In Her Shoes
By Melinda Newman
Long before Sarah Jessica Parker played Sex and the City’s style icon Carrie Bradshaw, her love of shoes – and shoe stores – was firmly in place.
Growing up in a household of modest means in 1970s Ohio, “we shopped for shoes twice a year,” Parker told M life magazine. “The top of the school year we got a pair of shoes for fall and winter and then, if we were lucky and my parents could afford it, a pair in late spring into summer. We would drive into Kenwood to a place my mother loved that was a traditional American shoe store – it had Buster Brown and Stride Rite. It was air conditioned, which to us was just the most decadent luxury in the Midwest summer. But it was also the smell. Back then, shoes were made with really fine leather, even the affordable shoes. I would just walk around while my siblings were being fitted. I remember so clearly looking at the stitching on the bottom of the shoes and being in wonder at the work. I can’t tell you why, but I always loved that experience.”
Now she has two shoe boutiques of her very own. More than three years after launching shoe line SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker with partner George Malkemus III, CEO of Manolo Blahnik, Parker opened the SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker standalone boutique at Bellagio. The outlet is her second venture with MGM Resorts International – the first SJP store opened at MGM National Harbor, outside Washington, D.C., in December.
“It seems like a really smart arranged marriage,” Parker said of her partnership with MGM Resorts. “They’re not afraid to take risks, which is really nice because we’re new and we’re not as much in a position to take risks, but with them we can.”
If there’s one area Parker is not playing it safe, it’s with her designs. With the color-as-a-neutral rule established, the silhouettes offered at Bellagio’s boutique emanate whimsy, elegance and flair. From stilettos to flats, mattes to iridescents and satins to suedes, the shoes radiate in every color of the rainbow.
The styles start at a remarkably low price for a shoe handmade in Italy. “The factory where our shoes are produced is making shoes that cost four times as much as ours,” Parker stated. “It’s a very unusual thing to have a shoe at this price point that was handmade in Italy.” The boutique also offers stunning handbags and clutches, as well as Parker’s signature fragrances, candles, phone covers and key rings. For a special night out, there’s even a little black dress, the first in her LBD line, an ode to the pink dress Carrie Bradshaw wears in the Sex and the City opening credits.
Parker has Carrie Bradshaw to thank for leading her to launch SJP. “Carrie had a far more fevered relationship with shoes than I have, but I certainly understood, even if I didn’t make those same choices, how seductive shoes can be and, for some people, it’s the most important choice they make when they’re dressing,” Parker said. “Having played a character for so long who wore so many shoes, I became interested in the business.”
Though she had offers to start her own shoe line in 2004 immediately following the end of Sex and the City, Parker said the timing wasn’t right. Then, four years ago, she called Malkemus and asked if he would consider going into business with her. “He said ‘Be at my office tomorrow morning,’” she recalled.
The line debuted in 2014 and is available at retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, Amazon Fashion, Saks and Neiman Marcus, though Bellagio and MGM National Harbor are the only locations to get the full SJP experience. Stepping into the welcoming salon is like entering Parker’s living room with beautiful blush-colored walls and comfy slate-colored sofas. The focal points are two floor-to-ceiling displays filled with 72 pairs of the SJP signature silhouette Fawn – the gorgeous pointy-toed, high-heeled pump – in a vast selection of colors, patterns and fabrics, while the shelves lining the walls sparkle with other designs and options – from sandals to boots.
Along the seam on the back of each shoe runs SJP’s signature grosgrain ribbon, a touch from Parker’s childhood that gives the shoe a distinct pop. “When I was a little girl, we not only had to wear hair ribbons to school every day, but we had to iron them every morning,” Parker recalled. “When the shoes first came back from Italy with the exposed seam, they seemed naked.” Parker added the ribbon as a loving nod to her mother, whom she cited as a huge influence on her style.
“She didn’t have access financially or geographically to a lot of things she loved and admired, but she paid attention,” Parker said. “She read The New York Times and The New Yorker, which she got from the library. My mom had ideas about how we should dress and how we should look when we walked out the door.”
For the first several collections, Parker came up with the shoe names herself, giving them spirited titles and often naming them after women she admired. Since she began shooting her new HBO series, Divorce, she handed off naming duties, but still signs off on all facets of the shoemaking process.
“George and I own the business outright so I’m involved in every single, solitary thing,” said Parker, who lives in Manhattan with her husband, actor Matthew Broderick, and their three children. “If you’re curious and you want to learn and you want to get better at what you do, you pay attention and I’ve made it my business to do that.”
While acting remains her main profession, Parker deeply enjoys her role as an entrepreneur, especially because she gets to interact with people buying her shoes. “What I love that I can’t get from acting is this opportunity to speak to the customer. I’m well aware that I wouldn’t have this opportunity if I hadn’t played Carrie Bradshaw, but I can’t go and thank all those people one by one. What I can do is make it my business to be on that floor, working and meeting customers and getting shoes from the stock room and putting them on women’s feet and thanking them and thinking about them when we design collections.”
There’s one thing Parker won’t tell her customers: which shoe to buy. When asked o recommend the perfect style for an evening out in Las Vegas, she said there is only one correct answer: the shoe that makes you feel like you. “Some people want comfort; others, height; some want extravagance; others ornamentation and sparkle. It’s the shoe that makes you feel like you. Feeling like yourself is the most alluring and compelling thing.”