The first thing everyone asks me about my interview with Sarah Jessica Parker is, “What was she like?” It’s a fair question. For many of us, we grew up with “Sex and the City” and all wanted to be Carrie. Not only is she a brilliant actress who entered our living rooms in Manolo Blahniks night after night, she pioneered a new kind of television for women and a whole new style dictionary that’s become practically holy for the fashion industry. She was calling me to talk about her new SJP collection at Nordstrom and I couldn’t help but wonder myself, “what would she be like to interview?”
When I picked up the blocked phone call, I expected her publicist to be on the line waiting to connect me with the star. That’s how it usually works. But, when I said “hello,” a sweet and very recognizable voice came over the line. “Hi this is Sarah Jessica, I know I’m calling a few minutes early, but perhaps you have some time?” she said. Her kindness set the tone for the whole interview. While part of her life is set in the spotlight, Sarah Jessica Parker is more like an average mom than you might expect. She wears corduroys and long johns, she loves “Downton Abbey” and “House Hunters International” and she cleans out her closet repeatedly because it’s so small. When she designed her shoe line, she had “Sex and in the City” as inspiration, but hard working, average women in mind. While her career has soared to great heights, she is as grounded as any of us-even when she’s wearing a pointy-toe pump.
About the SJP Collection: Parker had the idea to do a shoe line for years but wanted to find the right partner for the business. After some friends encouraged her to call Manolo Blahnik president George Malkemus, she mustered up the courage, ran the idea by him and he was sold. While playing Carrie Bradshaw opened the actress up to being more experimental with fashion, she always loved shoes. According to Nordstrom’s blog The Thread, the Nelsonville, Ohio native was only allowed three pairs of shoes a year as a kid. She would smell her shoes because she loved the smell of the leather, and still does today. Grosgrain ribbons are a huge part of the collection. When the actress was young she wore ribbons in her hair every day. Every shoe in the line incorporates grosgrain ribbons. The SJP collection also includes bags and a trench coat. It is sold exclusively at Nordstrom. The flagship Seattle store is the only location in the Northwest where you can shop the collection in person. You can meet Parker in person from 4:30-5:30pm on March 5 at the Seattle Nordstrom.
Q: This is kind of a massive question to start with but for someone who just doesn’t get why shoes are a big deal, why women love them and spend all this money on them, how would you explain why they’re so important to us? Are shoes more than just, well, shoes?
A: Well, you know, you’d think that at this point in my life I would be better prepared to answer this question but it remains a little bit of a mystery to me as well. And I’m not sure that I could convince someone who thinks it’s ridiculous otherwise. I guess what I suspect of this sort of very cultivated relationship is that it’s the part of your dress that can change something. You have a lovely black dress, you put on a pair of crimson or geranium shoes it feels one way. You wear that same dress two nights later and you wear it with a purple t-strap and it feels another way. You put it on with a black ballerina flat and you feel another way. It’s sort of the period at the end of a sentence. It’s this thing that sort of completes you and it’s the thing that you can keep expressing yourself with differently every day. And I think it makes you stand differently, walk differently, present yourself differently. There’s something about the pick of a shoe that makes you feel a certain way. And I think it’s a way of telling us who you are and how you’re feeling … I think it’s that accessory that keeps telling us about yourself in some way.
Q: Is there a celebrity or public figure that you would be flattered to see in your shoes?
A: Oh my gosh, well there’s endless people that I would be delighted to see wearing my shoe. But I think in some ways what has been in my mind most is the everyday consumer. The person who has to think a lot about how she spends her hard earned dollar, you know. Someone who is and has to be a really educated consumer. I feel this sort of debt of gratitude to this group of women who spent a lot of years watching “Sex and the City.” I feel like there was a standing of 10 million or so that really gave us a lot of their time and shared a lot of affection and in many ways this collection is for them. I think what’s most flattering is seeing a civilian walking off the street and trying a shoe on. I mean that’s been the most exciting thing today. You know this first day was a press day and people came in and tried on shoes and they might not be famous people but it was the experience they were having with the shoe. I think that’s the most meaningful thing of all.
Q: You want these shoes to suit working business women even though they’re colorful and fun? Do you think color and individual style is missing from work wear wardrobes or do you think that’s changing?
A: Well, I definitely think that’s changing but I still think that women tend to be obedient. That there’s a part of us that wants to reluct to the rules that we think sort of exist. And what I start to feel when I meet people is that they would love to express themselves differently and that they feel every bit as capable in a purple pump as they do in a black. And so what we tried to do with this collection is reassure them that these are all neutrals. Asparagus is neutral, jade is neutral, purple is neutral, mint in neutral, geranium in neutral, and that you can be taken just as seriously and that you’re every bit as capable as when you wear something slightly more conventional.
