- Words by Mr Robert Johnston
How much can a small cardboard rectangle possibly say about you? Plenty, if you are Patrick Bateman. In the most memorable scene of the film adaptation of Mr Bret Easton Ellis' 1991 novel American Psycho (soon to be a stage show), amoral banker and anti-hero Patrick Bateman, played by Mr Christian Bale, gets involved in what can only be described as Wall Street business-card-upmanship. The murderous Bateman boasts of his bone-coloured cards with embossed details in the (fictitious) Silian Rail font (actually a form of Garamond if you want to copy a psychopath's style choice). His colleagues, however, trump him with their cards (in eggshell and pale nimbus), until all are trumped by the card of a fellow - though absent - banker. "Oh my God. It even has a watermark," gasps Bateman in a voiceover.
Messrs Christian Bale and Matt Ross in the 2000 film version of American Psycho
Although there is something innately old-fashioned about business cards, that you imagine would sit rather uncomfortably in a world of Android phones and tablets, they are incredibly pleasing (and perhaps somewhat self-indulgent) - and don't seem to be going away any time soon. As such, a decent cardholder is still an essential piece of masculine kit.
As well as the shade of white they are printed on, and the thickness of the embossing, business cards have, of course, rules of etiquette all of their own. It's something to take note of, especially when you are dealing with associates from Asian countries where they take card culture very seriously indeed, and with a little bow. Business card etiquette is serious stuff in Japan - never push your card across a table but always present it holding it in two hands - and in turn you should accept a presented card with both of your hands. I once heard of a colleague who was in Tokyo on a business trip and, having swapped cards, sat down for a meeting. Halfway through, without thinking, he took one the cards he had been given out of his pocket and started to pick his teeth with it. He may as well have flushed it down the nearest lavatory for the offence he caused, and he certainly didn't win the contract he was hoping for.
There are two other less obvious rules I have heard of concerning international business card etiquette. One states that you should always hand a card over face up so that the other person doesn't need to turn it over, which sounds obvious enough. The other is that you should always hand a business card over with your right hand as this is seen as the international hand of discretion. Personally, this does not convince me but it does make me wonder what all you left-handers have allegedly been up to that is so indiscreet.
There is, however, nothing more unprofessional than admitting that you have run out of cards. Well, apart from telling someone you have forgotten to bring any at all. For me, the business card capital of the world is Basel, when I attend the annual Baselworld watch fair. Here, with back-to-back meetings you can easily hand out up to 40 cards each day. If you are carrying that number with you it simply isn't possible to keep them all in your wallet. This definitely calls for a serious business cardholder. After all, nothing will give a worse impression than handing out a ratty or crumpled piece of card that's not even good enough to pick your teeth with.
The holder you use should say something about you in the same way your watch or wallet would. Think of them as the ultimate expression of stealth wealth. A Santiago Gonzalez crocodile cardholder, for example, will reveal discreetly that you're a man to reckon with, while a Bottega Veneta intrecciato woven-leather cardholder will mark you out as a man of taste.
I would argue that on a business trip you should actually carry two distinct cardholders - one for the cards you hand out and one for the cards you receive (and remember that, like Christmas, the more you give out the more you will get back).
If you are going out for the evening - especially in black tie - you will have limited space in your pockets so a smart cardholder is a much better bet than a bulky wallet, and all you need is room for a credit card and enough cash to get you home. With this in mind, a particular favourite of mine is the WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie Kennedy leather cardholder, which includes a money clip as well as space for receipts. After all, if you are on business you will be claiming back the cost of that taxi.
MR PORTER is Production Sponsor of American Psycho: A New Musical Thriller, showing at the Almeida Theatre in London from 3 December 2013 to 25 January 2014. For more information, click here