The Most Iconic Bags from the Movies

by Darina Granik September 05, 2017

Every September the city of Toronto is buzzing about cinematography and everything related to it, as during the second weekend of the month all of Hollywood lands in the city for the Toronto International Film Festival. We are no exception: the film bug bit us too.  While there has been much written about fashion in films, as well as about the most iconic dresses and shoes from the movies, we decided to reflect on the most iconic bags from the screen.

Although most of the characters are always accessorized with purses, we featured a few top bags, where they had a special symbolism, impacted a story or were a signature item of a heroine.


Camel Hermès Birkin in Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen’s film Blue Jasmine (2013) tells about a Manhattan’s socialite (Cate Blanchett), whose husband had been convicted for running fraudulent money operations. Being used to living in incredible wealth on the Upper East Side, Jasmine has to move to her working class sister in San Francisco, trying to get back to life and coping with her nervous breakdown. From the first screen, seconds as we see her, a viewer can tell her status through her outfit - Chanel tweed blazer and jewelry, Hermes belt and a camel Birkin bag. While waiting for her luggage in the airport, she emphasizes that her suitcase is a personalized Vuitton. Throughout the film, she changes outfits but the bag is the item that she holds onto as a talisman of her previous luxurious life. She is short on money, everything had been confiscated, but she still carries her Hermès everywhere. Even while working as a receptionist at a dentist’s office, the bag is on her desk. It is always a reminder of her status and her wealthy past throughout the film.

According to Blanchett’s interview for Harper’s Bazaar UK, the bag cost more than the whole costume budget of $35,000 for the film, which included Chanel jackets, red Carolina Herrera gown, Roger Vivier, Ralph Lauren and Alberta Ferretti pieces. Also, the wait list for the bags was too long. The head of wardrobe department Suzy Benzinger had to sweet talk the Hermès press team to lend their own item to Cate. "I borrowed the PR girl's bag, but I didn't find that out until I'd thrown it on the sidewalk for the seventh time," Blanchett shared.

It was worth it! This bag has become truly iconic for the character of the Woody Allen’s film. In addition Blanchett’s performance was so spectacular that she received an Academy Award for it in 2014.


Red Crocodile Hermès Kelly in Le Divorce

The film Le Divorce (dir. James Ivory, 2003), starring Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson, tells a story about two American sisters and their love lives in Paris. Pregnant Roxy (Watts) is going through a divorce with her French husband. Meanwhile Isabel (Hudson) starts a secret affair with an older uncle of her ex-brother-in-law, Edgar, who is a wealthy married politician.

In the first scene Isabel is portrayed as a shabby American young woman in her pajamas and worn flip-flops, but once she gets into the love affair with an older politician, she goes through a costume change to a sophisticated glamorous French woman along with a hair/make-up transformation. The moment when the couple confirms their relationship on screen is when Isabel receives a gift from him - a Hermès Kelly bag. Her sister doesn’t believe that Isabel bought it herself, because the bag is famously extremely expensive.

It gets apparent that this red crocodile purse is a symbol of being Edgar’s mistress. Other characters in the film, such as his mother and Isabel’s boss, who had been his mistress back in the days too, instantly recognize what Isabel got herself into. This bag attracts a lot of attention along the way, as it does not really suit young Isabel - neither age nor style wise. Later, when their relationship goes sour, she lends it to her mom and in the end, after the affair is over and during a stressful gun-including situation, she throws it from the Eiffel tower, symbolically wrapping up that part of her life.

A very influential online portal Clothes on Film, which analyzes fashion in films, mentions that in Le Divorce it is a great example of how a sartorial piece, a Kelly bag, “can be elevated from status symbol to character”.



Fendi Baguette in Sex and the City

Along six seasons of TV show Sex and the City the girls love Fendi bags as much as Manolo shoes. While Carrie Bradshaw has been famously obsessed with shoes, her friend Samantha Jones has made a couple of episodes’ stories focused on bags. Many of our readers might remember how she fell in love with a red Birkin bag, that was not available, so she ordered it for her A-list client, an actress Lucy Lui. Then they had a fight over it. But the most memorable episode was when the girls travelled to Los Angeles, where Samantha discovered a truck that was selling fake designer bags from the trunk. Carrie refused to buy a purse, but Samantha was happy to purchase a Fendi Baguette for only $150 instead of $3,000. That subsequently caused a fight at a party at The Playboy Mansion - Samantha falsely accused one of the playmates of stealing her purse.  As a proof she confessed that it had “Made in China” tag inside, which didn’t coincide with the Bunny’s item. So Samantha embarrassed herself in front of Hugh Hefner, harmed her ego and along with the girls she was escorted away from the party with shame.

This Fendi purse was not just a part of a story telling, but a metaphor for “fake versus authentic” narrative of the episode. Charlotte called her marriage a “Fake Fendi” and Carrie was surprised that this bag was the only authentic element of a Playboy Bunny girl. This episode also spur academic discussions in various articles and books, for example “Reading Sex and the City” by Kim Akass.

This can also be a lesson to never buy fake bags!


Below we include some images of other film characters, who were proudly carrying their purses that became their staple pieces, but hardly could be named iconic.

Margot Tannenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Royal Tannenbaum (dir. Wes Anderson, 2001)

Margot Tannenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Royal Tannenbaum (dir. Wes Anderson, 2001)



Sandra Bullock's Margaret Tate in Proposal (dir. Anne Fletcher, 2009)

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in Devil Wears Prada (dir. David Frankel, 2006)


Let us know in the comments what comes to your mind when you think of bags on the screen? Have we missed anything? What’s your favourite fashion on film?




Darina Granik
Darina Granik


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