“But If I’m Not the Same, The Next Question Is ‘Who In the World Am I?'”: Chanel Bags in Alice by Woody Allen

I’ve always been a cinema addicted since I was a teenager: I love going to the cinema (especially alone [1]) and I adore watching some of my favourite movies again and again. This is the case of Alice by Woody Allen, a film released on December 25th, 1990, quite an unusual Christmas film, but fascinating nonetheless. Alice is part of the top three of my favourite Allen movies, along with Another Woman and Crimes and Misdemeanours. I’ve always been intrigued by the sharp world of contrasts it introduces and by the many similarities it has with Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (the name of the protagonist – and the title – is not coincidental).

Alice Tate (Mia Farrow) is the epitome of the Upper East Side princess: she’s married to a very wealthy and handsome man (who betrays her); she’s got two adorable children; she spends her days shopping at luxury stores and getting expensive haircuts and beauty treatments. Despite this apparently perfect life, she’s unhappy: she feels passion and dedication are missing in her life, and she’s tortured by an annoying backache she doesn’t know how to heal. Two encounters – one with Joe (Joe Mantegna), a saxophonist she meets at her children’s posh school; the other with Dr. Yang (Keye Luke), a Chinese doctor who gives her “magic” herbs  – completely change her life. She’s stronger than what she looks like and is eventually able to turn her life around thanks to no one but herself.

In most of the movie she spends her rich life (the metamorphosis happens in the very end of the movie, reported by her former friends as a piece of gossip) and wears expensive clothes: she sports outfits in primary colours – white, black and red – symbolizing a world of inner contrasts (she would like to betray her husband with Joe, but her Christian upbringing makes her feel guilty), with a fiery touch of that passion she is longing for. She usually wears cardigans or sweaters with below-the-knee pencil skirts or plaid skirts, but the recurring details of her style are a long mink coat, velvet headbands and Chanel bags. I’ve always been obsessed by her Chanel obsession: these bags are the ultimate detail of her look. They speak of refinement, luxury, a prim-and-proper attitude to fashion which her sister Dorothy (Blythe Danner) considers shallow.

Here she is in one of the opening scenes, while doing shopping at the Krizia boutique in Fifth Avenue. One of her first appearances on screen presents her social persona, contrasting – in style, at least  – with her private one. She’s wearing her trademark long mink coat, low-heeled shoes, her trusty black velvet headband (totally reminiscent of the ones that Hillary Clinton sported in the early 90s) and a quilted bag on a chain, a Chanel bag. She sports two different styles in the movie, but there are more Chanel sightings to take note of.

After her shopping session, she gets an haircut at a posh beauty salon. One of the customers walks in front of the camera with a classic black 2.55 flap quilted flap bag on her shoulder.

One of my favourite scenes is when she first visits Dr. Yang’s home studio, which has the same role as the rabbit hole in Carroll’s novel. She’s so nervous and chatty (I think she’s the female version of Woody Allen’s neurotic characters here), but she will soon surrender to her own memories and emotions, thanks to a hypnotherapy session.

Here she sports another outfit built on contrasts: her long mink coat, a beautiful red hat with a black bow (which appears on the official poster of the movie), a printed shirt with a red cardigan, a black skirt. Her accessories include pearl clip-on earrings, a pearl necklace and a lovely Chanel quilted red envelope flap bag.

Here is a better pic of the bag. It’s quite structured and has the trademark chain strap.

After the hypnosis session, she touches up her make-up and takes a Chanel blush out of her bag. Despite the desire to give more space to her spiritual side, she clearly takes advantage of the privileges that money can buy, expensive make-up included.

We get another great shot of the bag while she’s doing shopping at a Valentino boutique. She opens the bag to take a packet of herbs to drink with some water. The detail I tried to focus on is the gold double C: I wanted to see if it was the “flat” or the turnlock version. This bag apparently has the turnlock double C, but the file I took my screencaps from is not HQ, so the detail are a bit blurry.

I tried to find an exact picture of this bag, a style which is now considered semi-vintage. The one above has the same structure and the same flap shape, but the quilting is different (the one above is horizontal-oriented).

This is definitely more similar to Alice’s bag (see the exact quilting), but this looks less structured than hers.

In the second part of the movie she carries a different bag, black this time. It could be the bag she sports in the opening scene. We spot it during another visit at Dr Yang’s studio.

