Sarah Jessica Parker talks fashion journeys on and off screen, shoes and style faux pas.
White tutu. Dirty blonde curls. Pink tank top. Leopard Jimmy Choo heels. Then whoosh – a bus passes by, leaving her outfit wet and dotted with droplets of puddle water. This kinetic scene became the contemporary symbol of New York City and its pitch-perfect heroine, Carrie Bradshaw, in the face of the incomparable Sarah Jessica Parker, an avatar for style protagonistas the world over and their Manhattan dreams. Parker’s fashiony vibe had Upper East Siders swiping the shelves of Manolo Blahnik boutiques clean and raiding the showrooms of New York designers. After four seasons, two films and now a new HBO series, Bradshaw and Parker’s bravado and influence continue to be unwavering.
Premiering in mid-1998, Sex and the City arrived an instant classic as the fresh-faced, impulsive and indulgent Carrie brought a new way of looking at sex and relationships to the masses. Its wit and candour resonated with women in their twenties and thirties, while inspiring them with its fairy-tale-meets-reality trope; indulging in Carrie’s delicious frivolity and the often-stinging reckonings was a right of passage for many. Few can forget the first time their AmEx was cut in front of them at a Dolce & Gabbana boutique. And the fashion! Remember the bright-green Juicy Couture dress Bradshaw paired with a massive blue Hermès bag in the second season? The handbag, which turned out to be fake, was meant to mask Parker’s pregnancy in the scene. “[It] had one job to do and did it very poorly,” she once said. Or the “naked” DKNY dress she wore to pose for the ad that appeared on the infamous bus from the opening credits. “It is Carrie at that moment, but I don’t think it’s entirely Carrie.”
Nearly two decades after the original show’s finale, the much-anticipated return of the airy sex columnist in And Just Like That blessed fans with a new dose of giddiness, somewhat grounded in modern realism. Think Carrie battling grief, the aftermath of her falling out with original member of the foursome, Samantha Jones, and grappling to remain the face of Manhattan’s sexual liberation.
Such mature problems are, naturally, reflected by Bradshaw’s clothes, courtesy of costume designers Molly Rogers and Danny Santiago. We saw the blue Manolo Blahniks she wore to her wedding appear in the first episode, as well as her reinvention of the little black dress at Big’s funeral – a deep-cut black top and a full skirt made of layers of grey tulle. It echoed Parker’s own obsession with voluminous 1940s-style rayon skirts with a dash of ’60s Mod. There was, of course, the much-beloved grandma-style gingham Batsheva dress Bradshaw styled with a navy hoodie, three headscarves, pink Playtex gloves and massive shades when she was trying to hide from the neighbours while smoking outside her brownstone. Parker says the costume was inspired by the experience of one of the writers of the show. Seems like some things are evergreen – an Oscar de la Renta dress, Manolos or the theatrical attempts to shroud your nicotine addiction from judging New Yorkers. Naturally, we’re left longing to see what Carrie will pull out of her closet (both physical and one enshrined deep in the ballrooms of her mind) next. The longing, alas, remains largely insatiable, as Parker – with the grace of a seasoned diplomat – declines my requests for comment on the series’ second instalment.
Even though Parker and her emblematic character have been in symbiosis for decades now, there’s a degree of separation between the two. “The choices Carrie made on the show weren’t necessarily [the ones] I would make in my own life, but I think that’s wonderful. I believe everyone should use fashion as a way to express who they are and what they love,” she tells me. Parker herself would hardly choose the long fur coat with hot-pink scarf worn by Carrie in the Sex and the City series finale, yet the cyan feather on the magnificent wedding ensemble from the first movie was the actor’s own creative decision (despite the director Michael Patrick King telling her she looked as if she had a bird on her head).
Stylistic contrasts aside, however, it was Bradshaw’s sole mates that inspired the actor to venture into fashion with the SJP Collection, recently launched in Hong Kong at Lane Crawford. “Carrie had a much more fevered relationship with fashion and footwear, but playing her for all of these years gave me the opportunity to try on hundreds of pairs of shoes and learn about fit, construction, style and comfort,” she says. “It definitely sparked my curiosity about the business and inspired me to get involved in a bigger way.” Parker launched the brand with the late George Malkemus III, a genius entrepreneur who put Manolo Blahnik on the map of glamorous Manhattanites but lost his battle to cancer last year.
SJP Collection’s most eye-catching distinction is colour – magenta, teal velvet, tanzanite satin, scarlet, cyber yellow, you name it. “Appropriate footwear is not something that we’re interested in,” she says. “From the start, it’s been important to us to teach our customers that colour is neutral.” It’s a philosophy Parker herself follows to a T. There are few people who could pull off the hot-pink Zac Posen she wore with a mismatched Rogue pair from her brand in 2019.
And the rejection of the concept of fashion faux pas kindled the fire that powered the creative engine behind SJP footwear. “I don’t believe in [those]. [People] should wear what they love and what makes them feel good. That’s all that matters.” And, indeed, such an approach helped her establish herself as one of fashion’s loudest voices. Yet, for the sake of good old fun, this writer dares to recall the much-documented Prada ensemble Parker wore to the 2002 SAG Awards – a beaded tube top and a full embellished midi skirt. “We all walk out the door every day, most of us trying to make a choice that makes us feel good or like ourselves or appropriate for where we’re going. This outfit provoked so much chatter, but it was just a thing,” she comments.
And just like that, Parker and Bradshaw continue enlightening the globe’s young and no-longer-so-young as to the meaning of fashion. It doesn’t always have to be an algorithmically calibrated ensemble of the hottest seasonal items. Sometimes, it can even be a cheap tutu from a vintage joint just around the corner.
This story first appeared in Prestige Online – Hong Kong