Luxury Goods: Men Buying Like Women, Ladies Shopping Like Guys

High-end spending is on the rise. According to Bain & Company, the demand for luxury goods has grown by double digits since the end of the financial crisis.

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However, it’s not just the demand that’s surprising the experts. Luxury retailers are also seeing an unexpected new shopping trend — men are shopping like ladies and the women are buying like guys.

It turns out traditional gender roles are no longer trendy when it comes to luxury.

Take Ferrari, for example. Many of the drivers clamoring for keys to the Italian sports car aren't who you might expect.

For many years, women in the North American market made up just 1 percent of Ferrari’s customers, according to Marco Mattiacci, president of Ferrari North America. However, there has been a dramatic gender shift. Now, 10 percent of Ferrari owners in North America are women. The “feminization” of the Ferrari market in China is even greater — Ferrari has seen the number of female buyers rise to 30 percent.

As for proof the luxury market is booming — the automaker recently saw its limited edition $295,000 Ferrari FF, listed in the 2011 Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue, sell out in 50 minutes.

The luxury gender twist doesn't stop with cars; men are making some surprising purchases, too.

"Over the last few years I have noticed a lot of people, men, are interested in shoes," shoe designer Christian Louboutin said.

Louboutin says the thrill of owning something beautiful knows no gender boundaries.

"The demand for men's shoes has been growing incredibly fast,” he said.

That growing demand is being met by increased supply, with famous designers including Louboutin and Jimmy Choonow designing high-end shoe lines for well-heeled men.

The division ofInternational Business Machinesthat provides retail analytic services projects men’s apparel sales to increase more than 8 percent in the first quarter of 2012 over last year. This is especially noteworthy since IBM’s metrics mark 2011 as the best sales year on record for men's apparel.

High-end American accessory retailer Coach began as a men's business more than 70 years ago. The company is now coming full circle, with men’s accessories the brand’s biggest growth driver.

The 2012 Ferrari FF, sold exclusively in the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, sold out in 50 minutes. Ferrari North America says more women are now buying Ferraris.
Neiman Marcus
The 2012 Ferrari FF, sold exclusively in the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, sold out in 50 minutes. Ferrari North America says more women are now buying Ferraris.

Coach Vice President of Men’s Merchandising, Greg Unis, told CNBC he believes Coach's men's division will grow from $200 million in 2011 to a billion-dollar business within the next three to five years.

While the majority of the square footage in Coach's flagship New York City store remains devoted to women's bags, shoes and accessories, one of the most trafficked sections is the men's boutique, aesthetically and deliberately set apart.

"Men are becoming more comfortable...We have men coming into the store that got a wallet for a graduation gift 10 years ago and [leaving] with a briefcase. They're trading up into the brand," Unis said.

And don't forget the manbag, no longer an urban myth but a bestseller. Unis says the sling pack for men is a top-seller around the world, and it’s been hard to keep them in stock.

“We’re learning how big this opportunity is. And when we think we have enough we sell out,” he said.