The rise of the man bag
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In August, when Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, gave his first big speech in his new job, he wore a single-breasted dark blue suit, a medium blue tie, a light blue shirt and highly polished black lace-ups – the uniform, in other words, of most former Goldman Sachs financial bigwigs. Except for one thing: in his right hand he was carrying not a standard attaché case in brown or black leather but a boxy, soft-sided grey bag, trimmed in black, with a large side pocket and extra-long handles. He was carrying, in other words, a man bag.
And he’s not the only one. David Beckham (of course) has been spotted carrying a Valextra tote, Cristiano Ronaldo a monogram Gucci clutch, Liev Schreiber a brown leather Mulberry Brynmore and Hugh Jackman a Louis Vuitton Damier check holdall. When it comes to the male accessory of choice, we have reached, it seems, a tipping point.
“The vogue for men’s bags has now hit full stride,” says Alessandro Sartori, creative director of menswear brand Berluti. “It has taken a decade to get here but bags are now an essential part of every menswear collection. Men carry them; we design them. They are everywhere.”
The figures back him up. While the global menswear market has grown 15.6 per cent in the past five years, according to market research group Euromonitor, sales of men’s luxury bags have outpaced it, increasing 25.4 per cent. “A big factor is the rise of the Asian market,” says Fflur Roberts, Euromonitor’s head of luxury goods. “Asian men are much more into accessories and tend to carry more bags. India was the fastest growing market last year.”
Even in mature markets, the trend is accelerating. According to NPD, another research company, US sales of men’s bags rose 3 per cent last year to almost $1bn as menswear sales as a whole edged up just 1 per cent.
“My father had a briefcase – most men had papers that they needed to carry everywhere,” says Mats Klingberg, owner of menswear retailer Trunk Clothiers and a bag enthusiast himself (he has 30). “Then, information became digital and all a man needed was his wallet and his phone. But gradually the office itself has become mobile and people are carrying iPads, laptops, a work phone and a personal one. All this will no longer fit in your jacket – you need a bag.”
Hence Mulberry’s decision to invest in its men’s pieces over the past two years, with an exclusive line at Selfridges and a men’s product offering that is 50 per cent larger than last year’s. At Dunhill, Bourdon document cases and zip briefcases (£825) have been best-sellers, while other brands to respond to the trend include Burberry, with its small cross-body bag, and Coach, whose sling bag was conceived in 2009 by its Japanese marketing team and is now its top seller among men in Asia.
At Louis Vuitton, the main bag launch this season is a new version of its PdV (Porte-Documents Voyage, £2,410) which is targeted at the laptop-carrying on-the-move worker. Made in taurillon (bull) leather, it is a copy of a case that Vuitton invented in 1934 for car travellers to carry blankets. The new “For Day” range of bags at Hermès also includes a taurillon bag, the Double Sens, which comes in seven reversible versions (£2,200).
Then there are new brands. Foremost among these are Troubadour and J Panther, both started by friends looking to make a product they and their social circle would use. J Panther Luggage Company (to give it its full title) is based in New York and draws on American traditions to make functional bags (from $390) in heavy-duty canvas and leather tanned by the Horween tannery in Chicago. Troubadour was started by two financiers in London who quit the City to make a bag “that looked different to everything else out there”. The result (from £975) is made in Italy with vegetable-tanned leathers and hand detailing alongside very contemporary styling, including oversized zips.
Even GJ Cleverley, the English shoemaker founded in 1958, has decided to launch men’s bags. Made by hand and almost entirely bespoke, they already have a following among the firm’s existing clients – despite their cost. The most recent commission, an alligator weekender for actor Jason Statham, came in at £15,000.
“Men have changed,” says George Glasgow Jr, Cleverley’s chief executive and creative director. “They’re willing to invest in a bag in the same way as they might have done in the past with shoes or a bespoke suit.”
They have, it would seem, come round to the idea, as GQ said of Carney’s number, that “this bag means business”.
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