To mark the first day of 2017’s Wimbledon Championships – the worlds oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament which has been held at the All England Club in London since 1877, we’re taking a trip back in time to pay reverence to two of the tournaments most successful competitors. René Lacoste & Fred Perry were both Wimbledon champions on more than one occasion as well as winning multiple other titles in grand slam tournaments and being ranked the world no. 1’s of their time. As well as finding success on the court, these two champions were inventors and innovators of style who went on to create two of the most famous sportswear brands in the world, but how much do you know about the men behind the polo shirts?
In 1933, tennis legend René Lacoste revolutionised menswear by creating the first ever polo shirt. Prior to this invention, tennis players would wear long-sleeved dress shirts on the court and René’s creation began with cutting the sleeves off of these as he felt they were inappropriate for the game. As well as an entirely new silhouette within sportswear and menswear, he also constructed the polo shirt from a never seen before fabric – petit piqué jersey, a loose-knit cotton that was lightweight, durable & perfect for the game.
Lacoste was the first ever brand to display it’s logo on the outside of a garment, completely changing fashion branding from that moment on. The iconic crocodile signature comes from René Lacoste’s nickname ‘The Alligator’, which came about during a trip to Boston in 1923 where a crocodile suitcase caught René’s eye, his coach Alan Muhr joked that if he won the Davis Cup he would buy it for him.
René Lacoste not only invented the polo shirt, but a number of other innovative sporting tools. Due to his tendency to wear out his tennis practice partners, he created the world’s first tennis ball machine, in 1963 he also invented the first steel tennis racket – the beginning of a whole new way to play his beloved game, the following year he went on to invent the tennis racket dampener in his quest for ultimate performance – a small tool that is inserted in to the racket’s strings to reduce vibrations. In the 1980’s his inventive mind shifted in to golf, where he created a lighter and more resistant golf club that was made out of vibration absorbing polyurethane, paving the way for modern golf clubs.
in 1921, René won his first ever tournament when he was just 17 and 3 years later went on to win the French Open for the first time. It was here that the press picked up on his perfectionist approach and predicted a future legend. From this point on Lacoste claimed victory after victory, winning 10 grand slam titles at Wimbledon, the French Open and Forest Hills. As well as having an impressive number of trophies to his name, he was also ranked world no. 1 for two successive years in 1925 & 1926.
Before becoming a recognised name within the world of fashion, Lacoste was a French family name that was synonymous with sporting excellence. As well as René’s legendary success on the tennis court, his wife and daughter had golf successes that have never yet been rivalled. His wife Simone Lacoste was the first foreigner to win a British golf championship and his daughter, Catherine Lacoste, was the youngest ever player to win a Women’s US Golf Open.
Although best known for his legendary career on the tennis court, Fred Perry’s sporting success goes further back than this as in 1928 when he was just 19, he became the world table tennis champion, holding on to his title for 2 years by being crowned the world champion again in 1929. He switched to lawn tennis following his success on the table saying “the strokes are the same, the angles are the same, the spins are the same”, and went on to win his first major tournament, the US open in 1933.
In the 2013 Wimbledon Championships, Andy Murray became known as the first British man to win the singles title in 77 years. It was Fred Perry who was his title holding predecessor however he didn’t win just once, he won the Wimbledon Championships 3 years in a row in 1934, 1935 & 1936 whilst retaining his title as the world no. 1 throughout these years. Over his career, Fred Perry won 8 grand slam titles and became the first man to win all 4 major world titles.
Fred Perry was originally from Stockport in the north of England and only began playing tennis when his family moved to London when he was 9. Despite his obvious potential and successes in table tennis, his working class background meant that he faced prejudice when wanting to enter in to a sport where there was an emphasis on decorum and politeness within its players, which saw him refused entry in to Wimbledon’s All England Club which was then seen as exclusively for public school boys.
Whereas French tennis legend René Lacoste was recognised for his elegance and sportsmanship on the court and a firm believer in fair play, his younger, British equivalent Fred Perry couldn’t have been more different. He has been known to say “I didn’t aspire to be a good sport, champion was good enough for me”, and throughout his career his on-court behaviour saw him singled out as he became known for making personal remarks to his opponents, challenging officials and jumping over the net at the end of games. Coincidentally, this rebellious attitude became synonymous with his brand of clothing which was adopted by youth subcultures from the 1950’s onwards, including Skinheads, Mods and the Teddy Boys.
After facing years of discrimination by the All England Club, Fred Perry moved to America where he became a US citizen in 1938, going on to serve with the United States Air Force in the second world war. Following a famously poor relationship with the All England Club and Lawn Tennis Association, they eventually recognised that it was unlikely that any British man would ever match his successes and eventually, on the 50th anniversary of Perry’s first championship title, a bronze statue of him was placed at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.