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- 16 Jul 2010
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Girl Meets Boy: Luxury Brands Tap the Male Market

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From East to West companies are responding to the growing number of style-conscious male consumers

Since LS reported, a little over a month ago, on the growing awareness amongst luxury strategists that the male market was not being fully exploited, evidence of this ‘masculinising’ trend in luxury has only got stronger. Several brands and companies known for their specialisation in the female market are either boosting the male side of their businesses or even turning their elegant hands to the male market for the first time. Net-a-Porter have announced the launch of Mr Porter; king of feminine curves Roland Mouret has also decided to work his magic on men; Matthew Williamson CEO, Joseph Velosa very recently spoke to LS Editor in Chief, Imran Amed about taking the colourful womenswear brand in a new, masculine direction, and now Balenciaga have also extended their interests in menswear, including opening a freestanding menswear boutique in Paris which follows on from dedicated men’s retail sections in Hankyu in Osaka, Seibu Shibuya in Tokyo, Printemps in Paris and Harvey Nichols in London.

Designer Nicolas Ghesquière collaborated with French artist Dominique-Gonzalez Foerster on the Balenciaga menswear store on rue de Varenne which is designed to evoke that most boyish of things- a submarine. Nor is the Paris store the only retail development targeted at men, forthcoming Balenciaga boutiques in Beijing and Las Vegas will also feature dedicated menswear departments. “It’s definitely a concept made for men. It’s not a masculinisation of the women’s concept,” stressed Isabelle Guichot, Balenciaga CEO. Although the female offering has in some cases been developed for male consumers. For instance, the brand found that its substantial female leather goods lines also appeals to men and from this start point they have developed travel bags and luggage for a male consumer. The only category they have not so far developed for men is fragrance, although Guichot did say it was a “future” project. The male fragrance market is one that Chanel are already tapping into, with the launch of their new ‘male masterbrand’ also announced today.

The social shift towards higher standards for men in terms of grooming and appearance shaping this trend is particularly evident in emerging economies like China, which for the first time are experiencing the social impacts of a substantial class of professional men who want to project a sophisticated, polished appearance. The result of the ‘one child policy’ is that there are now 33 million more Chinese men than women in the country so young Chinese men find dating and marriage very competitive, which is also feeding into the culture for men to try to look their absolute best. Indeed Guichot said menswear would be a key focus category for Balenciaga as the brand expands into China.

Just today Jing Daily reported on the growing size of this demographic and a trend which local media outlets such as AsiaOne are calling “he fashion”. AsiaOne reported that, “The male Chinese market is huge and it’s an untapped wealth. The key driver here is not only that they want to look good and have the money to splurge but it’s also to express their masculinity. It’s an expression of confidence in society and to show their wealth.” Since luxury is apparently about alpha masculinity for these consumers, sharply tailored suits and big cars are two particular areas of interest. This image is echoed in popular ad campaigns which use iconic Asian alpha males including Liu Xiang, the Olympic gold medallist and Daniel Wu Yanzu, a Hong Kong-based American Chinese actor. As emerging economies like China’s become more established so, it would seem, will the demand for luxury products targeted at a male consumer. While there are some parallels with western social trends, the difference is that in the west luxury has long been focused on female consumers but is now looking towards increasingly urbane and stylish male consumers, whereas, as Jing Daily points out, although the Chinese market will no doubt soon be dominated by an independent, high-earning, female demographic, “for the next few years at least, the Chinese luxury industry is still a man’s world”.

Sources
WWD
Jing Daily