Alongside the Ralph Lauren polo horse, the Vineyard Vines whale, the Tommy Bahama marlin and the rather obvious beastly badges of Original Penguin, Puma and American Eagle Outfitters, there's no other animal logo in the fashion world more iconic than the Lacoste crocodile.
An enduring sartorial staple at country clubs and college campuses the world over, the reptilian emblem has been gracing crisp, pique cotton polo shirts since 1933 when French tennis star René Lacoste paired with knitwear manufacturer André Gillier to establish his namesake sportswear line. Eighty-five years later, the lonely Lacoste croc finally has some company.
As part of the upmarket brand’s three-year Save our Species campaign, the crocodile is joined by not one but 10 different animals emblazoned on a series of classic — and very limited edition — Lacoste polo shirts.
And as the name of the campaign suggests, these aren’t ordinary critters. All of the animals, rendered in the same instantly recognizable green embroidery as the croc, are endangered and/or threatened: the Burmese roofed turtle, the northern sportive lemur, the Javan rhino, the Cao-vit Gibbon, the kakapo (a ground-dwelling nocturnal parrot endemic to New Zealand), the Californian condor, the Sumatran tiger, the Anegada ground iguana, the Saola (an antelope-resembling bovine hailing from the mountains of Laos and Vietnam) and, last but not least, the incredibly rare and enigmatic porpoise species known as the vaquita.
In total, only 1,755 shirts were produced. The number of each shirt released per animal corresponds with the number of how many of the creatures remain left in the wild. For example, the rarest species of the bunch, the vaquita, is found on only 30 shirts while the likeness of the Anegda ground iguana graces 450 of them. Somewhere in the middle is the Cao-vit gibbon, also known as the eastern black-crested gibbon. As the second rarest ape in the world, only 150 of these super-agile primates can be found in the wild due to deforestation, poaching and habitat encroachment. They can also be found on 150 Lacoste polos. All of the shirts retail for 150 euros (about $183) each and directly support the good, endangered species-protecting work of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Not surprisingly, the entire collection sold out almost as soon as it went on sale. So if you see someone sporting an otherwise ordinary Lacoste polo in which the standard croc has been swapped out for what resembles a parrot, turtle, or lemur, you’ll know they’re in possession of a very rare breed indeed.
So about that croc ...
Launched in collaboration with the ICUN and French ad firm BETC Paris, "Save Our Species" is no doubt an attention-grabbing PR stunt. But it’s a hugely big-hearted one that aims to draw the world’s most threatened animals into the spotlight and, ideally, raise awareness of their individual plights. And some might scoff at the notion of a $183 polo shirt. However, the classic, croc-adored Lacoste "L.12.12" polo retails for roughly $90 bucks. Spending another $100 or so in support of a worthy cause isn’t too much of a stretch.
(Lacoste shirts were considered less upmarket in the U.S. during their Izod-licensed heyday of the late 1970s and '80s when seemingly everyone and their mother rocked a croc-stamped polo shirt. In fact, American consumers commonly referred to Lacoste shirts as "Izods" during this era. The licensing agreement with Izod ended in 1993, at which point Lacoste reverted back to more of a high-end prestige brand.)
It’s worth noting that some species of crocodiles are also vulnerable or critically endangered including the American crocodile, the Philippine crocodile, the dwarf crocodile, the Orinoco crocodile, and the Siamese crocodile. Most common (read: of least concern in terms of conservation status) is the super-fearsome Nile crocodile of Sub-Saharan Africa and the hulking saltwater crocodile — the world’s largest reptile — found in Australia and Southeast Asia.
Of course, Lacoste adopted the croc as its brand logo not for reasons of conservation or species awareness. Rather, as popular legend has it, René Lacoste’s nickname amongst fans was "the Crocodile" due to his aggressive, tenacious nature on the tennis court.
Some origin stories, however, differ, as GQ explained in 2005:
The American press dubbed him the Alligator in ’27, after he wagered for an alligator-skin suitcase with the captain of the French Davis Cup team. When he returned to France, alligator became crocodile, and Lacoste was known forever after as the Crocodile. When a friend drew a crocodile for him, Lacoste had it embroidered on the blazer he wore on the court.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Although all of Lacoste's 1,755 croc-less shirts sold out in a hot second, it's still worth heading over to the collection's French micro-site (in English) to learn more about each of the threatened species represented. The brand also implores collar-popping Lacoste devotees to check out IUCN's Save the Species Conservation Action Programme page where they can donate to the cause, just minus the stylish threads.