THE WORLD HAS GONE logo mad. Nike has its trademark 'swoosh', McDonald's its golden arches and - although people in Hong Kong might disagree, preferring to remain faithful to home-grown brand Crocodile - a small green alligator screams French label Lacoste. With the name in mind, you might then make the mental leap to polo shirts, and perhaps come up with 'safe' if asked to describe the company's image. But the fashion world's winds of change have been blowing again. Just as Burberry was transformed, seemingly overnight, from something even your mother wouldn't be seen dead in to the hippest brand on the block, so the French clothing stalwart has been given a dusting down. It looks set to become, if not exactly high fashion, at least a fresh, modern brand that savvy, young sportsmen and women will want to wear. The man responsible for this makeover is 30-something Christophe Lemaire. He took over from Gilles Rosier last year as creative director and has been entrusted with overseeing everything from designing clothes to the company's advertising and marketing campaigns. 'When I was approached by a headhunter about 'a job', I wasn't excited,' says Lemaire. 'I was doing my own thing, I wasn't looking for anything else, I'm not mercenary. But when he told me it was Lacoste, things began to sound interesting. I like the brand. I understand its roots, its heritage and the elegant, sporty lifestyle it epitomises. My grandmother was one of the first women in the 1920s to play tennis at competition level; my dad is passionate about golf, so when I was younger I had to play golf too. I grew up with what Lacoste stands for.' Lacoste has been around for decades. Back in the Roaring 20s, Rene Lacoste was the darling of the French tennis circuit. He was on the winning Davis Cup side in 1927 when the Americans lost for the first time and won the Wimbledon Championship, the French Open and the US Open several times. In 1927, Lacoste took a fancy to an alligator-skin suitcase, and his Davis Cup team captain promised to give it to him if he won an important tennis match. Lacoste was victorious and earned himself the nickname 'Alligator' - as well as the bag. Not long afterwards his teammates presented him with a tennis blazer adorned with an alligator on the left breast pocket and the name stuck. At that time, etiquette dictated tennis players should wear trousers and long-sleeved shirts on court, but Lacoste felt that this hampered his game. He approached his friend Andre Gillier, who owned a big knitwear-manufacturing business at the time, and asked him to custom-make a short-sleeved, lightweight shirt with a collar for him to wear. His now trademark alligator was embroidered on to the petit piquet jersey fabric and the Lacoste polo shirt was born. 'He created the first polo shirt, the first sportswear brand and was the first to use a visible logo - way before the likes of Fred Perry and Ralph Lauren appeared on the scene,' Lemaire says. He recently came up with a first of his own by staging a catwalk show of the label's spring/summer 2002 collection in Paris earlier this year, a concept that had never been attempted before. He cast 50 'models' who had been spotted on the streets of Paris and mixed them in with professionals on a tennis court-style runway. 'To be honest, when I arrived at Lacoste, all the people in the company were quite shy,' he says. 'They just made and sold their product and had only done internal shows before. But they had to realise that their traditional consumers were getting older and they needed to attract a younger following. I told them, 'Wake up! Don't be shy! Be proud of what you do!' After many meetings they started to understand. 'I think some people - press, buyers - were used to the old Lacoste and were a bit sceptical about what I would show. But 1,500 people turned up and everyone was really surprised by what they saw. The reaction was great so I think we did it right.' Choosing fashion over his other great love, music - he occasionally DJs at his club Clover in Paris - Lemaire began working when he was 19 for such luminaries as Thierry Mugler, Yves Saint Laurent and eventually Christian Lacroix. 'I learned a lot from Lacroix - not least of all that I wasn't interested in couture,' he admits. 'Couture is very beautiful but to be honest I don't find couture clients very inspiring. I'm from a different generation. I want to create modern, wearable clothes for modern people.' It was then a relatively quick step to starting up his own label, thanks to a grant from the French Government to help young designers find their feet. 'That was 10 years ago,' he says. 'I jumped in the deep water and I had to swim. It was a hard time and I made mistakes, such as not having a sparring partner. I was manager, designer, everything when I set out - it was crazy but exciting. But as the business grew it became more stress and less pleasure. I found I wasn't that good at managing after all.' Contrary to rumours, his eponymous label (carried by D-Mop in Hong Kong) hasn't been discontinued, it is just 'having a break'. Lemaire is skipping spring/summer 2002 but will be back in force for next year's autumn/winter shows. 'My collection is my oxygen, it's very personal,' he says. '[When the Lacoste job came up] it was a good time for me to take a step back and reorganise my approach. And, naturally, I want to focus on the new project and really get involved. Which you can't do if you spread yourself too thin.' Lemaire is taking a pragmatic but sensitive approach to his work. He spent four months before he began designing, getting to know everyone at the company from the president, Lacoste's eldest son Bernard, to the factory workers, and makes it quite clear that he feels it would be a mistake to make the clothes 'too edgy'. Instead, the new collection, which features softly tapered trousers, comfortable-looking skirts and smart casual T-shirts, is faithful to its sporty roots and trendy without being weird. 'Lacoste is already a very successful company [it has an annual turnover of HK$5.8 billion] and shouldn't try to be something it isn't,' he says. 'I don't see the point of being avant-garde for the sake of it, like so many designers are. It's important for me to absorb and understand the brand, and it would have been stupid for me not to have integrated myself into its ways when I arrived. There are limits to my creative freedom, of course, but it's not a bad thing for a designer to have limits. In fact, it's more of a challenge - to make the clothes design-driven but still affordable.' Which is not to say Lemaire isn't stamping his own mark on the label. In May, he sent a classic white polo shirt to 15 artists, editors and designers and told them to customise it any way they wanted. The results were 'very exciting' and eventually auctioned at hip boutique Colette in Paris and the money donated to charity. Soon after, Lemaire brought out a limited-edition black polo shirt with a silver crocodile logo, which cost 500 francs (HK$500) and sold out in days. 'What with the globalisation of Lacoste in the offing and the construction of a prototype flagship store in Paris, in which Lemaire is heavily involved, you'd imagine he would be constantly working. But Lemaire paints a different picture. 'I like fashion but I like to do it in a relaxed style,' he says. 'I always try to find time for myself - after all, I am French, you know.'