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In China, alpha males carry designer purses

'It's crucial for business,' says a 41-year-old investor with a brown leather clutch. 'It shows I have good taste.'

February 07, 2011|By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

After saturating the likes of Beijing and Shanghai, high-end retailers are moving to the hinterlands, where many have grown rich off mining and property booms. Hermes opened an outlet last year in the frosty northeast city of Harbin. A Louis Vuitton store is doing brisk business in the coal town of Taiyuan.

Prada is said to be nearing a listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange. The Italian fashion house held a runway show in Beijing last month, its first outside Europe.

Coach, the 70-year-old New York handbag maker, plans to open about a dozen locations in China by midyear, which would give it 53 stores in the country. The firm is looking to triple its China sales to $500 million within three years.

Small wonder that analysts project China to leapfrog the U.S. and Japan to become the world's top buyer of luxury goods by 2015.

Companies are already retooling their marketing efforts to reflect the purchasing clout of Chinese men. In Louis Vuitton's new ad campaign, Taiwanese-Canadian model Godfrey Gao carries a slender checkered bag with its strap slung across his body.

It's exactly the kind of bag Yang Jun aspires to own. The 20-year-old office clerk at a Beijing cosmetics manufacturer knows it could set him back more than $1,000. He'll have to save for months. But he said it would be money well spent.

"As a man, you must have one of those bags," he said. "It will bring you status, dignity and boost your image."

In the meantime, Yang makes do with a $45 knock-off Louis Vuitton. Despite its provenance, he said his superiors at work told him the strappy number was a handsome accessory. They should know: They all carry the real thing.

"It gave me more confidence immediately," Yang said of his trusty bag. "But I have no doubt I will buy a real one sometime in the future."

Nicole Liu in The Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.

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