More men are finding that a tote bag is a necessity — but good design is hard to come by.
Madeline Weeks, fashion director of GQ, dropped into Barneys New York in Beverly Hills recently and got a jolt when she stepped off the escalator at the shoe department only to find that it had disappeared.
In its place was a sea of “über-cool, designer small leather goods.”
Über-cool or otherwise, “small leather goods” is euphemistic retail-speak for men’s “handbags.” And the allocation of prime real estate to a category once relegated to department store basements points to a shift in the way men consume.
The retail analysts at NPD Group report that, at the same time sales of women’s handbags slumped 5 percent in 2014, growth among bags for men leapt by double digits. Among men, sales of tote bags increased by 11 percent.
“Male or female, consumers are carrying a lot of things around with them,” says Marshal Cohen, NPD Group’s chief industry analyst, “and they want a bag that looks good while also meeting their multifunctional needs.”
Multifunctional needs were very much on my mind the other day as I rooted around for a pen at the bottom of my tote bag.
Surely if I had a properly designed tote bag, I wouldn’t face this issue. But I don’t. I have, instead, a cruddy canvas tote from some nameless maker.
You may think that getting a tote bag right is a simple matter. The bag should strike the proper proportional balance: not so small as to look ladylike or so large as to make me look as if I were running away from home.
However, many are lacking in some fundamental way. Few designers have missed the opportunity to get in on the $2.3-billion men’s bag market. Yet the shock (at least to this male consumer’s mind) is how few of them consider a tote bag’s basic brief.
Reached in Detroit, where he and John Truex are co-designers of leather accessories for Shinola, Richard Lambertson got to the root of it. “The problem is that a lot of designers make the totes a little too ‘girlie’ or slick and fashiony,” he says. They fail to design the totes from the inside out.
“People always ask, ‘What is your inspiration?’ ” Lambertson says. “And the answer is not, ‘Going to India on a camel.’ It’s function.”
Thus, in a world of ideal tote bags, “There is always a place for your cellphone, side pockets for your airline tickets, and zippered compartments on the inside, so when your bag falls over, everything doesn’t fall out,” Lambertson says.
And clever interior sleeve pockets, so that you never again have to wonder what the hell you did with your pen.