Nearly half of luxury handbag market from purse-carrying Chinese men

Purses in China - Photo by Sim Chi Yin, For The TimesI was the first of my friends to jump on the man-bag fashion-wagon. Despite the constant “murse-wearing” ribbing I took, and the defensive protests that it’s not a “European carryall“; there’s no denying the practicality of not having to load all your modern man-gear into your pockets.

That is to say, I’m quite open to the concept of a man with a purse-like device. Being “practical” is manly, even in heels and a dress. But upon moving to China, I noticed that the men of the Middle Kingdom take things to a whole new level. There were some ground-rules to murse-wearing in the West: it shouldn’t be fancy; if it wasn’t on your back, most of it should rest below your hips; think more Indy than Cindy; and the width of its strap was inversely proportional to its level of femininity.

Chinese men seemed, by comparison, to have quite literally “clutched” on to metrosexualism in a more drastic way. Seeing men walking around with designer purses that looked perfectly suited to carry a tampon and a compact just seemed bizarre.

But then I’ve never been much for status or fashion — my work uniform is a frayed 12-year-old hoodie and a cheap pair of bargain jeans.

According to an article just published in the LA Times, Chinese men represent a whopping 45% of the designer handbag market — a figure that sits around 7% in the US (and no doubt much less among my hocky-lovin’ hoser kin to the north).

At business meetings and social events across China these days, many of the Prada, Louis Vuitton and Burberry bags are being toted by the fellows in the crowd.

Wang Zhongzhu, a 42-year-old insurance executive, wouldn’t dream of networking without his $1,000 leather Dunhill slung over his shoulder. He said the creamy brown mini-messenger bag sends a message that he appreciates — and can afford — fine accessories.

“It’s a way of representing where you stand,” Wang said. “It makes people think you could potentially work for a big company.”

Designed for men, many of these guy purses often known as shou bao in Mandarin would be right at home in the women’s handbag section of an upscale department store. Popular styles include the oversize wallet with wraparound zippers like Zhang’s and the embossed leather Coach handbag with the slinky shoulder strap and handles. Colors trend toward solid brown, black and gray. But some fashion-forward gents don’t mind showing a little flash: Burberry plaid, Gucci’s interlocking GG pattern or Louis Vuitton’s distinct LV monogram.

Luxury leather goods makers can’t believe their luck: Both sexes in the world’s most populous country adore purses.

Men represent 45% of the $1.2-billion market for all luxury handbags in China, according to Victor Luis, president of Coach Retail International. That figure is just 7% in the U.S.

I’ve oft joked that China would be a great place to open up an umbrella company, as rain-or-shine your product sells; perhaps I should have been looking at what was in the other hand.