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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wall Street Takes Liking to Bag

NEW YORK -- When an executive at Credit Suisse First Boston suggested that the investment bank switch its corporate gift to something more chic than a canvas duffel bag, the chief executive bristled.

"He just looked at me and demanded to know where the blue and green canvas bag was," said Campbell Martin, who had plunked down scores of richly colored alternative bags on the desk of Allen Wheat, chief executive of the investment bank.

Such is the hold that a canvas duffel bag, a spruced-up version of the plebeian luggage used by sailors and soldiers, has taken on Wall Street. From the stock exchange floor to the Jersey Shore, the bag has become something of a badge for investment bankers, traders, fund managers - young guns who often pull down eye-popping salaries.

"They're perfect," said Karl Finegan, 27, a tanned systems analyst at a major Wall Street investment banking firm who plucked his cell phone from the bag while waiting for a train to Manhattan from the beach town of Bay Head, New Jersey. "It fits loads of things, an awful lot of clothes."

For Lisa McCullagh, the 36-year-old suburban New York mom who hatched the idea of selling "the bag" to "The Street," its red-hot popularity is an entrepreneur's dream come true.

Eight weeks after the birth of her first baby, McCullagh began hawking the bag in 1992, pitching it as an inexpensive, practical gift that would effectively trumpet a corporate name and logo. The financial services industry, then caught up in a wave of mergers, surfaced as ideal targets, she said.

"I pounded the pavement and talked my way into all these investment banks, talking about how these bags were timeless, and how they projected good taste," explained McCullagh, who also pushes the made-in-the-United States angle.

Word about the bag spread like brushfire and orders flowed into Scarborough & Tweed, her business. Her husband, David, joined her after their second daughter was born in 1995.

Scarborough & Tweed has sold more than 250,000 bags. McCullagh said clients include Lazard Freres & Co., Schroeder & Co., Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., Salomon Smith Barney, SBC Dillon Warburg Read and Goldman Sachs & Co.

The McCullaghs now make canvas laptop bags, golf bags, ski bags and a new bestseller, the "deal bag" - a weekend bag with a flat, square top on which is written the names of banks that put together a large deal.

"It's like a little cult of canvas walking around Wall Street," said Credit Suisse's Martin. He agrees with many others that the bags set elite money people apart from the throngs of other professionals in Manhattan.

"They are exclusively financial industry items," Cynthia Huessing, who works for J.P. Morgan in New York, said. "It's sort of like a club, like you belong to J.P. Morgan or Credit Suisse First Boston."

In typical banking conformity, most order the hunter green and navy blue model - and therein lies a marketing ploy: People must peer closely to determine the name of the bank stitched on the ribbon-covered handles.

"I think we buy them so they carry our bags and not Morgan Stanley's," Huessing said.

Bags are shipped to Tokyo, London, Paris and Moscow. Fans tell McCullagh they have spotted them in airports in Milan, Bombay, and Moscow. Former President George Bush is said to have commented on the durability of the bag.

The stock market's roller-coaster ride since the summer and Wall Street's subsequent belt-tightening have not reduced orders, McCullagh said.

"It's not an expensive, flashy item that would send the wrong message in a time when firms are scaling back," she said.

Martin insists the canvas bag - be it the deal or the plain duffel - is here to stay. And he is not alone.

"It is not like a Hermes tie or a Paul Stuart suit, so they won't disappear when the market heads south," said Georgetown University student Douglas Snyder, who got his bag when he interned one summer for Salomon Brothers.

"You see a pile of those bags in the corner of a bar and you instantly know those guys are investment bankers," he said. "That's kind of cool."