Artist Andy Warhol once said, “I guess that’s what marriage boils down to—your wife buys your underwear for you.”
Now why would men hand over their God-given right to choose their underwear to women?
“Interestingly, wives or girlfriends usually buy their men’s underwear, whether it is in my hometown Madrid or Hong Kong, it’s the same,” says Enrique Cardenal, Asia brand director of Jockey, an international manufacturer of men’s underwear.
“In Spain, it’s been a tradition that mothers buy underwear for their little boys, and women buy their boyfriends’ or husbands’ underwear.”
In his office in Kowloon Bay, Cardenal gives us a tour of his company’s showroom, which is like a museum of men’s underwear.
He seems to know the history of men’s underwear — from ancient to modern times. And we can tell Cardenal is a patriot, too, judging by the eye-catching and almost rakish underwear hanging on the wall behind his desk — it has the design of the Spanish national flag.
After a failed attempt to start his own textile business shortly after graduating from college in Spain in 2000, Cardenal traveled abroad and eventually worked with Nike and Footlocker stores in the Netherlands.
He joined the men’s underwear industry in 2007, when he got a job at the leading American brand Jockey. Soon he was promoted to managing director of sales and marketing in Spain, a job, he says, which mostly involved submitting sales figures and trying on the latest underpants.
In 2011 Cardenal set foot for the first time in Hong Kong with the new title of Jockey brand ambassador.
He immediately fell in love with the city, dazzled by its magnificent skyscrapers and pulsating nightlife. He thought there was a lot of sales potential for his company’s products because the city was full of white-collar yuppies with good taste and high income.
According to figures provided by the Spanish Consulate in Hong Kong, there are around 1,500 Spanish citizens in the city, and the number has been growing by an average of 10 percent in the past five years. They are mainly exchange students, architects, lawyers, bankers, chefs, businessmen and professional soccer players.
Cardenal has quickly adjusted to life in Hong Kong, and today most of his friends are locals, and some Spaniards and Mexicans too. “I know a lot of my countrymen who either work or own businesses here. For example, a friend of mine works with Zara, but we rarely meet up because he often needs to take trips to Shanghai,” he says.
It’s hard not to talk about soccer once you become friendly with a Spanish guy, because it is almost like a religion to them. “I am a big fan of Real Madrid,” Cardenal says.
Just this February, the former Spanish national team captain and big star of Real Madrid, Raul Gonzalez Blanco, came to Hong Kong with the New York Cosmos to compete for the Lunar New Year Cup.
Cardenal feigns surprise: “Why didn’t he tell me he was coming?” He was in fact on vacation in India at the time.
Cardenal is still single, living by himself in Repulse Bay. He enjoys hiking and other water sports.
He says he loves life in Hong Kong, its natural landscapes, food culture, trendy fashion and the weather. “I love hiking in particular. Although Hong Kong is so densely populated, it still has a beautiful countryside, and a lot of magnificent mountain trails free from pollution.”
That’s the bright side of Hong Kong he is so familiar with. However, when our reporter hands him some pictures showing the appalling living conditions in the city’s subdivided flats, including a unit less than 30 square feet that is being rented out for HK$2,000 a month, Cardenal is taken aback.
He says he just can’t imagine how people can live in such a tiny place. He even expresses disbelief when told that nearly a hundred thousand households live in such dwellings in the city.
He says when it comes to living space, the average Spaniard is much better off than most Hong Kong people. When he was living and working alone back home, he used to live in a small suite with a kitchen, which was already much bigger than the typical flat in Hong Kong. His family’s house in Madrid is both comfortable and spacious.
Under most circumstances, a European guy always has an advantage in Hong Kong, especially when it comes to relationships, and many of them are just too eager to use that advantage to hunt for their prey in the wilds of Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong on Friday nights.
“I am not that kind of guy,” Cardenal says seriously.
The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 17.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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