ROMILLY-SUR-SEINE, France – When French athletes enter the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games in February, Josette Camuset will be paying close attention. After all, it has been a long wait.
For the first time in 50 years, the French team will wear outfits made by Le Coq Sportif, the famous French sportswear brand created by Camuset’s husband, Roland, over 70 years ago, transforming the local textile company created by his father. , Émile, in 1882.
In this sleepy town on the banks of the Seine, the sight of the France team uniforms of the company logo – a proud-breasted rooster – is perhaps the most powerful example to date of the effort to revive a famous, but fallen French brand. which once provided the equipment of choice for tennis stars, World Cup champions and famous Tour de France cyclists.
“It’s a sign that says ‘Allons-y’,” said Marc-Henri Beausire, the current owner of Le Coq Sportif.
Beausire, a Franco-Swiss businessman, is the latest figure to attempt to revive a company which, long far from its heyday of the 1950s, has struggled to maintain its relevance for much of the past three decades. When Beausire’s company, Airesis, took over the brand from the brink of bankruptcy in 2005, it was not buying so much a proud French retailer as it was the memory of one.
In the decades before the Camusets lost control of the company they had founded, Le Coq Sportif had enjoyed an unusually large profile as the sport began to professionalize. The company, for example, produced the first official yellow jersey worn by Tour de France leader in 1951. He dressed tennis legend Arthur Ashe when he won the Wimbledon men’s singles championship in 1975 and the French star Yannick Noah when he won the title. at Roland Garros eight years later. Great Dutch football team Ajax Amsterdam wore Le Coq Sportif when they won three consecutive European Cups in the early 1970s, and Diego Maradona had the brand’s rooster on his chest when he won the World Cup 1986 with Argentina.
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At that time, the brand was mainly visible as a subsidiary of Adidas, which ensured control – which for years provided designs to Adidas in exchange for the German company’s expertise in shoe production. – after the Camusets defaulted on the debts of a failed expansion plan. But the company’s fortunes quickly deteriorated after the death in 1987 of Horst Dassler, then president of Adidas, and it quickly went through a series of failed owners.
During its first four years under Beausire, Le Coq Sportif – devoid of an identity and barely viable as a business – was going nowhere. Frustrated, Beausire decided something had to be done.
He gathered his closest associates, a small group that included Noah, and around several bottles of wine in the bar at the upscale Costes hotel in Paris, they agreed on an idea. It was time to get back to basics, the group decided. It meant reconnecting with the company’s past. And that led Beausire to Josette Camuset, and to the family’s last factory in Romilly-sur-Seine.
Closed in 2000, the establishment has remained empty ever since, a monument of the past. Beausire decided to make it the site of the company’s overhaul, a concrete representation of its vision to reinvent Le Coq Sportif as a French brand committed to local production.
“We came back to the thing that made us die,” Beausire said in an interview in the factory’s glass-walled conference room. The installation, he added, “symbolizes rebirth.”
Beausire didn’t just want Josette Camuset’s blessing or her apartment building, however. He also wanted something even more sentimental: the archives her husband had assembled, tracing everything his business had ever done – every design change, every idea for a new clothing line, every change to the company logo. .
“It’s like a gem that stayed with her – she kept it a secret,” Beausire said. Persuading Camuset to reveal it was not easy. He met her several times before she agreed to let him even look at the files locked in the family home, a former maternity hospital where her own children were born decades earlier.
“It made me cry, it was very moving,” Camuset said of the day she allowed Beausire to enter the room which told the story of Le Coq Sportif and, by extension, his family. When the light came on, Beausire was stunned by what he saw: a treasure trove of dusty boxes containing sporting relics, fabric samples and models of clothing chronicling the company’s glorious past. Louison Bobet’s Tour de France jerseys. Noah’s white tennis shirts. The Argentina striped top by Maradona.
Camuset, 83, eventually agreed to part ways with both the factory and the main archives, a book that staff members described as the company’s “bible”. As part of the operation, Beausire also reconnected with the founding family by ceding a small share of the company and a place on its board of directors to Camuset.
The renaissance has been chaotic. According to the latest accounts from Le Coq Sportif, the brand’s losses doubled in 2020, to 20 million euros (around $ 22.5 million), as the company experienced a drop in revenues linked to the pandemic of coronavirus.
But Beausire doubles the bet. An old textile mill next to the factory is being renovated, and he said he plans to triple the size of the workforce in Romilly. The company’s turnover fell almost 35% to 90 million euros last year, about three times less than Adidas makes from its French operations. But Beausire wants Le Coq Sportif to become synonymous with its home country again and speaks proudly of its goal of one day surpassing Adidas in terms of sales in its home market.
To achieve this, Le Coq Sportif signed contracts to equip renowned sports teams of historical importance to the company and the country, including the French football team Saint-Étienne and, more importantly, the French rugby team, which returned to the fold after terminating a contract with Adidas.
These connections, this local connection, are felt by the workers who assemble the clothes that the nation’s stars will someday wear. “There is pride in seeing them wearing our equipment,” said Marie-Hélène Durupt, putting the finishing touches on a jersey the rugby team would wear in a match against New Zealand.
Obtaining the Olympic contract became a priority for the company as soon as Paris secured the hosting rights for the 2024 Summer Games, which will be held 100 years after the city last hosted them. The company managed by Camuset which became Le Coq Sportif had then dressed the French athletes, and the company was determined to do the same this time too.
To win the contract, executives prepared an offer that highlighted the company’s credentials in artisanal manufacturing – Le Coq says 90 percent of the materials used in its textile products are now of national origin – and have offered an image of a company that sought to be an ambassador for France alongside the sportsmen who would wear its clothes.
The deal they reached means that every time a French athlete wins a medal in 2024, the rooster logo that Roland Camuset, who died several years ago, first designed as he completed his service. military in 1948, will also be given a place of honor.
“We were with the French Olympic team from 1912 to 1972, so it’s absolutely in our DNA,” said Beausire.