I am a big fan of a polo shirt. It's a pretty universal item – even people who aren't so into clothes can picture it when you say the word 'polo.' Cotton knit, half placket, short-sleeved… often worn for country-club-type sports and school uniforms. The one that pops into my head first is the Lacoste crocodile, named after tennis player and original wearer René Lacoste, as that was my very first polo. A navy one that I am pretty sure I still have, faded almost to dusty purple, stolen from an old boyfriend. Not the most flattering shirt, even then, but I thought it was cool enough to keep around, even if the boyfriend wasn't.
You might have a different polo in your head, though. The Izod/Lacoste polo came first by a few decades, but then Ralph Lauren named a whole sub-brand after it, conjuring up a romantic world in which people play games that require horses and big fields and lots of money. When he made his own short-sleeved knit shirt with an actual polo player embroidered on it… that's when the name really stuck. And I haven't even gotten into Fred Perry, which was a whole separate phenomenon on the other side of the Atlantic. Anyway, laurel wreaths or polo players or crocodiles… lots of kinds of polos that might come to mind.
From 2000-2010 I wore a polo nearly every single day. A decade with few decisions! I had a collection of over a dozen tiny, fitted polos that was assembled over many summer road trips with a car full of young daughters. I would pull off the highway to run into one of the outlet centers (this was their heyday and Polo was usually the anchor store,) with the girls pulling at me to hurry up, and then walk out with a new polo or two. These were like my t-shirts at the time - I loved them so much. During this era they were made of the best beefy cotton, and they came in a million colors. They were very fitted and a little short in the waist, which I kind of liked – not quite crop top territory, but a long way from the original boys Lacoste taken from Schuyler Grey in 1981. I do remember, actually, that they had zero stretch in them. One summer, I had something called "frozen shoulder" where the movement in my left arm was so limited that it was comical. Wriggling into one of those tiny shirts was kind of crazy. Imagine trying to put a new shirt on a Barbie when one of her arms simply won't raise. Anyway, the look was very Vampire Weekend.
When I first opened my shop, I sold Lacoste polos. At the time they had this fantastic slim fit with, thankfully, a bit of stretch added. Like a better version of my old outlet-Polo polos. Ines de la Fressange wears this perfectly. I found it sexy and awesome and a super chic alternative to a t-shirt, but alas… hardly any customers even wanted to try it on. It turns out that a lot of women don't love a banded sleeve that hits exactly where their arm is at its fullest, or a super tight shape through the waist. Or maybe it was just the memory of THEIR old boyfriend from the 80s wearing one. At any rate, I got the message… No polos. That was the end for awhile. My design team has humored me over the years, and we have done a few awesome long-sleeved polos that I wear all the time. Still – not so many takers. Our head of design, Lan, said, repeatedly, "Ann, I know you love polos. But we don't SELL polos." But here is the thing about Lan. She is the most determined and competitive person I know, aside from Sid. And when she wants something, or knows that something is NEEDED – she makes it happen. It's in her blood.
When Lan was a little girl, she and her parents and her 8 sisters left Vietnam in a US military air cargo plane in 1975, one month before Saigon fell. They left in such a hurry that the girls could only take the clothes they were wearing plus one pair of pajamas, although her mother was able to grab her Hermes bag, $200 in cash, and all the blankets she could carry (she had heard it was cold in America.) After a month stopover in Guam – her oldest sister was pregnant and had to give birth! – they landed at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, which was a major processing center for Southeast Asian refugees. They ended up outside of Washington DC, settling into such an American-Dream-type life that she even became captain of the cheerleading squad. That is barely skimming the surface of a rollercoaster coming-to-America story… but suffice to say, Lan is a force of nature. Strong enough to say no… but then competitive enough to find a way to make it a yes. She is the reason that our clothes fit and flatter the way they do. it. I have an idea of how I WANT something to look – but the actual design starts and ends with her.
Today, we have not one but two styles that fit into MY polo frame of mind… that actually sell this time. They have the same spirit, but they're designed in a way that makes women feel like better version of themselves – a far cry from those old Lacostes from 2010, languishing on the store shelves. Instead of a tricky banded cap sleeve, Lan gave both of them a sleeve that hits just above the elbow. If you love your arms, you can push it up; if they're not your favorite, it looks fantastic where it is.
These are polos meant for fashion, not for the court. The Natasha (okay… not the preppiest name… but all the better to snap you out of that stereotype if it is not you!) is the more traditional of the two. It has a classic button placket that goes down low enough that you, too, can feel as sexy in it as I did with the short length and peek of the stomach. We did one in cashmere in the fall – I wore the heck out of that one - but the spring version is in this very fine high-twist cotton with a really dry hand. Kind of a sweater-y version of the original Lacoste pique, but lighter-weight and definitely more feminine. The navy and white striped one has been in heavy rotation lately. The Georgina style is even more off-court. It has a johnny collar with no buttons, and it's mostly cotton with a touch of cashmere in it. Super minimal and chic and retro. I kind of want to hold a cigarette while I'm wearing it. With a pair of cropped Faye pants, it's very Jackie. The Georgina was a bestseller in the fall, when we made it with a long sleeve in a thicker cashmere. All credit goes to Lan, but I am feeling a little proud for pushing the idea so hard in the first place. Makes up for 2010 in spades… we've finally got a polo that women want to wear!
The polo is a piece of clothing that has always felt so American to me, even with the Euro tennis roots of René Le Crocodile. We live in a country that was founded by immigrants. So it's kind of perfect that some of my favorite polos yet were designed by a first-generation Vietnamese-American, a dear friend, and a real force of nature.