People want to know: has Jarvis got a brand new bag?

Retro-chic sex idol Jarvis Cocker made perhaps his most complex image statement yet when he was spotted backstage at a Blur gig with a little strappy oblong number draped over his arm. A handbag? So it would seem, but Jarvis's people are denying all knowledge. "Are you sure you don't mean his satchel?" asked his PR representative. The Melody Maker news desk were none the wiser, but helpfully suggested that the phantom handbag might contain Michael Jackson's home phone number.

Jarvis Cocker is a pop paradox: lyric genius, nylon-wrapped lounge-lizard and big girl's blouse. One moment he's crooning about how many suburban housewives he's seduced over their candlewick, the next he's on Shooting Stars, throwing individually-wrapped cheeses "in the style of a girl" through the mouth of a giant cardboard Judy Finnegan. If he doesn't have a handbag, he should get one, as it would not only counterpoint the Wildean nature of Cocker's crushed-velvet aestheticism, but give him somewhere to keep his packet of Spangles.

Although they've always been popular on the continent, handbags for men are still seen in this country as tantamount to transvestism. Unstinting in their regard for chunky black record bags with discreet club logos and briefcases with oh-so-exciting combination locks, British men remain unpersuaded by the minor flood of butch(ish) little bags emerging from American design houses like Calvin Klein and Jill Stuart.

Alex, 24, is a surveyor and plays football at the weekends. "Are you sure these are for men?" he asks, looking in disbelief at a cutting on the subject from American Vogue. "That one is really hideous," he exclaims, singling out the black zip-top faux-Octopus bag from Genius Dilletante. He's less than flattering about some of the others: Jill Stuart's soft- sided plaid bag might have been "made out of a golfer's trousers". All of them are far too dinky to carry a copy of Loaded. The "real man's" natural revulsion for evening accessories also asserts itself in Paul, 22, a student, who contends that everything a man needs, he can keep in his pants: "Men don't really use bags unless they're going to work or away for the weekend. But even if they did, you wouldn't catch me going out with any of these hanging off me. I wouldn't get away with it." But what if he was Jarvis Cocker? "Ah, well, that would be different".

Matthew Sweet

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