Here she keeps the pattern of her outfit unaltered – white, black and red again. She’s wearing her headband and ditched the red hat.

We get a better view of the bag when she is at a restaurant with Joe. It’s not a coincidence that she opens this bag, too, to take a packet of Dr. Yang’s herbs out. Chanel bags have a precise role: they are the mediums of a passage to a parallel world, a transition whose effects are unpredictable and kind of magic. A few moments after taking these herbs, Alice and Joe become invisible and are ready to wander wherever they want. Dr. Yang’s herbs and Chanel bags create an irresistible mix of reason (the bags as the result of wealth) and fantasy (the effects of herbs).

Thanks to these close-ups, we can see this is a half-moon quilted shoulder bag with a chain strap. There is definitely no turnlock this time (in the first screencap the magnetic closure is visible).

This is not the exact bag seen in the movie (it has the turnlock), but it’s pretty similar to it. I love this style, reminiscent of a shape which was trendy in the 80s. Despite being set in the early 90s, everything in this movie screams 80s, just think of the outfits seen on Alice’s friends or the power suit worn by Nancy Brill (Cybill Sheperd), a friend of Alice’s who works as a movie producer.

Many critics consider this movie an unfulfilled work: some say it’s hard to feel compassion/sympathy for Alice, so the viewer doesn’t feel involved in her journey to happiness. It’s true some elements of her personality are not developed as they should (her past, for example, is presented by a dream sequence, and that’s it); it’s true that the viewer doesn’t really care about her (she’s a poor rich girl, after all), but it’s also true that her quest for passion and thrill is totally human and for this reason understandable.

[1] I’ve always loved going to the cinema alone and I don’t understand what’s wrong with it. I also love when I have the luck to be the only one (or one of the few people) sitting in a cinema: the feeling of being able to enjoy a kind of private screening is incomparable.


    1. Please watch it: it’s very funny but speaks about a very deep topic, in my opinion. Moreover, the setting – New York in all its beauty – is magic!

  1. Ooooh, amo follemente Alice, insieme alla rosa purpurea del Cairo e a Io e Annie è il mio Allen preferito. E Mia Farrow è una delle mie icone cinematografiche, devo a Rosemary’s baby il mio taglio di capelli e l’ispirazione per i miei vestiti (o dovrei dire per il mio shopping, visto che purtroppo non sono capace di farmeli da sola?)!
    Per quanto riguarda le Chanel, il mio snobismo (e le mie finanze)mi impediscono di comprare borse firmate, ma se trovassi un modello come la half moon o la 2.55 mini vintage, credo che farei di tutto per farle mie! 🙂

    1. Davvero hai un taglio pixie? Anche io!!! Ho fatto il grande passo lo scorso novembre e non me ne sono pentita affatto. Non saprei se Mia Farrow ai tempi di “Rosemary’s Baby” è stata fonte di ispirazione o se si è trattato piuttosto di una serie di echi/suggestioni/passioni che mi portavo dietro da anni, ma è pur sempre vero che chi si taglia i capelli in quel modo non può non averla come punto di riferimento.

      1. Ho visto nei video dei Friday guessing game! Ora li sto facendo crescere perché non ho la costanza di andare dal parrucchiere tanto spesso, ma li ho avuti così per due anni, ed escludendo il caschetto alla Valentina (che non posso nemmeno osare, visto che ho i capelli ricci), è in assoluto il mio taglio preferito!

      2. Mah, per ora vorrei almeno arrivare alla lunghezza giusta per legarli. Il problema è che vado da un parrucchiere tanto matto quanto carino, e anche se si sbizzarrisce con la macchinetta, non riesco mai a dirgli di no, e sorrido come un’ebete! Comunque per ora sono abbastanza soddisfatta del mio taglio semi-punk con un lato cortissimo, se li lasciassi crescere normalmente avrei i boccoli tipo Piccole donne! 🙂

      3. Questo taglio semi-punk mi suona bene! Io finora non ho mai osato così tanto, ma tra un paio di mesi voglio provare qualcosa di più radicale: taglio direttamente con la macchinetta. Non so spiegarti il motivo, ma ho sempre voluto provare. Mi sono già tolta la curiosità di vedere come stavo con il taglio pixie, quindi ora mi sento pronta al passo successivo 😉

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