Mention the name Sarah Jessica Parker and many of her devoted fans immediately think of shoes.“It’s something I never expected to be known for,” the actress said in a recent phone interview. “But it’s understandable, because of a certain role I played on a certain television show for a lot of years.“The character had a deep affection for shoes.”If you guessed that this character is Patty Greene of Square Pegs, then you clearly never saw Parker in her career-defining role as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City.In that enduringly popular HBO series, which ran from 1998 to 2004 and was followed by two feature films, men would come and men would go, but Carrie’s relationship with her Manolo Blahniks was a lifelong commitment.A friend once calculated that Carrie, a Manhattan newspaper columnist and fashionista, had more than $40,000 invested in her designer footwear.So is it any surprise that Parker would wind up one day with a real-life shoe line of her very own?She has partnered with designer George Malkemus, of Manolo Blahnik fame, to create the SJP Collection, which she will introduce to North Texans during a visit to Nordstrom at NorthPark Center in Dallas at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.Included in the line of shoes, handbags and a trench coat is a shoe appropriately called the “Carrie.”But what do you know? This business venture is so much more than just a case of calculating celebrity endorsement.The Carrie fits. It really fits.Parker’s real-life fondness for footwear is no match for the consuming addiction that Carrie had. But the actress, 48, does have an appreciation for a beautiful, well-crafted shoe that pre-dates her Sex and the City years and goes all the way back to childhood.“I grew up getting shoes twice a year,” Parker recalled. “We went to a local shoe store in Cincinnati to get our shoes and it was always a big deal. I remember every single trip vividly. I remember everything I did when I went to this shoe store.“I remember looking at every single pair, handling the stitching, smelling the leather, looking at the stacked leather and wooden heels, trying to decide which ones to get, agonizing over what I couldn’t get. It was rare to get more than one pair. You got more than one pair only if you also got a hand-me-down.“We were responsible for buffing them and polishing them every Sunday. I had saddle oxfords in the winter and a leather shoe with a T-strap and a perforated toe in the spring and summer.”Parker waxes so poetically about her early shoe experiences that it’s quite clear she and Carrie Bradshaw are kindred sprits.“When I started making some money on my own,” Parker continues, “I would buy shoes. The first really significant shoes that I bought were at a trunk show from Manolo Blahnik in 1984.“So Carrie and I crossed paths in some way even then, just not with the same reckless abandon.”After the success of Sex and the City, “people were very kindly offering me the opportunity to do a shoe line, but the timing was never right until now,” Parker said. “And the reason I could never say yes was I didn’t have the right partner.“Then I was bold enough one day to call George Malkemus, who I had worked with many times on Sex and the City, and I said, ‘Listen, I know this is a long shot and I know you’re a busy man, but would you ever consider partnering with me on a shoe line?’ And he said, ‘Be at my office tomorrow morning.’ ”The two quickly discovered that they had similar tastes and the same sensibilities about shoes.“We both came to New York in the latter part of the ’70s,” Parker said. “It was a decade that was littered with beautiful shoe stores, like Bendel’s and Bergdorf’s and Maud Frizon and Charles Jourdan.“It was the era of the single sole. And I was very interested in revisiting that era and the single sole, which had kind of disappeared for a while, and figuring out a way to incorporate those images from the ’70s into a contemporary woman’s life. And so began our endeavor.”All of the shoes in the SJP Collection, ranging in price from $195 to $495 and available exclusively at Nordstrom stores and Nordstrom.com, are made by artisans in Italy. (Parker was adamant that she didn’t want a cheaper product manufactured anywhere else.The collection of 25 shoes comes in a variety of styles, heel heights and colors. (She is partial to bold colors such as aubergine, asparagus, coral and teal.)And every shoe features grosgrain ribbon detail that emphasizes the feminine design of the collection.There’s a story behind grosgrain becoming the signature element of Parker’s design style:“When I was growing up, we had to wear braids every day and we had to wear ribbons every single day,” she recalled. “And grosgrain was the dominant fabric among the ribbon choices. We had a whole bureau that was dedicated just to hair ribbons. And it’s still my favorite ribbon. It’s just a beautiful fabric.“So I was sitting in a design meeting with George one day and looking at the back seam of the shoe and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, George. Can we put grosgrain up the back seams of every shoe? And it became this wonderful identifying mark on our shoes.“So it’s nostalgic to me and a nod to my mother.”The SJP handbags, retailing from $245 to $375, include a “New Yorker” hobo shoulder bag, a “Waverly” cross body and a “Beekman” clutch. The “Manhattan” trench coat, retailing for $495, comes in natural and navy and incorporates the same grosgrain detail as the shoes.Parker has high hopes for the collection.“I wanted to make a shoe that would last forever, that the quality was unimpeachable, that the fit was beautiful, that the pitch was beautiful, that is comfortable under the ball of your foot and that you can reach for in your closet in five years and it won’t feel of a moment, but rather timeless,” she says.“It’s a shoe I can be proud of. I wouldn’t want to make a shoe and then sell a shoe that I can’t be proud of. And I hope it’s a success. I hope we’ve made shoes that people respond to, that they’re excited to wear, that make them feel good, that make them feel beautiful.”
Meet the star
Sarah Jessica Parker will present the SJP Collection at Nordstrom NorthPark Center (8687 North Central Expressway in Dallas) from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Parker will meet with customers and sign their SJP purchases, time permitting.
Acting still comes first
Don’t get the wrong idea from all this talk about shoes.
Acting is still the career that Sarah Jessica Parker loves with every fiber of her being.
“I haven’t abandoned my day job,” she said. “Far from it. I just finished six months of a very successful play in New York City. And anyone who saw me in this play [ The Commons of Pensacola, at the Manhattan Theatre Club] would say, ‘Holy cow, she hasn’t lost her passion at all.’
“It was the most challenging role in my career and it was a huge success with one of the great, great actresses living in America today, Blythe Danner.”
Maybe Parker doesn’t work as much as her Broadway star husband Matthew Broderick does, but there’s a very good reason for that.
“I care about my career. I’m somebody who’s extremely diligent and principled and committed to it,” she says. “But it’s very hard to do it when you have three children, so I’m very careful about my choices and what’s going to take me away from them at night.
“These are things that a man doesn’t tend to think about quite as much.”
— David Martindale
Introducing the ‘Carrie’
What is it about the “Carrie,” the $355 heel that Sarah Jessica Parker has named after her iconic Sex and the City character, that makes it so suited to bear the name?
Parker explained: “Carrie was filled with contradictions. And she was perfectly honest about them. There’s something that’s extremely ladylike about that shoe, but it comes in purple, which isn’t a typical neutral. It’s very sexy and a little bit subversive in its color and its pointy-ness, yet it also appears to be very polite. And I think that’s a good way to describe Carrie.”
— David Martindale