Last week, actress Sarah Jessica Parker celebrated two milestones: the 15th anniversary of the debut of Sex and the City and the announcement of the launch of her namesake label SJP, which will be carried exclusively by Nordstrom in early 2014.
As one might imagine, news like this set the fashion world ablaze with excitement and intrigue, as well as eliciting the obvious sigh of relief, as this is a venture that fans of her label-loving character Carrie Bradshaw have been long waiting for. Who can forget Carrie’s enthusiastic appreciation for high-end footwear, especially Manolo Blahnik? For many shoe-obsessed women, the on-camera romance between Carrie and her many pairs of Manolos was just as fascinating as her relationship with Big. And despite the popular TV show coming to an end in February of 2004, the real-life narrative between Sarah Jessica and Manolo appears to be just beginning. The style icon is designing her collection of shoes, handbags and trench coats in association with George Malkemus, president of Manolo Blahnik USA.
Now that the news of this highly anticipated collection has finally broken, The Thread phoned Parker to get straight to the sole of the matter—the exquisite details of her latest fête in fashion.
A Polished Pair: Malkemus tapped Parker for a shoe collaboration with Manolo Blahnik in 2011 on a reinvention of the coveted ‘Carolyne’ style.
For many designers, creating fashion is not a choice like other career paths; it’s a calling. But for Parker, it’s more of an honor. “I thought about launching my own line for a long time,” she says. “It just feels like an enormous privilege to be doing it now with George and with Nordstrom, which is really my dream retailer.”
So why is Nordstrom the destination of choice for SJP? “Nordstrom has an impressive shoe history and such a vast knowledge about the shoe industry and the business of shoes,” Parker says. “Yet more importantly, its salespeople are incredibly informed. They love what they do, and selling at Nordstrom is not a stepping stone but an absolute career choice—and that kind of partnership is really moving to me.”
The Nordstrom way of customer service also sealed the deal for Parker. “I had great success at Nordstrom with the launch of my first fragrance Lovely, and I still have great memories of that relationship. The value placed upon engaging customers and the way the stores function were really some of the main reasons I wanted my fragrance sold there.”
Bitten by the Fashion Bug: Parker dons looks from her Bitten line and generates a buzz for Halston Heritage while wearing the brand for the promotion of Sex and the City 2.
Parker’s first hands-on design experience was with the price-friendly line Bitten for Steve & Barry’s in 2007, followed by Halston Heritage in 2010, where she did a year-and-a-half-long stint as president and creative director of the label’s secondary collection. “I had opportunities to produce collections in the past, but this particular idea [of SJP] is much more personal, because it is not working in partnership with anyone else,” she says. “It is much more the story that I want to tell—versus trying to make someone else’s ideas come to life. And it’s not that this [approach] is better; it’s that this is much more a personal endeavor.”
The four-time Golden Globe-winning actress’s collaboration with Malkemus and Nordstrom is sort of a match made in shoe heaven. Malkemus is a well-informed merchant with three decades of experience at Manolo Blahnik, and Nordstrom intimately understands the buying pulse of its customers. When we asked Parker about what this dream team hopes to bring to the market in terms of craftsmanship and innovation, it was clear that the question of having a competitive edge will come down to the actual shoe production.
“We’re really thrilled to be producing our shoes in Italy, which sets us apart from a lot of other brands that have abandoned the market because of pricing,” she adds. “It was very important and exciting to both Scott Meden [EVP and GMM of shoes] and Blake Nordstrom that we saw value in producing in Italy, alongside other top shoe manufacturers in Europe.”
When it comes down to the actual design of the shoes—which will include over 30 styles and range from flats to pumps—Parker and Malkemus will be referencing past influences while innovating through their own unique and personal points of view on style.
Oh, Mary! Carrie Bradshaw gasps when seeing Manolo Blahnik Mary Janes in the Vogue closet: “I thought these were an urban shoe myth!”
You may think that Parker’s love affair with shoes began on Sex and the City, but it really started in her youth with her mother Barbara, who passed down to her eight children the appreciation for well-crafted footwear. “We couldn’t always afford the things my mother thought were beautiful and would have wanted for us, but we were made aware of what caught her attention,” says the Nelsonville, Ohio–born star, who reflected fondly on her childhood. Even though Parker has miles of shoes in her closet, she hasn’t forgotten the days when she and her siblings received three pairs of shoes a year, one pair always being a classic patent leather Mary Jane. Visiting the shoe store as a child was a big deal for Parker and remains so to this day. “I always smelled the shoes because the leather smelled so good, and I still do. I still always smell a pair of shoes when I go into a shoe store,” she says.
Très Belle Inspiration: House of Charles Jourdan evening shoes from 1981 and Maud Frizon leather boots from 2002.
Although the mother of three does not have any formal design training, she received a crash on all things fab during her time on Sex and the City. “When I worked on the show, I was all of sudden exposed to a much larger selection of designers. The clothing, shoes, bags and accessories were such a big part of our storytelling that I became very familiar with new and established brands and became much more versed in vintage. So my education grew.”
Clearly, Parker knows her ABCs of fashion history today. When looking for inspiration for the collection, she referenced the archives of two French pioneers in shoe design: Charles Jourdan, the first shoe designer to advertise in magazines back in 1930, and Maud Frizon, a model-turned-designer who became known for her cone-shaped heels beginning in 1970.
Bonjour, Paris! The style icon is snapped at the Louis Vuitton fall ’12 show during Paris Fashion Week.
So when did Parker first discover these cult-classic Parisian labels? “I’ve known about these two designers since I first moved to New York in the late ‘70s. And it’s not specific design elements that drew me to them, but rather how each designer stuck to an idea—a DNA—and had a clearly defined story,” she says. “There is a consistency to both brands that is remarkable and stands on its own. The color combinations and just the femininity of these shoes are exciting to me.”
The excitement that Parker has for Charles Jourdan and Maud Frizon is the same excitement she wants women to have about her own label. “Hopefully, women will be able to tell from the first collection that I’m inspired and that I’m serious about it. This is isn’t something that I’m sort-of-kind-of involved in. I’m involved every step of the way.”
Parker is carefully examining the comfort, fit and quality of each shoe. “I want customers to be delighted with how the shoe is presented, how much care we’ve taken, the unique color combinations and even the shape of the heel. Ultimately, I’m striving to produce a shoe they haven’t yet seen on the market.”
Great Lines from Sex and the City: “The fact is, sometimes it’s really hard to walk in a single woman’s shoes. That’s why we need really special ones now and then, to make the walk a little more fun.”—Carrie Bradshaw
Plan on seeing Parker at a Nordstrom near you for the unveiling the collection, estimated to range from $200 to $375. The Hollywood trendsetter tells us that she is “making it my business to do public appearances for the launch next year.”
We’re sure that fans and curious shoe addicts will be lining up for the many meet-and-greets she’s planning. The fashions and viewpoint that Parker expressed through the character of Carrie Bradshaw still resonate with so many women that the interest in the line is already undeniable. Carrie was all about helping women understand their relationships with men, and now her ability to build customer relationships as a designer will be a large part of the line’s success. Considering that Parker has the relationship edge both on and off camera, we anticipate that her designs will spark meaningful dialogue for many months to come.
Tell us: Are you anxiously waiting to slip on a pair of SJPs?