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Sarah Jessica Parker is Building a Stiletto Empire

The ‘Sex and the City’ icon is leveraging her famous character’s weakness for shoes into the latest celebrity brand. Now comes the hard part.
Sarah Jessica Parker | Source: Shutterstock
  • Bloomberg

NEW YORK, United States — Sarah Jessica Parker is holding court inside her new shoe store in lower Manhattan, wearing a pair of her own heels and surrounded by cameras and staff. Outside, past the security guards, dozens of fans are lined up to meet her and perhaps buy some sandals. Passersby scurry up to the windows to snap a quick pic.

“We’re very lucky to have this spot,” Parker says, gliding over to a couch in the middle of her shop, the latest outpost for her slowly expanding stiletto empire. A portrait of herself trying on a pair of red pumps beside piles of shoeboxes hangs behind her. She explains why she likes being amid the cobblestones of New York’s South Street Seaport, dangerous territory for any four-inch heel. “The comings and the goings and the traffic — I just love it.”

Parker, 53, has already built a sizeable business on the back of a character she played on television. Her lead role as Carrie Bradshaw in HBO’s Sex and the City spanned 94 episodes, two feature films and still airs in syndication worldwide. Carrie held significant fashion influence during her heyday, popularising various brands of shoes and jewellery. But it was always, always about the shoes. She loved Jimmy Choos, Christian Louboutins and Manolo Blahniks. That’s left Carrie, and the woman who played her, eternally linked to fancy footwear.

"That relationship was so fevered and it was so much a part of the storytelling, both as a charming point and also one of her shortcomings,” says Parker, reflecting on Carrie’s love for expensive heels. “It’s a very easy and specific association.”

They wanted me to make shoes to sell for $69 and we'd produce them in China by the thousands and we'd all get rich. I couldn't do it.

Her shoe line is mostly made up of various high-heels and pumps, from chunky booties to four-inch stilettos. There are a few flats too. They’re made in Italy and sold both at her boutiques and such luxury department stores as Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. The designs are largely indiscreet, like dazzling silver glitter boots and metallic suede Mary Janes. Prices range from $250 sandals to high boots that go for $600.

Parker — and Carrie — each boast an astounding longevity that’s helped her business stay relevant. Though Parker still appears on television in shows such as NBC’s Divorce, she’s far from the pop culture epicentre she occupied in Sex and the City’s prime. After the second feature film came out in 2010, Parker says she was repeatedly approached about starting a shoe line. She turned them all down. She recalls sitting down for lunch with a group of women entrepreneurs who asked her why she wouldn’t go through with it: Parker says she told them she didn’t feel “honourable” about it.

"They wanted me to make shoes to sell for $69 and they would be mass and we'd produce them in China by the thousands and we'd all get rich," she recalls. "I couldn't do it." By 2014, Parker found a way to make it honourable. She went into business with George Malkemus, president of shoe label Manolo Blahnik USA — a union that brought Carrie Bradshaw home to the brand she made famous.

Celebrity fashion labels, whether in clothing or handbags or shoes, are constantly popping up and fading away, usually in quick succession. A Walmart line from Miley Cyrus was gone in a flash, and it’s fair to say David Hasselhoff’s Malibu Dave doesn’t have a place in most wardrobes. Even Parker had her own clothing line called Bitten in the late 2000s. Its remnants can now only be found on vintage resale storefronts such as Poshmark and Tradesy.

We're no good to our business if we don't know our customer at every single place.

But there are success stories. Jessica Simpson has one of the largest celebrity fashion lines around, leveraging an uncanny likability to sell billions of dollars in clothes across America. Her wares regularly fly off the racks of Macy's, Lord & Taylor and Dillard's. Remember the Olsen twins? Ashley and Mary-Kate became serious fashion designers, with a contemporary brand Elizabeth and James and high-end label The Row each earning devoted followers. More recently, Rihanna's Fenty and Kanye West's Yeezy collections have become some of the most coveted fashion items around.

Parker’s shoe brand, meanwhile, has been around for four years and continues to expand, albeit slowly. The company declined to share sales figures or if it’s profitable, but did say management is “very pleased” with the ongoing growth.

“All the ideas of expansion are very seductive and flattering, but we know too well all the cautionary tales,” says Parker. “We’re no good to our business if we don’t know our customer at every single place, and I mean hard core.” She’s very involved in the business and will work the sales floors herself too, when her schedule allows, she says. “If I’m not shooting elsewhere or not working, I’m on that floor,” she said.

The SJP collection now has shops in New York, Las Vegas, Dubai and Washington. Glamour shots of Parker grace each location, of course, with shelves of high heels stacked to the ceiling.

“My guess is we’ll grow a little bit,” Parker says of her future plans, “but we’ll be extremely thoughtful about where.”

By Kim Bhasin; editor: David Rovella.

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