Q: Tell me about the trench coat; everyone is talking about the shoes but there’s also a trench coat in your collection.
A: We have a trench coat and we have a small bag collection that will grow over pre-fall and fall. The trench coat is just this really simple, beautiful A-line trench in your basic, really pretty sandy taupe with the grosgrain piping that’s on all the backs of all of our shoes. And we did it as well as a tone-on-tone in navy. It’s just a really simple way of finishing that outer layer which is why we also did bags. It’s sort of that outside look that you present as well. We love it, we think it’s really feminine, it really shows off a woman’s figure, it’s slightly old fashioned but it’s flirty and we’re thrilled with how it came out.
Q: Have you ever been to the Northwest or Seattle?
A: Yeah, I actually shot a television series there in the ‘80s, I was on a TV show called “A Year in the Life” and it took place in Seattle and we shot in Seattle and that was the first time I ever visited Seattle and fortunately I had a really nice amount of time there. And really, was just enchanted with the city. It was a beautiful time of year, we had wonderful weather. But I would take Seattle in the rain or nice weather, I don’t care. But then I visited again when I launched the fragrance which was a real treat, and then I had a very dear friend that ended up working in Seattle for a number of years so I would visit her there as well. I think it’s just a magnificently beautiful city. The people are so interesting, and so cultured and smart. I really enjoyed my time there in the past.
Q: For a lot of women in the Northwest, shoes can be tricky just because it’s so wet. Is there a shoe from your collection that you think would suit some ladies out here?
A: You know we live in New York so I know I’m having that same battle, I don’t think I’ve put on a nice pair of shoes until this week. It’s just been snow boots for literally months. But I think the Carrie would actually be a really great shoe for Seattle. The Anna would be wonderful, the Alison would be a really good boot for Seattle. I mean it’s not a super practical shoe, it’s just great looking and has a sort of toughness that’s really nice. The Fawn actually would be fantastic, the Lady in the grosgrain would be beautiful. I think they could withstand some weather. I mean obviously you don’t want to jump in puddles with them but you could get from A to B probably pretty safely.
Q: Are you one of those people who holds on to all their clothes or loves to go through your closet and get rid of stuff?
A: Very good question because I think I straddle sort of the middle. I live in New York and have a tiny closet. I tend to hold on to pieces that I have great memories wearing even if I think I might not wear them again simply because I like to see them. But I don’t have the kind of space that can really allow that. So I tend to clean out as much as I’m able and give away a lot to my sisters and to charitable organizations or to auctions when they ask for auction items. But I also save a lot for my daughters. And I archive a lot that is particularly meaningful. I try to be somewhat organized but it’s hard when you have a small closet. And when I say small, I’m telling you, when people see my closet they’re like “that’s it?” and I’m like “yep, that’s it.” But now that I do have daughters I do change the way that I clean it out because there is a lot that I want them to have.
Q: Do you still watch a lot of HBO? What shows?
A: I love “Getting On!” It’s on HBO it’s so freaking great. It’s a remarkably original show, it’s just wonderful and they just got picked up for a second season. I watch that, I watch “Downton Abbey” and I watch “House Hunters International.” “Frontline” on PBS and ESPN “30 for 30.”
Q: Do you watch “Girls” at all? I know Sex and the City get’s compared to Girls a lot.
A: Um, I am not caught up on Girls but I think it’s wonderful, smart, clever, a really interesting voice for this generation of women. I think she’s really a terrific writer and producer and actress. I’m not caught up this season though.
Q: Is there one staple piece you wear over and over again?
A: Well I sort of have to separate my life as a mother and my life out in the world as a business person. But as a mother and because I’ve been doing a play all of the fall and well into winter I was pretty much wearing corduroys and long johns from mid September until today again. So jeans and corduroys and long johns are things that I wear a lot lately and those remain in my closet. But you know there’s your basic two black dresses, both are from a thrift store that I love, that I wear a lot, that I never give away, never think of removing because it can be so many things to me on so many occasions. There’s a really simple polka dot blouse that I love, I have a polka dot dress from a thrift store that I think is wonderful. Those items I’ll always have.
Q: Will there be another shoe collection to come?
A: Oh yeah! We’re already finished with pre-fall and fall and we’re working on spring. Yeah, this isn’t intended to be a one-off this is really like, hopefully a real business.