On a sunny Saturday afternoon, my Chinese investment banker friend Fred came to pick me up at my apartment to take me shopping. While Fred, aged 31, has the money to spend on clothes and his lifestyle—he works at one of those storied financial institutions on Wall Street and claims to make more than $200,000—he is often too busy jetting around the world on business trips to spend time buying things for himself. So he had asked me to be his “fashion stylist” for the day.
Fred told us it was becoming something of a trend among young wealthy Chinese men to seek expert advice when shopping. In February, we first wrote about China’s mass affluent class (M.A.C.) in a report co-authored with Carat. In that report, we looked closely at the so-called M.A.C. men, to try and understand what they like to read, watch and spend money on and how they view entrepreneurship. The report broke the market up into five segments: aficionados, skeptics, epicureans, aspirants and Bling Kings.
In an effort to expand our investigation into the M.A.C. man, I took Fred up on his offer. He was just back from Alibaba’s Investor’s Day in China and was heading off to the Caribbean for a two-week vacation. We kicked off our jaunt in SoHo where Fred visited many boutiques, bought several luxury items, and shared some thoughts on what “fashion and style” mean to him. Here’s an account of our day.
Where We Shopped: Fred Prefers Boutiques to Department Stores
SoHo is Fred’s go-to place for almost any type of shopping. The quiet, café-lined streets reminds him of Europe where he once spent two years studying and living. He likes to walk between the different boutiques, with the option of stopping for a cup of coffee or a lunch break at Sant Ambroeus.
Compared with gigantic department stores, boutiques, according to Fred, offer a more intimate way of engaging with his favorite brands. He can easily ask salespeople for the styling advice that he seeks. And he feels salespeople best understand the brand they represent (in contrast to those in department stores). In addition, he feels that specialty stores keep him up to speed on the brands’ latest events and promotions.
Fred’s Definition of ‘Fashion and Luxury’
The fact that Fred likes to keep up with the latest fashion trends while being attentive to others’ opinions probably makes him a representative of the ‘epicureans’ group, one of the five categories of M.A.C. men described in our earlier report with Carat. However, some of his behaviors also fall into the group ‘aficionados,’ who, according to the definition, don’t easily buy into online advertising.
What Fred Wanted to Buy
“The bottom line of today’s shopping is to get a clutch bag for me,” Fred said while driving there. “I am going to use it next week during some formal meetings as well as several semi-casual gatherings with my friends. I want to look professional and chic.”
To my surprise, Fred had a very specific list of items he needed or wanted to buy. Fred’s checklist included: a men’s clutch bag, a pair of loafers, athleisure outfits, jeans, ties and T-shirts.
He also hoped to get a new pair of comfortable loafers that he could wear to work, as well as some athleisure outfits as he noticed that some of his senior managers only wear athleisure-style clothes on Fridays and he wanted to dress like them, too.
However, he also noted the difficulty for him in finding a luxury brand that provides the style that he is looking for: casual yet professional.
Fred collects ties as a hobby. He has at least 30 ties in a variety of different colors and textures. He told me if he found one that he liked, he would buy it. Not too long ago, the T-shirt became Fred’s “new tie.” He collects nice-looking T-shirts from just about any brand.
Sunglasses are another item that he has to buy for his vacation. He already has a pair that he uses everyday, but needs another suited to the beaches and skies of Barbados, and preferably high-end. “It is very important to make my face look smaller,” he told me. “And better if they’re from a brand-name.”
The Brands We Visited
So with all these goals in mind, Fred and I visited the following brands: Burberry (“must go”), Dolce & Gabbana (“must go”), Thom Browne, Alexander Wang, Balenciaga, Rag & Bone, Opening Ceremony, Agnès B. We also dropped by Laduree to enjoy some delicious macarons and afternoon tea.
The Things Fred Bought
One Balenciaga Bazar Pouch: $595
One pair of Burberry Perforated Check Leather Trainers Sneakers: $450
Eight T-shirts by Agnès B: Around $500
Fred did not expect that he would like Balenciaga’s design as he did not have a very good impression of the brand before. “Balenciaga’s design sometimes looks a bit bizarre to me,” he said. “And I particularly do not like its famous classical handbag that Chinese girls love.”
Based on his research, it seemed he was angling to buy the Dolce & Gabbana pouch. However, when he tried it on in the store, the style did not fit him well. He thought the pouch made him look dull (and I agreed), even though the salesman said it worked perfectly with his outfit that day. Balenciaga’s clean design, on the other hand, brought out his charm.
His choice of the Burberry sneaker was also kind of spontaneous. Fred saw the ones I was wearing and liked them. So, when we hit up Burberry’s store, he tried them on and bought them. It seems that what friends are wearing has some influence on the M.A.C. man.
Despite all the high-end fittings, Fred seemed to have the most fun trying out different T-shirts at Agnès B. “I cannot resist a well-designed T-shirt, like Agnès B.’s,” he confided in me.
What Being “Stylish and Chic” Means for Fred
In order to better understand Fred’s needs before helping him pick clothes, I chatted with him to get a sense of how he defines “fashion” and “style.”
One thing he made very clear to me is that he does not like to dress like a model.
“I am not into fashion and I don’t want to understand fashion,” he said. “I want to look stylish, but those runway male models just scare me again and again. I might be crazy if I dress like that.”
What Fred Needs
Fred thinks that there are no good role models for a young Chinese man like him to follow, in terms of dressing. He said there were so many fashion bloggers in China, but they only teach women how to dress while his needs are being ignored by the market. He needs guidance from a professional person such as a fashion stylist. He prefers for this person to be Chinese and female (as men, he thinks, generally have bad taste).
When I suggested that he could possibly get more styling advice from men’s magazines, like GQ, he said he had no time to read them.
Fred in the Age of Digital Media
Fred frequently visits Mr. Porter to check out deals and to discover trendy brands and styles. He also sometimes looks at the official websites of luxury brands to see if there is anything new that he likes. However, he admitted to disliking the service experience on Farfetch (“very bad”).
Seeing Fred’s heavy reliance on the mobile — checking social media and news apps almost every five minutes — I thought he might be interested in following some apps, such as Enjoy, that gives affluent Chinese men lifestyle and fashion tips. But Fred felt that he was not very experienced in the fashion arena yet, that kinds of apps would not serve him very well and he does not want to spend extra time on them.
“What I really need is to talk to fashion stylists and someone like you who understand fashion, while shopping,” Fred said, “so that I don’t need to read those long articles.”
To Fred, the opinion of his female friends is all important. If they think a brand does not suit him, he would never buy there.
To my surprise, Fred showed me a WeChat group that he is in with three other friends. They are old friends and good buddies of Fred’s from his college days. These young men hang out during the weekends in the city. And, most importantly, they share information of sample sales in the group and go there together when they find the time.
“Actually some of my best shopping experiences were from sample sales,” Fred said and laughed. “I am telling you that men like discounts, just as much as women do.”