Nine “Le” Brands

Keyword(s):

Having grown up in the '70s and '80s, I've long noted that several products from the era had an ersatz French "Le" in the brand name. It was an amusingly kitschy trend that I now look back on nostalgically. So here's a little tribute to those products, in a list that's as "misc." as you can get.

  1. LeSportsac. Like most of the entries on this list, LeSportsac isn't French at all. Founded in New York in the '70s, this company made it big with a line of travel bags that are still popular today (even if the company itself is now owned by a Japanese conglomerate).
  2. Le Tigre. This American clothing line was launched in 1977 as a competitor to the preppy-tastic French designer Lacoste. The famous Lacoste crocodile was, naturally, replaced by a running tiger. Le Tigre is now owned by Kenneth Cole, though the name is perhaps now more commonly associated with Kathleen Hanna's feminist electro-punk band, formed in 1998.
  3. Le Clic. For a few years in the mid-'80s, a number of still cameras used the now-defunct "disc film" format, in which fifteen 8mm frames were arranged along the edge of a small flat disc and encased in a thin plastic cartridge. I myself owned such a camera - made by Kodak. In 1986, the Keystone Camera Corporation, headquartered in New Jersey, joined the fray, dubbing their model Le Clic and selling it in a variety of stereotypical '80s colors, most famously in pink.
  4. Le Car. This economy car, manufactured by French automaker Renault, was officially known as the Renault 5, or R5. But in the US it was sold as "Le Car", with the name boldly painted on the side. When I was a boy, I used to crack my mother up by groaning, "I got run over by Le Car." And now you know where I get my weird sense of humor.
  5. L'eggs. Hanes' low-cost pantyhose line was introduced in 1969. Although the stockings themselves were fairly conservative in their design, the brand was known for its kooky packaging: each pair of hose was contained within a shiny plastic egg. The egg was retired long ago, but L'eggs remains a top seller.
  6. LeBaron. Unlike most products on this list, which were introduced around the '70s and '80s, the LeBaron dates back to the 1920s, when a small automobile company of the same name was founded in Connecticut. By the 1950s, LeBaron was owned by the Chrysler corporation. Still, the "Chrysler LeBaron" as we know it was not properly launched until 1977 - during the previous two decades, the car was sold as the "Imperial LeBaron", with the Chrysler name nowhere to be found. Once considered a luxury car, by the late '70s the LeBaron was synonymous with the boxy old sedans that only grandparents seem to drive. Its reputation kept going downhill thanks to multiple ugly redesigns, and the model was retired in 1995.
  7. LeBra. I couldn't find much history about this front end cover for cars (the LeBra is literally a soft black vinyl "bra" that stretches across the front of a car or truck, protecting it from chips and scratches), except that it's owned by an Oklahoma company called Covercraft, a family-run outfit that was founded in Southern California in 1965.
  8. Le Méridien. This upscale hotel chain is an actual French invention! Air France established the chain in 1972 with the Le Méridien Etoile in Paris. (The '70s were truly the peak years for "Le" brands.) Le Méridien was sold to several other corporations over the years, and is currently owned by Starwood Hotels, an American firm. The 100th Le Méridien hotel opened in India in 2011.
  9. Le Pain Quotidien. I could find exactly one "Le" company that is currently headquartered in France: the cookware line Le Creuset, established in 1925, and famed for its incredibly heavy cast iron pots. (My wife owns such a pot, and I have had to scrub it on countless occasions.) But I will instead end this list with Le Pain Quotidien, the Belgian organic bakery/cafe empire with branches in five continents. With over 185 locations as of this writing, it's a bit surprising to see how young Le Pain actually is: its first bakery opened in Brussels in 1990.