman or age or a lifestyle, we are thinking more general. It is interesting how one piece can be worn by a woman on 25 or 45 and still feel cool with it. The philosophy behind Lacoste is that it should be quite easy to wear and you should never need any instructions. It’s always about comfort and utility. When designing colours and construction we are always thinking about comfort and how people can mix it into their personal style even though they are 30 or 50.
PS: So you are trying to design on an international level – then what about the production of Lacoste? Is it still produced in France?
FOB: There is still a lot of production in France and then we have platforms in Asia and South America.
PS: Does the way the production is made matter to you?
FOB: I am happy there are still factories in France. Lacoste produces in Europe, Peru and a small part of it is in Asia, Morocco and Tunesia. All of our factories, the conditions and the way people work are very controlled. All of the Lacoste production takes place in company owned factories.
PS: What are your future plans and ideas?
FOB: I think it is pretty much to develop this aesthetic. That is my main goal: making people wear Lacoste seven days a week and making the brand more and more desirable and relevant for today.
PS: What about your own label and your own future?
FOB: I would definitely like to involve and develop that too. Right now it is developing well so it is good.
PS: When designing, does Lacoste brings something to your own label?
FOB: I need attention for my own label and I need attention for me and I think it is exciting to work on so many different creative projects at the same time. It all stimulates me creatively. You have all these ideas coming from one place to another and I am trying not to put up too many barriers for myself cause it always goes in a different direction.
PS: You are the creative director of Lacoste and this year is the year of the 80th anniversary. Is that a big challenge?
FOB: It is a huge challenge but it is fun. It is not like I have already forgotten but right now we are working on the collections for the next years. But this is a very interesting time for us. You have to think about many things.
PS: How has your life changed since you became the creative director of Lacoste?
FOB: I think it relates to a sense of organisation, creative processes and the timing of them. I have to follow all the work and I have to manage bigger teams and a lot of new projects so I think this have been a very exciting and insightful process. It is always hard to find the time to balance all of that with a private life.
PS: You talk a lot about timing. Do you have time for social arrangements?
FOB: Work hard, play hard.
PS: Is that your mantra?
FOB: One of them - one fits the other. You have to forget about the problems and get into another state of mind and meet people. It is a part of the game and it just has to be normal to you. I do less of that but I still do it.
PS: Would you like to maintain that lifestyle for the rest of your life?
FOB: Obviously you evolve as you grow older but it is important to have a job in life. It is very important that you have that whole spectrum in life. It is very important to have success and happiness in your life. I could never imagine doing something else than what I do now. I do have moments that are private but I think creative people need to travel, see other places and meet a lot of people.
PS: So how do you get the energy for all that?
FOB: Good question! I travel a lot and do a lot of sports. I think that is very important. This lifestyle suits me.
PS: Does your Portuguese roots influence your lifestyle?
FOB: I suppose so. I don’t know if you can say it like that but it is a part of me. I grew up in Lisbon but it has been eighteen years, so most of my culture comes from London and Italy. I think that is a part of being European. I have been to Denmark a few times and I don’t think the Danes are different. I don’t really think nationality defines who you are. I am really against that. I am proud of my roots and there are beautiful things about my culture but again, it is not something that ever comes on the top of the list.