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French apparel firm returning to U.S. soil

Le Coq Sportif, once a must-have for the country club set, plans a subsidiary in Oregon.

May 22, 2007|From the Associated Press

PORTLAND, ORE. — Le Coq Sportif is back, and it's making its roost in Oregon.

The parent company of the French apparel and footwear firm announced it had repurchased North American distribution rights for Le Coq Sportif and would open the company's first wholly owned U.S. subsidiary in Portland.

Le Coq Sportif was once a must-have for the country club set, easily recognized by its triangular rooster icon. But it largely fell off the scene in recent decades.

The company struggled, changing ownership and distributors several times. It was owned by Adidas for more than 40 years until it was sold to Brown Shoe Co. in 1995 and sold once again in 1999 to a French holding company.

The ever-changing hands made the company and brand disjointed, said Tim McCool, a former Adidas executive who is now chief executive of Le Coq Sportif North America.

Swiss investment fund Airesis bought Le Coq Sportif in 2006. The company put new management in place in France, and Le Coq Sportif's bookings for the fall 2007 season doubled in Europe.

Now with complete ownership of its North American distribution rights, the company said it was ready to take its brand global with a renewed focus on the United States.

The company will introduce its spring 2008 North American line at trade shows this summer. The products sold here will be largely identical to those sold in Europe.

"We have to stay very authentic and true to our roots," McCool said. "It needs to come from France."

The privately held company did make a stab at the United States market in 2005, but McCool said the ever-changing distributorship and lack of marketing failed to secure the brand's identity here.

Le Coq Sportif will be a neighbor to Nike Inc., which is based in Beaverton, Ore., and Adidas, which has its U.S. operations in Portland.

Unlike those companies, which sell at big retailers, Le Coq Sportif says it will market itself as a luxury brand, going after sales in fashion boutiques, tennis clubs, private athletic clubs and resorts.

"Clearly ... the U.S. doesn't need just another brand," McCool said. "We need to be different, we want to be very European and we want to be very exclusive."

McCool said the dominance of large brands and retailers had created a consumer desire for new products and niche brands. He pointed to the growth of specialty stores and malls in the last few years as evidence.

In addition, he said, the market was ready for Le Coq Sportif because of an increased desire for brands with heritage.

According to market research firm NPD Group Inc., fashion is the driving trend in the market. In footwear, fashion-focused products are one of the fastest-growing segments and the second-largest athletic shoe category.

However, Le Coq Sportif will face tough competition from Fila and Puma, both fashion-oriented sporting brands with European ties that have gone through major corporate changes recently.

Le Coq Sportif North America will debut its products in Miami, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

The company declined to reveal the size of its U.S. workforce or its financial goals.

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