At Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York,
Portuguese designer Oliveira Baptista couples
centre court couture with convincing tennis chic.
A great jubilee.
Felipe Oliveira Baptista has plenty of humour. A mere hour before his third collection for Lacoste hits the stage, the Portuguese designer ambles through the Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week backstage area, jokes with friends and stops for the odd chat with buyers and clients. Naturally, he also keeps a keen eye on the models’ last-minute outfit changes, but Baptista appears to be in a great mood and not the least bit nervous, although there is a lot at stake. This is his third collection and show for Lacoste and this one really marks an occasion: the brand’s upcoming 80th anniversary.
Baptista’s design, too, brims with humorous touches. According to sources close to the designer, he spent days on end traversing the brand’s archives in order to get the collection just right.
After this extended haul, he came up with the following treasures: a tennis ball, a tennis racket, a crocodile – jaws wide open – and one of Lacoste’s iconic polo shirts. Seems hard to believe that he had to descend to the vaults in order to unearth these iconic symbols; his choice couldn’t have been any more obvious.
A slightly ironic twist.
Nevertheless, it is always a question of dosage whether something turns out to be fun or foolish. And the Lacoste designer is a master at getting the balance right. For example, he turned the brand’s foremost signs and symbols into a dazzling and novel pattern. He arranged tennis balls in endless rows and colour bands to create a dazzling carpet that only reveals its sporty origins at second glance. Here, Baptista has turned ostensibly hackneyed references to the brand – tennis, sporting attire – into a cheeky and charming citation.
“It is a bit of a balancing act,” he admits. “And there are some patterns we had to abandon, but I really enjoyed this challenge to give the brand’s heritage a slightly ironic twist.”
And it does not stop with the patterns. When top model Kasia Struss opens the show, another 1980s relic enjoys a revival: the so-called bum bag or fanny pack. Notorious since its first ever sighting, this accessory has never been high fashion. So, it takes a sense of sartorial acumen and plenty of humour to resurrect it for a collection showcased at a major international fashion week. Here, and in combination with Kasia’s two-piece track suit made out of light-weight, waxed cotton, the fanny pack looks more elegant than ever. With its slim, straight silhouette, this first look espouses sporty proportions – with a convincing touch of elegance.
Kasia is followed by a string of internationally renowned models like Hanne Gaby Odiele and Daria Strokous wearing silky polo dresses, trouser suits and leather dresses embossed with the Lacoste crocodile. The colour palette ranges from a deep royal blue and even deeper coral red all the way to a crisp, pristine white.
Neutral shades come in unusual materials like a semi-transparent and unisex brown latex rain cape. Besides the afore-mentioned patterns, the designer also presents a range of monochrome styles that shine, most of all, in the men’s collection.
Sportswear meets High Fashion.
Felipe Oliveira Baptista is not only witty, but also incredibly talented. After graduating from London’s Kingston University, he worked at Cerruti and MaxMara before claiming the grand prize at the Hyères Fashion Festival for his own collection, later shown in Paris.
At Lacoste, he picks up where former creative director Christophe Lemaire left off: at the brand’s long overdue renewal. Both designers managed to achieve something truly remarkable. They rebuilt the heritage sportswear purveyor into a brand equally well-versed in competent sports attire and high fashion.