The following paragraphs may contains spoilers for the film Cake (2018).
Caked in cash
Cake (2018) is a Pakistani comedy-drama film centred around a family and the dynamics of one adult child caring for ill elderly parents, while her other two siblings live their lives in foreign counties. While watching this film, my tweets revealed a fascination with the commodity and fetishisation of the designer handbag, stemming from a love for popular culture and a personal relationship with the handbag in its simplest form.
Assuming that Cake (2018) was about a middle-class family due to the socioeconomic status of the previous films character’s screened earlier in this autoethnography, the Birkin bag came to surprise me. Particular brands of handbags distinguish (Jee Han, Nunes, & Drèze 2010); ore thus the Birkin signifies the family to be upper-class. Moreso, Western media has conditioned me to see Birkins in a Western context, and therefore seeing one on the arm of someone other than an A-list celebrity was unexpected.
Intrigued by the spectacle of the bag and its place in pop culture, the Hermès Birkin caught my eye, which warranted a tweet about it. While I do not desire to have one and would not feel comfortable walking around with one, the bag fascinates me, so much so that I have fallen into Birkin bag YouTube rabbit holes learning about it. The Birkin is the pinnacle of designer bags – a status symbol. The process of purchasing one from a Hermès store is not as simple as walking in and buying one off the shelf. The staff in-store are unaware of when they will receive them, what colours and sizes they will get, and even how many. Hermès create a world of exclusivity where buying one from a store can require a relationship with sales associates through an established purchase history before the opportunity for buying one for $12,000 to 15,000 AUD presents itself as a possibility. Due to this exclusive and challenging manner of purchasing in-store, the Birkin resells for much more on resell sites and auctions, which is why some consider one as an investment.
Not only did the Birkin grab my attention, but it also seems to have led me onto a path of a Where’s Wally of designer handbags. Though offering a cultural experience differing from my own, evidently I was searching for more examples of commonality, of a familiar commodity in Western pop culture in the film’s costume. Not only is pop culture is an interest of mine that I have often chosen to base many university assignments around, but one of my greatest guilty pleasures in life is Keeping Up with the Kardashians – a show where many Birkins and other designer bags are present. However, when retrospectively looking at my personal use, specific requirements, and purchase history of handbags throughout my life, I believe that the attention to detail of the character’s bag goes beyond the branding and iconography of designer bags because when it comes to my handbags, I am very particular and specific about them. Real leather is a must, they need to be big enough to fit all the things I like to carry, their design must be chic and simplistic, and it can take years of searching before I find the right ones.
Handbags are profoundly personal with a history and purpose which gives them meaning beyond being a fashion accessory or a representation of status. Cake (2018) highlighted to me that not only does the Birkin transcends across upper-class cultures, the handbag itself is not only a commodity but also plays a more notable role in the process in which I identify social classes. Furthermore, in reflecting on my tweets, I have discovered that the role handbags play in my life has more profound meaning than what I previously observed.
Jee Han, Y, Nunes, JC & Drèze, X 2010, ‘Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence‘, Journal of Marketing, vol. 74, no. 4, pp, 15-30.